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Don't Evaluate Teachers, Coach Them

"A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment."

-John Wooden

In my experience, the more schools focus on evaluating teachers, the more student learning suffers. By contrast, the more schools focus on coaching teachers, the more student learning improves.

Harry and Rosemary Wong write about the power of teacher coaching to improve student learning, and I'm honored that their latest column is about me. The article includes stories of two struggling teachers--a downtrodden rookie and a stale veteran--who not only turned things around in their classrooms but later helped other teachers succeed.

And it's not just struggling and stale teachers who benefit from coaching. Teaching is such a dynamic profession that there's always room for growth. In fact, a lot of my work involves helping good teachers become great.

The reason coaching is so effective is that it's contextual. One of my responsibilities when I worked in business was negotiating contracts. I had no prior experience, so the company sent me to training where I learned key negotiation skills. Yet it was only after I practiced those skills on the job and received constructive feedback (i.e., coaching) from experienced colleagues that I became a skillful negotiator.

Same goes for teaching. Workshops can be an efficient way to introduce new methods. But teachers need coaching in the context of their classrooms in order to implement those methods effectively. (The Wongs' article refers to research supporting this.)

As a former business executive and school administrator, I get the need for accountability. But something I learned in business that applies in schools too is that accountability without support is a formula for frustration and failure--for school leaders and teachers alike.

The message for administrators is that you need to tell teachers what you want them to do and why you want them to do it (with their input, of course). But you then need to focus on how to do it by providing teachers practical support. In other words, coach teachers rather than evaluate them.

The message for teachers, meanwhile, is that you must be coach-able. You must be open to feedback and willing to make changes that can help improve student learning.

Whether you're a teacher, coach, or administrator, please read the Wongs' article for more on my work and the power of coaching. And in the spirit of what Harry Wong calls the CASE Method (copy and steal everything), I hope you find my work relevant to your work.

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