I loved the article “Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?” written by Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon who specializes is endocrine surgery. To summarize the article, Dr. Gawande writes about his experiences of having a former colleague observe and critique his work and how these experiences have enhanced his performance. Dr. Gawande also discusses his interviews with professionals who have personal coaches and his experience with the Kansas Coaching Project, an organization that teaches coaching for schoolteachers and encourages schoolteachers to use coaches to improve the quality of their teaching.
Here are a few quotes that resonated with me:
“I’ve just stopped getting better.” — Dr. Gawande admits that before asking for help he had peaked in his performance as a surgeon, which is important to be aware of and acknowledge. It is also something that I have feared for myself as I pursue a career in higher education. I want to continuously grow as a teacher, which Dr. Gawande also points out is difficult to do on your own. I’ve considered sitting in on lectures by instructors that I respect. However, I believe that watching others teach has its limits on what I can learn about improving my own performance. Continuing education classes and workshops might help, though they are not going to immediately change my performance in the classroom.
“I’d paid to have a kid just out of college look at my serve. So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?” – Yes! Well, not about the paying part but as a youth soccer coach with limited experience and a GTA with limited experience, I have started to wonder why instructors don’t have “coaches” that observe them and help them improve their skills. I’d love for someone to come give me advice so that I can do my job better. Of course, when I am being observed I feel uncomfortable about the experience but I have always felt better and more in control afterward. I have also enjoyed and valued being the observer. While observing, I typically feel cheerful and curious. I know I am not there to scorn or criticize, I am simply there to observe and brainstorm ways to help my colleague improve. At this point in the article, I was wondering why aren’t professional coaches more common place.
“Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. …They don’t even have to be good at the sport. …Coaches are like editors.” – This speaks to me for two reasons. First of all, I enjoy being a coach, which I do agree is different from being a teacher. I think coaches provide guidance and a more critical eye. Second, I have been struggling to convince myself that I will be a great teacher (or coach), because I know that I am not the best chemist (or athlete). Dr. Gawande reminds me that most famous sports coaches to date were never the top performers in their sport. However, they are effective coaches because they are able to recognize areas that can be improved and provide guidance on how to improve them.
“You have to work at what you’re not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula, goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence.” – I just love this quote. How can you really begin to improve when you can’t effectively evaluate your own weaknesses?
Lastly: “Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.” And just before that, “For society… we may not be ready to accept—or pay for—a cadre of people who identify the flaws in the professionals upon whom we rely, and yet hold in confidence what they see.” – Dr. Gawande is suggesting that the performance/abilities of humans as a whole will get better with good coaching, to which I agree. He also has good reason to believe (i.e., from personal experience) that the layperson will be hesitant to trust professionals who are being observed. However, I think that given the right explanation for the observation and with more exposure to observers, laypeople will be more receptive to observers in professional settings. For instance, I think it is understandable to have little confidence in a medical resident due to their limited experience. Yet, I’d feel better knowing that my experienced medical doctor is dedicated to their professional development and is seeking the guidance of an equally or more experienced colleague.
In closing, I think we should all strive to be better and we should always be open to being observed and accept guidance on our performance.