A lesson to be learned from the teaching profession

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In a recent piece written for The New YorkerAtul Gawande laments the fact that no one has checked on his performance in the operating room since he became a surgeon eight years ago. He feels he's plateaued after examining his own results (i.e. rates of complication) against the national average. And while he can easily find a coach to improve his tennis serve, he doesn't know where to turn for advice in the operating room.

But since it isn't widespread practice for doctors to have structured guidance once they're out on their own, Gawande has to look to other professions for inspiration. Many school districts have embraced teacher coaching (and even principals are joining in), but teachers continue to debate its benefits.
Gawande visited a Virginia school district that uses instructional coaching to improve teacher performance. He observes a ten-year veteran who opted to have a coach (only first and second year teachers in the district are required to accept coaching), and what he describes is impressive; the coach helps the teacher break down her performance and find areas for improvement, even though it appeared to Gawande that she was already doing a bang up job.

The lesson is clear: achieving our "Personal Best," the title of Gawande's essay, sometimes takes extra eyes and ears. Even the most elite athletes in the world have coaches to scrutinize their techniques, design strength and conditioning plans, etc. The "teacher coach" exists because as a profession, we've recognized that even the most talented educators still have room for improvement. And despite the fact that the education reform community is constantly pointing to other professions as models for how to do things better (i.e. compensation or entrance requirements into the profession), coaching is an area where maybe the teaching profession is ahead of the curve.

Sarah Brody