Why Coaching Puts Teachers on the Master Track
What has experience taught us about the dynamics of change? What are the most useful steps to take when you want to get better at what you do? Whether you want to be better at playing the piano or playing tennis, what course of action would you select to maximize your chances for improving one of those complex behaviors? Would you read a manual, schedule more time for practice, or find a coach? The first two ideas pale next to the idea of working with a coach. Why? We must ask ourselves, how can a coach hold out promise for improving our tennis game? What is it a coach does that changes what we do?
- A coach models. A coach shows us how a behavior looks or sounds when it is done well so that we can visualize what it is we want to re-create. Visualization is so effective in changing and improving performance, it has been established as a crucial component in training athletes and performers at a professional level. Learning seems to occur by osmosis when we view a pro in action for an extended period of time and then we engage in the same activity.
- A coach gives feedback. A coach watches our performance and reflects back to us what we cannot see ourselves. That feedback enables us to become aware of what we are doing well and should continue to do and what we are doing that needs to change. We cannot overstate the learning value of feedback that is timely, specific, understandable and can be used by the teacher to revise and adjust his or her work products.
- A coach breaks down the process. A coach views our actions with knowledge and specificity that we as learners do not possess. Coaching clarifies each step or each segment of our actions so that we gain the insight necessary for change and improvement. For example, a tennis coach might show you how far you should bring your arm back before swinging the racket; what position the racket face should be in when it makes contact with the ball; where the racket should be at each moment; and what you should do when you have completed your swing. By analyzing the task in this way, a coach raises our awareness to a new level and gives us the clarity necessary for gaining control over the behavior we want to improve. We are no longer just swinging at the ball.
- A coach guides practice. A coach gives us ample opportunity to practice. He or she is right there monitoring our actions so that we use the effective strategies we just learned. If we need reminders, if we have questions, if we slip back into our old ways, the coach is still there to support us until our new behaviors become comfortable, natural, and automatic.
What is the dynamic behind this transformative support for teachers? It can be summarized in the following 5 words:
Metaphorically speaking, coaching moves the learner from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat. We know from our own experience that as passengers we are much less likely to notice, remember, or care about the route we have taken to get to a destination; we are more likely to need directions the next time we make the same trip. It is not until we take the wheel that we develop the confidence and ability we need to get ourselves to where we want to go.
A teacher who benefits from expert coaching is also learning to become a coach and will be better able to prepare his or her students for the independent action of a self-guided learner. Coaching is an essential practice for a teacher on the master track.