Why Everyone Needs a Coach

David Farbman, Director of the Center for Professional Learning

The Message of Continuous Improvement

Coach and educator giving high fivesIn an insightful and moving TED talk, renowned surgeon and author Atul Gawande tells the story of the challenges faced by obstetric clinics in northern India and how he and his team sought to improve their depressingly poor outcomes. On the surface, the effort is about training the healthcare workers to improve their medical routines. The lesson he draws from this endeavor is not a medical one, however. Instead, he speaks to a much broader question about how to stimulate improved practice among professionals. His answer? Get a coach. In fact, Gawande argues that a lack of coaching throughout one’s career leads to a leveling off of skills and getting stuck in the status quo.

Without labeling it such, Gawande is clearly promoting a Growth Mindset, the belief that every individual is capable of—and should commit to—getting better at what they do.  And, in his telling, the best way to get better is to have coach, someone you trust to give you specific, actionable feedback.  He cites professional athletes, musicians like Itzhak Perlman and himself as prime examples of professionals at the highest levels of talent and capacity who, nevertheless, depend on coaches to get even better. Having another voice of experience at one’s side to point out where you can adjust your technique or re-orient your perspective is not a sign of weakness; rather, in Gawande’s words, it bestows “value” on what you do.

Gawande’s TED talk is a perfect way to frame the pieces in this month’s collection, which describe how Gateways’ experts, who collectively coach dozens of educators in the Boston region and beyond, continue their own growth as educators and practitioners. We also hear from an education director who is receiving coaching and reflects on how this process has transformed her own practice.  Theirs are stories, too, of depending on other experts to help hone one’s own expertise.

As we begin our celebration of JDAIM—Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, this message of continuous improvement resonates particularly strongly. After all, awareness of disabilities and efforts at inclusion are nothing more and nothing less than taking stock of the potential in each individual to contribute to the larger whole.  This is the essence of special education: We apply specialized methods to support those students who may not respond to typical educational approaches in order to elevate the learning of every student, no matter their challenges. And, ultimately, special education is simply good education—a bedrock principle that underlies all of Gateways’ work.

This February, during JDAIM, take a moment to consider the following question: If we encourage our students to reach beyond their assumed limits, would we not do well to do the same as educators?

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