Monday, March 17, 2014

Thoughts On Being Coachable

An exasperated teacher cornered me seeking advice. What to do?  Her students’ reactions to feedback and grades on their essays reeked of disrespect, pouting, and murmured comments. 

I felt her pain.  I, too, have experienced something similar.  The most academically promising students are sometimes the worst at receiving feedback. These are the students who most often earn perfect or nearly perfect scores on every assignment. 

It’s one thing to memorize facts and be able to make 100’s on tests; however, these skills may not translate into strong essay writing.  And it hits kids hard when they realize their work needs work.  Their performance has been “good enough” to make A’s in previous classes, so why isn’t it good enough now?

Receiving feedback is difficult.  We own our work; it is a reflection of us.  For someone to find flaws in it may hurt our feelings.  Worse, it may turn us away from the very one who seeks to help us.

So I began to think about what qualities it takes to be coachable.  After all, providing effective feedback to students on their writing is much like a coach providing feedback to his players.

For me, being coachable means listening to what the coach offers, making an effort to incorporate the coach’s suggestions, and having a positive attitude about learning and practicing. 

A little research revealed that others have similar ideas about what makes a person coachable.  One coach offered these qualities:

  • Respectful
  • Willing to accept responsibility
  • Work hard at practice & in games
  • Exercise self control
  • Confident but not arrogant
  • Have emotional control to concentrate under pressure
  • Competitive but have fun & enjoy the game

 Another coach described coachable players as having:

  •  humility (because they know there is always more to learn) 
  •  high self esteem (because they know that constructive criticism is not a personal attack) 
  •  courage (because they willingly attempt even the most challenging or intimidating tasks)
  • ambition (because they have a vision of what they want to achieve)

Not only do we want our students to be coachable, but also, we as professionals should consider our own coachability. 

Are you coachable?

Yes, maybe, not sure?  Reflect on this list to see if any of these characteristics describe you.  Here are some symptoms of uncoachability:

  • challenge credentials of the coach
  • announce you’re being unfairly singled out
  • pointing out, angrily, that the last few times the coach was wrong
  • identifying others who have succeeded without ever being coached
  • resisting a path merely because it was one identified by a coach

Reflecting on the qualities of coachable people and the symptoms of uncoachability, I can see myself at various points in my career.  Depending on the situation, I may have been more or less coachable.  What I have learned is that at the points when I was most coachable, I grew most.   

Maybe the most important element of coaching is building a trusting relationship between player and coach.  Without trust, how can we open ourselves to another’s suggestions and criticism?  As a teacher, I must work toward building trusting relationships with students so that when I do offer constructive criticism they are more likely to accept it and to use it to improve.

The same holds true for my work with other teachers.  Trusting relationships are vital.  In the absence of trust, coaching does not work; we may get compliance at times, but we will not get the lasting results coaching intends if trust is lacking.

Most coaches are not looking for the best player, but they are looking for those who take coaching best.  Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summit once said, “How can you improve if you are never wrong?  If you don’t admit a mistake and take responsibility for it, you’re bound to make the same one again.”

We need coachable teachers just as we need coachable students and athletes.  Learning must never stop. Coaches who offer insight and suggestions to help us improve our teaching practice become valuable partners in our Professional Learning Network. 

Are you coachable? 
If not, what barriers prevent you from being coachable?  How can you overcome these barriers?

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