By Tom Many, EdD
Coachable (adjective): The state of being grateful that someone cares enough about you to push you to improve beyond where you would get to on your own. – Lindsey Wilson
Every school has one; the team that seems to be in a constant state of improvement regardless of the situation. School leaders seeking to understand why some teams are so successful wonder, “Why do some teams grow while others remain stuck or stagnant? What is the most important attribute of teams that are improving; the ones moving from Lite to Right? From Good to Great?”
Some believe the most important attribute is a firm grasp of the structural elements of the PLC process. Certainly, a highly effective collaborative team can identify and unwrap the essential standards, develop valid and reliable common assessments, and design schoolwide and systematic pyramids of intervention. The best teams accomplish these tasks with precision.
Others think an abiding commitment to the cultural components of a PLC is what matters most. There is no doubt highly effective teams understand the importance of cultivating healthy cultures that honor their commitments to students and each other. The most successful teams embrace these behaviors with enthusiasm.
While it is true that mastery of the structural and cultural elements of the PLC process is essential to becoming a high performing collaborative team, it is also true that the elements of the PLC process can be learned and improved upon with practice. Thus, it is not initial mastery but the ongoing refinement of the PLC process that accounts for a team’s continuous improvement.
“Being coachable means being open to asking for and receiving feedback, looking inward at how you can move forward, and being interested in growth.” – Lillian Valdez, 2020
Coaching is a powerful way to improve a team’s collective performance and while coaches shoulder the primary responsibility for organizing and delivering quality coaching experiences, teams can contribute to a positive outcome by being coachable. Being coachable is defined as the ability to seek out, be receptive to, and willing to act upon feedback or constructive criticism to improve individual and/or collective performance. Quite simply, being coachable means a team is receptive to receiving feedback and is committed to using that feedback to improve their professional practice. Coachable teams share three specific and observable characteristics.
- Coachable teams actively seek out opportunities to learn. Coachable teams embrace the notion that there are things they haven’t learned yet that could make them more effective. Members are humble and vulnerable while remaining confident in their abilities to accomplish their goals. Coachable teams acknowledge they don’t know what they don’t know and willingly ask for help.
- Coachable teams demonstrate an openness to feedback. Coachable teams demonstrate the ability to accept feedback, even constructive criticism, without taking it personally. Members are aware of their own strengths and vulnerabilities and have a sincere interest in building on strengths while simultaneously limiting weaknesses.
- Coachable teams act. While all three characteristics are important, it is taking action that matters most. If teams do not act upon the insights and new learnings generated during the coaching process, there is no opportunity for changes in practice, growth and development does not occur, and the team’s performance and productivity does not improve.
Coachable teams are restless around their professional practice. Members share the belief everyone can learn and grow and recognize that feedback, constructive criticism, or feeling the urgency to improve is just part of the continuous improvement process.
“Even with the best coaches at your disposal, it is your [the team’s] coachability in conjunction with great coaching that will ultimately determine your success.”- Gloveworx, 2021
Teams have a responsibility to be coachable. Schools enhance the effectiveness of coaching by promoting the kind of cultures that value partnerships between teams and their coaches. A practical way principals, coaches and teacher leaders can determine how receptive teams are to being coached (the coachability quotient) is to ask, answer and act upon the following questions.
To what degree do teams demonstrate a willingness to improve their practice?
Is there any evidence of an interest and/or inclination to learn and grow? Do members routinely read and discuss articles, regularly attend workshops, repeatedly participate in action research? What behaviors reflect a desire to engage in ongoing cycles of continuous improvement? Can the team cite evidence that shows their members want to improve their professional practice?
Are teams able to seek out, accept, and act upon feedback without becoming defensive?
Is the team open to advice and counsel from others? Does the team view evidence of student learning as another source of feedback they can use to improve teaching and learning? Can members objectively consider changes in practice based on data? Does the team take collective responsibility for the learning of all students, or does it shift the blame and find reasons, excuses or rationale for why students are not learning?
Do teams attempt to incorporate new approaches or changes into their professional practice? Will the team engage in a conversation about how they have incorporated the suggestions, insights or ideas generated during the coaching sessions into their classroom routines? Can the team produce artifacts or evidence of the results they did or did not achieve because of trying to operationalize new ideas?
“Every great player and great coach started as an amateur. To reach one’s full potential, in either of those positions, being coachable, open minded, and hungry for knowledge may be the most important key to success. Be humble, put your ego to the side, open your ears, open your mind, and be coachable.”- Baseball Dudes
There is plenty of evidence coaching accelerates the improvement of collaborative teams, but it is the combination of effective coaches and coachable teams that is the formula for success. Obviously, highly effective collaborative teams are knowledgeable about their craft, committed to the belief all kids can learn, and willing to work with others. All these are important but the key attribute of teams that consistently grow and improve may very well be the team’s coachability quotient.
Dr. Tom Many is an author and consultant. His career in education spans more than 30 years.
Gloveworx. (2021). What it Means to Be Coachable. Retrieved July 22 at https://www.gloveworx.com/blog/what-it-means-be-coachable/.
Valdez. L. (2020). Are You Coachable? And Why Does It Matter? Retrieved July 22 at https://www.aaepa.com/author/Lillian-valdez/.
TEPSA News, September/October 2021, Vol 78, No 5
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