Monday, September 26, 2011

Do Surgeons Need Coaches?

Atul Gawande does it again, with an awesome essay that weaves in keen observations on coaching in sports and music with his novel experiment of having a coach keep a watchful eye while he performs complex surgeries.

Gawande has an an extended section about coaching of teachers:

So outside ears, and eyes, are important for concert-calibre musicians and Olympic-level athletes. What about regular professionals, who just want to do what they do as well as they can? I talked to Jim Knight about this. He is the director of the Kansas Coaching Project, at the University of Kansas. He teaches coaching—for schoolteachers. For decades, research has confirmed that the big factor in determining how much students learn is not class size or the extent of standardized testing but the quality of their teachers. Policymakers have pushed mostly carrot-and-stick remedies: firing underperforming teachers, giving merit pay to high performers, penalizing schools with poor student test scores. People like Jim Knight think we should push coaching.

California researchers in the early nineteen-eighties conducted a five-year study of teacher-skill development in eighty schools, and noticed something interesting. Workshops led teachers to use new skills in the classroom only ten per cent of the time. Even when a practice session with demonstrations and personal feedback was added, fewer than twenty per cent made the change. But when coaching was introduced—when a colleague watched them try the new skills in their own classroom and provided suggestions—adoption rates passed ninety per cent. A spate of small randomized trials confirmed the effect. Coached teachers were more effective, and their students did better on tests.

Knight experienced it himself. Two decades ago, he was trying to teach writing to students at a community college in Toronto, and floundering. He studied techniques for teaching students how to write coherent sentences and organize their paragraphs. But he didn’t get anywhere until a colleague came into the classroom and coached him through the changes he was trying to make. He won an award for innovation in teaching, and eventually wrote a Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Kansas on measures to improve pedagogy. Then he got funding to train coaches for every school in Topeka, and he has been expanding his program ever since. Coaching programs have now spread to hundreds of school districts across the country.


  1. Rainbow Scientist said...

    Good find. thanks. I guess you will enjoy two books I recently enjoyed. "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese and "The emperor of all maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddharth Mukherjee. Is phenonmenon of Indian writer doctors taking over? All of these authors are acomplished medical professionals as well as excellent writers.

  2. gaddeswarup said...

    There is another address by Atul Gawande which is not related to this but which seems worth considering. It is about "medicine’s complexity has exceeded our individual capabilities as doctors."