I was working with a team this morning on a topic that we call the Coaching Cycle. The session started with some self-reflection on what it means to be a teacher-coach in an operational excellence system. Every team leader is charged with the responsibility to be a teacher-coach. While we are familiar with the ideas of teacher and coach discretely, we are less familiar with a mash-up of the two.
I started off by asking, “What does it mean to be a teacher-coach in the operational excellence system?” Because the group was a set of lean thinking folks, they quickly started listing the lean-appropriate answers:
- You should follow the TWI (Training Within Industry) model of see one, do one, teach one.
- You should let people make mistakes
- You should help people by showing them how
The consummate devils-advocate, I asked them to start to put their answers into categories of “teacher” or “coach.” The group was hard pressed to put anything in the teacher category.
We’ve coined the term teacher-coach purposefully. We acknowledge that everything the team came up with in the coaching category was valid…for the coaching part of teacher-coach.
So, what is the teacher- in teacher-coach?
Here are three ideas:
- The teacher is a learner. I took a course in geology in college. I loved the final: here is a box of rocks – identify them. My professor was a quirky guy. I went to a military school, so he wore a uniform. He was a former Marine and wore the rank of major, the equivalent of an associate professor elsewhere. Let’s call him Major Sedimentary. Once, we were out in the field for a lab. He had a satchel that he carried into the field; dusty, olive drab and deep, he kept the essentials in there: a notebook and a pencil. There was so much extra space in that satchel because he was a rock collector. He collected rocks everywhere he went. He used the rocks in his courses and kept building more complex final exams. Each rock told a stony story. Each rock had a purpose to him as a way to teach someone something. As a teacher, the leader needs to hunt for new learning and add it to his bag.
- The teacher stays four steps ahead. See: number one above, the teacher is a learner. Ideally, ahead implies “down the road” regarding experiences. The best teachers are the ones who have practical experience. They’ve made mistakes. Those mistakes are like one of Major Sedimentary’s rocks: added learning. The leader has to try and teach from his experience. Yes, the experiences of others are shareable, but nothing substitutes for personal experience.
- The teacher has to be confident in raising the bar without explaining everything. This can lead to frustration for the learner, but if done well and coupled with a coaching spirit, a good teacher takes the frustration and uses it to his advantage. My cello teacher is excellent at this. I’m a novice cello player. Early in my career (last year) he made me practice a ridiculous scale that involved every sharp and flat known to man. He assured me that it would be useful. Once I was reasonably proficient at playing that scale, he taught me a song in B Major: a key with five sharps. Playing that song would have been nearly impossible had I not mastered that scale. I was shocked at how quickly I picked up the song. A leader has to earn the trust of his team. When my cello teacher throws something hard my way, it may be painful to practice, but I know he is taking me somewhere where I’ll love to be.