Atul Gawande did an excellent reflection on the value of coaching last year for The New Yorker. While we normally think about coaching as something we do for people who are new to the tasks at hand, Gawande’s focus was on what happens when experienced professionals take on a coach. He offered this fascinating case study:
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. Even when a practice session with demonstrations and personal feedback was added, fewer than twenty per cent made the change. 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. A spate of small randomized trials confirmed the effect. Coached teachers were more effective, and their students did better on tests.
It seems to be about accountability. When somebody is paying attention to what we’re doing, we pay more attention to what we’re doing as well. But even then, there are things we need “outside eyes” to see – aspects of our performance which are transparent to us, but apparent to individuals we team with to improve what we do.
With a diploma, a few will achieve sustained mastery; with a good coach, many could. We treat guidance for professionals as a luxury—you can guess what gets cut first when school-district budgets are slashed. But coaching may prove essential to the success of modern society.
We think he has a point. How much coaching is happening in your professional development activities?