I (Ashley) have been reflecting on my work with teachers and administrators over the past 40 years and have discovered that I have been and am, not so much a teacher, advisor or consultant, as a coach. A recent article, Personal Best, in the New Yorker Magazine by Atul Gawande stimulated this "ahah" for me. It was useful to me to hear Gawande’s description of what a coach does and why so many of us need one...regularly.
Apparently coaching is indigenous to the U.S. (Yale University is the first institution to use a coach for its football team.) And, perhaps like many other things peculiar to the U.S., the concept of coach is “slippery.” As Gawande writes:
Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss––in professional tennis, golf and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach––but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport [or profession]...Mainly, they observe and they guide.
I relate to this because of my early experience at the Green Mountain Valley School, where I wore many hats: English and Humanities teacher, Director of Academics, Headmaster, and, sometimes, ski coach. I can see now that it was my experience on the hill with the racers and the other coaches led me to develope my skills as observer and guide. I learned that I couldn’t tell a racer to perform faster any more than I could tell a student to understand iambic pentameter, or than I could tell a colleague how to conduct classes a certain way. In each case, I could tell them, but the results would be marginal at best.
On the other hand, through careful observation of the racer, I could reflect for him or her what I saw, and guide the racer to wonder about a change in position, then encourage experimentation...a process when repeated over and over, with diligence, tenacity and whole-hearted engagement (and a liberal dose of light-hearted joy), can lead the individual being coached to reach a new level of achievement and pride that is unique for each person.
I have found that the same approach applies to working with teachers. So has Jim Knight, the director of Kansas Coaching Project, at the University of Kansas. Gawande reports that:
California researchers in the early nineteen-eighties conducted a five-year study of teacher-skill development in eighty schools, and noticed something interesting. Workshops led teachers to use new skills in the classroom only ten per cent of the time...But when coaching was introduced––when a colleague watched them try the new skills in their own classroom and provided suggestions––adoption rates passed ninety per cent.
After writing his dissertation on measures to improve pedagogy, Knight received funding to train coaches for every school in Topeka.
I find our work at Cadwell Collaborative exciting and stimulating. I know that my favorite work is in the classroom, in the school, with the teachers and administrators, when I am Coach Cadwell.