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In his recent article in The New Yorker, “Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?” author Atul Gawande begins:

I’ve been a surgeon for eight years. For the past couple of them, my performance in the operating room has reached a plateau. I’d like to think it’s a good thing–I’ve arrived at my professional peak. But mainly it seems as if I’ve just stopped getting better.

It wasn’t until Gawande was hitting tennis balls with a club pro and “with a few minutes of tinkering, [the pro] added at least ten miles an hour to [his] serve,” and later Gawande was watching a tennis match on television and the camera spanned to include the pro tennis player’s coach that he recognized,

Nearly every elite tennis player in the world [has a coach]. Professional athletes use coaches to make sure they are as good as they can be. But doctors don’t… So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?

Coaching, performance excellence, and continuous improvement have all been highlighted in What’s Right. Two coaching examples include:

“I am a coach. You can count on me.” Dr. Janet Pilcher

“Everyone needs a coach.” Bill Gates

Gawande says about coaching:

The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss… but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport… Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide…. Good coaches know how to break down performance into its critical individual components.

So what happened when Gawande asked retired general surgeon Robert Osteen if he would coach him in the operating room? You’ve got to read Gawande’s article to make personal to you his takeaways – an attempt to “‘Get [you] to think.’ It’s the only way people learn” (Gawande and Osteen). Gawande ends the article’s discussion about his experience with Osteen writing, “I can’t say that every surgeon needs a coach to do his or her best work, but I’ve discovered that I do.”

What’s the Education Connection? Great leaders play a role in creating the conditions that foster and nourish a school full of great teachers. In essence, they coach and “lead teachers to become great” (Pilcher and Largue, 2009). Coaching is one strategy used by school leaders and by teacher leaders to engage in focused conversations about teachers’ strategies for reinforcing student learning in their classrooms. Coaching – whether leadership development via Evidence-Based Leadership or teacher development – helps leaders and teachers share in the responsibility of building learning environments with engaged teachers and engaged students thereby creating great places for teachers to teach and students to learn.




Gawande, Atul. (October 3, 2013). “Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?” The New Yorker. Available online here.

Pilcher, Janet, and Largue, Robin. (2009). How to Lead Teachers to Become Great. Gulf Breeze, FL: Fire Starter Publishing. Read the Introduction and Chapter 1.

Our mission at Studer Education is to provide students with a great place to learn, teachers with a great place to teach, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. Visit us online at http://studereducation.com. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, ranked for the sixth straight year on the Best Small and Medium Workplaces by Great Place to Work® and a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.