Improving Our Practice: A Case For Coaching (Part 4)

What Does Effective Coaching Look and Sound Like?

I live in Colorado where skiing is big. Although I grew up here and I stand by the belief that there is nothing better on this earth than a great day of skiing, I admit I am no hotshot. I do like to go fast, but I am quite content to sail safely down the wide, smooth green and blue runs.

My knees do not like moguls, but my son loves them, and I love my son. I want to ski with him, so last year I determined to get more comfortable with moguls. The area where we ski often has a “one free run with an instructor” offer, so I took it. After my one free run I was surprised to realize that I actually felt stronger and more comfortable on moguls—after one run! I thought about how my instructor was able to coach me so effectively in such a short amount of time. Here are some of things that made coaching effective:

  • I wanted to learn. My learning had a goal. I was motivated to improve so I could ski with my son.
  • No one was grading or evaluating me so I felt free to ask for instruction and take risks at my own comfort level.
  • I was not on a schedule. I was free to go at my own pace.

My instructor’s “coaching moves” were expert.

  • She asked me to describe myself as a skier on the way up the lift.
  • She asked me specifically what I would like to accomplish in my one run.
  • She watched me ski.
  • She immediately told me I was a much better skier than I had reported and then not only listed, but carefully described, all the things I was doing right.
  • She then gave me one tip: one single thing to work on. She told me to liquefy my knees.
  • She skied for me, first demonstrating what I had been doing with my knees, then demonstrating what she wanted me to do with my knees. Then she asked me if I saw the difference and asked me to verbally describe the difference.
  • Next, I skied directly behind her, mimicking exactly what she was modeling for me with her knees and every once in awhile she would call out, “What are you feeling?”
  • She watched me ski again, the whole time praising and/or correcting my knee action until my knees were consistently liquid and I could accurately describe the changes I’d made.

Ba-da-Bing! I’m skiing moguls. From an educational standpoint, my instructor was applying amazing pedagogy. My learning goal was clear and specific. She built my confidence. She didn’t overwhelm me with too much information or correction. She modeled. We dialogued. She didn’t evaluate me—she let me evaluate my own progress. She stuck with me until I mastered the new skill well enough to try it on my own.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading a boatload of research on coaching: kinds of coaching, results of coaching, and what makes coaching/coaches effective. In looking at the research results, I realized that my ski coach exemplified much of what these studies put forth about effective coaching. She was great. However, every study and article I read confirms that the first and most important factor is not even about the skill of the coach, but an openness and desire to learn and improve on the part of the coachee.

In Elena Aguilar’s Edutopia post Four Conditions Essential for Instructional Coaching to Work, she confirms,

For a coach to effectively partner with teachers and support them in developing their practice, the school culture needs to be oriented towards growth and improvement. Teachers, as well as administrators, need to see themselves as learners, eager and capable of improving their practice when given support.

The essential question is, do we want to tackle moguls with our kids?

Improving Our Practice: A Case for Coaching (Part 1)
Improving Our Practice: A Case for Coaching (Part 2)
Improving Our Practice: A Case for Coaching (Part 3)
Improving Our Practice: A Case for Coaching (Part 4)
Improving Our Practice: A Case for Coaching (Part 5)