Gawande

“Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

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Sydney Crosby, Rory McIlroy, Rafeal Nadal, Lindsey Vonn, Dr. Atul Gawande, Itzhak Perlman, and Usain Bolt share a number of commonalities. Each has reached the upper echelon of their chosen profession — be it sports, music, or medicine.  Yet, despite being at the pinnacle of their individual professions, recognized as true models of excellence, they each also have a coach.

As an educator, my professional practice has been shifting away from the traditional paradigm of a teacher, to become more of an instructional coach for the students who bound into school each day.  As an educator, much of my day is spent offering and developing specific, targeted, and deliberate practice / feedback so that students can develop the depth and breadth of abilities they will require for future success.  Simply, learners improve by working on what they are not good at.

I would like to see more of an instructional coaching model help improve my professional practice, shape the growth and development of my profession, and ultimately strengthen student learning.  Teaching and learning is simply too complex to be able to be successful in isolation.  Without another set of eyes, offering a different perspective, people are unable to achieve and maintain their personal best.  The idea that once you graduate, from something like middle school, high school, university, driver’s ed, or cooking school, that you no longer require instruction, is simply outdated.

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As an educator, I know that I will always have something to work on.  As a professional, I recognize that each of my colleagues will always have something to work on.  As an educational leader, I will always value the role coaching contributes to the journey of continuous improvement.  As the husband of a learning coach, I see the importance of letting teacher’s, like students, take ownership for learning and choose their individualized path; be it keeping a mini-lesson truly mini, developing improved questioning, making better use of assessment data, organizing better collaborative meetings, or adopting new classroom management strategies.  The list is and should be, truly endless.

I see coaching being an essential role of every school administrator.  The most effective learning leaders are those who observe, judge, and help facilitate professional learning.  They enable their colleagues to become more competent; to move through the four stages of competence.

It’s certainly true that some background knowledge and expertise is important to be an effective coach, but the best players do not necessarily make the best coaches.  The great violinist, Itzhak Perlman is a case in point.  His wife is his coach.  Coaches don’t need to know it all.

“She is an extra ear.” She’d tell him if a passage was too fast or too tight or too mechanical—if there was something that needed fixing. Sometimes she has had to puzzle out what might be wrong, asking another expert to describe what she heard as he played”.

Gehry Excellence

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It is in this context that I find myself wondering, how do principals and headmasters stay at their best?  I think looking to the world of sports, medicine and the model that already exists in education, offers great opportunity. Instructional coaches are becoming increasingly common in our schools.  Perhaps it is time that formal educational leaders tap into the potential that coaching offers to further support their work.

To close, I wanted to leave you with one of my favourite quotations. It’s one of the values that my family emphasized while I was growing up and is one that I hope to impart in my three sons, and the kids who I work with every day.

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

I’ve never really known who originated the quote, but according to a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy, it’s attributed to one of the great Greek philosophers.  Thanks to coaches like Maggie Moon, Pam Harper, Justin Medved, and Tom Baker, I know that coaching helps ensure that the work you do is your personal best, helps a school strive towards excellence,  and helps improve student learning.

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Pearls

Original Posted September 2nd, 2010

I must confess, I am finding that my educational leadership journey is a lot like having children.  I have been around kids and teachers or principals all of my life.  I have had great and not so great moments with each.  They feel familiar.   Comfortable.  However, not until I had children of my own, did I truly understand how little I actually knew about kids and how much I had left to learn.  Labour, delivery, lactation, episiotomies, Apgar scores  … the learning curve was steep.  I can say the exact same thing about my growth as an educational leader.  Missions, visions, difficult conversations, instructional supervision, school improvement processes …. there is always something new to understand.  Although the learning curves are steep, they are incredibly rewarding.

For the past nine years at the International School Bangkok, I have been fortunate to work with many exceptionally talented formal and informal educational leaders.  They have been incredible colleagues, leaders, role models, and mentors.  They have generously shared many pearls of wisdom.  I admire and respect each of them for their unique strengths and leadership qualities.  There is one particular quality that they have in common.  Each possesses an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge.  They exemplify the idea that “If you want to lead, you’ve got to read!”.   And read I have.  Reading is an essential element of my professional development plan. Fullan, Hargreaves, Marzano, DuFour and other gurus provided excellent starting points.  However, I soon realized that there were other authors and sources for inspirational ideas.  So I filled my RSS reader and set up a netvibes account.  I started to read Daniel Pink, Seth Godin, the Harvard Business Review, and Chip and Dan Heath.  Malcolm Gladwell was viewed through an entirely new lens.  I am always on the lookout for a good recommendation.  Do you have any?

Dr. Atul Gawande has perhaps been the most influential author of late.  Better is a book he wrote about how the medical profession improved itself.  It inspired this blog.  While reading, I kept thinking about applying the lessons he shared from the world of medicine, to the world of education.  It’s from his story of Dr. Apgar and the development of the Apgar scale that I gleaned a second pearl of wisdom.  “If you want to make any change, big or small, simply start counting”.  It seems so simple.  If you want to loose weight, start counting calories.  If you want your New Year’s resolution to get to the gym to become a reality, write it down in a log.  I quickly adapted this to my classroom practice and now regularly track essential instructional practices like the types of sharing that close a readers’ or writers’ workshop.  It has made a difference.  Dr. Apgar transformed the world of medicine simply by counting.  A complex procedure, additional resources or time were unnecessary.  She simply collected the information already at hand and used it in a different way to influence change.  Have something that you would like to change? Try counting.

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