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The Art of Coaching

There is an old Chinese Proverb that says, “I hear, and I forget.  I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.”

One of my CEA colleagues recently shared an article on coaching from an issue of The New Yorker. Written by experienced surgeon Atul Gawande, the crux of the article “Personal Best” is that athletes and singers use coaches to reach their maximum potentials, so why not surgeons, violinists—or even teachers?

Having previously taught, I know the reluctance teachers feel about allowing others to enter their classrooms and critique their techniques. I attribute this to the fact that too often, the observations are performed by administrators who know little about the subject area they are observing. In addition, the observations are evaluative, thus producing a nerve-wracking environment for the teacher on the day of the observation. But what if districts could hire teacher-coaches, whose main purpose was to observe and make recommendations—to the teachers themselves—with the goal of improving their techniques? A recent CEA blog post summarized research that has shown that peer collaboration improves student achievement, so naturally, I began thinking about whether peer coaching had similar results.

My inquiry showed that it does. As Dr. Gawande points out in the article, a study conducted in California in the early 1980s showed that most teachers who simply attended professional development presentations employed the skills they’d learned about 10% of the time, while those who had colleagues watch them employ and coach them in the new skills adopted them at a rate of nearly 90%.

Topeka, Kansas has been using the teacher coaching model for roughly twenty-five years, and it has been highly effective and well-received. The model relies on four basic principles: classroom management, content enhancement, instruction, and assessment for learning. Coaches are chosen for their expertise, and then trained in effective coaching techniques. All new teachers are automatically paired with a coach, while veteran teachers who want to utilize a coach may also request one. It takes some time to get used to, and lots of additional time to work out the kinks, but in the end, it’s a more strength-based model than the traditional “top-down” evaluation models currently in use.

Would such a model work in Connecticut? The only way to know is to give it a try.

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