The Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule Is Why We Need Coaches

I woke up this morning in a funky mood, and then read an article I’m about to strongly encourage you to read, which both exasperated and relieved my funky mood, and spurred me to action, which always lifts my mood.
First, the Rant
One of the things I was irritated about when I woke up was related to our education world. It comes down to this: in many of the schools I work in, teachers are being told to do something in their classrooms for which they don’t have the knowledge or skill set. Those telling them to do this know that–they know that the teachers don’t have the skills or knowledge. And yet they tell them to do it anyway. As if that will do what exactly? Make it so that they instantly acquire the skills and knowledge?
The phrase that keeps going through my mind is this: that some decision-makers (administrators) are operating without any kind of learning mindset–it’s not a “growth mindset” that’s missing, it’s a mindset that holds that in order to do what we’re being asked to do, we need to learn. Learning takes time. And people can’t learn when they’re told to learn 76 things at the same time, and they are fighting off the flu, and their students are experiencing extreme violence and trauma in their communities and having PTSD in school, and so on. The conditions for learning are not present; the time needed for learning isn’t provided; and the basic needs of an adult learner aren’t recognized, respected or attended to.
This doesn’t need to be this way. We can create these conditions and adults can (and want to) learn.
But my experience of late in the district I work in is that teachers (and site administrators) are asked/told to do things they’ve never done without having had the training or time to build those skills and knowledge. I’m getting fed up with this.
Now, the Review
Ok, that’s what I was ruminating over this morning. Then I read “Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule: What It Actually Takes to Reach Genius-Level Excellence” by Maria Popova, whose Brain Pickings is one of my favorite sites. Her article is a review of Daniel Goleman’s new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, which is next on my “To Read” stack.
As you can see by the title, Goleman deconstructs the “Myth of 10,000 hours.” It is not simply 10,000 hours that makes us an expert at something, he says. Practicing something incorrectly for 10,000 hours does not produce expertise. It is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, along with guidance from a skilled expert, coach, or mentor, that leads to expertise. Goleman writes that a feedback loop is essential. He writes, “Ideally that feedback comes from someone with an expert eye and so every world-class sports champion has a coach. If you practice without such feedback, you don’t get to the top ranks.”
Can you guess why this statement got me even more riled up? Because it’s so obvious and true and relevant in our schools. Teachers can’t be expected to become the brilliant master educators our kids need them to be without 10,000 hours of practice with someone they really trust (and who plays no role in their evaluation) who will give them critical feedback along the way.
On To My Mission
My primary mission these days is to convince those who hold power in our schools that teachers and administrators deserve and need coaches throughout their careers. Every time I hear that a district or school is investing in coaching I cheer. I really do.
However, part two of this mission is to convince those with power that coaches also deserve 10,000 hours of guided, focused practice with a skilled expert, coach or mentor, so that they can become the kinds of expert coaches who can provide the kind of expert coaching that the teachers and administrators need to become experts. The kinds of experts our children need them to be.
I’m surprised by how little professional development instructional coaches are given, if they are given any at all (training in content, curriculum or some other instructional strategy is not professional development in coaching–so a week of Common Core training doesn’t count). And I’m saddened. Because again–how can we possibly expect coaches to be brilliant developers of other adults when they haven’t had high quality training and on-going refinement of their practice?
See, I was both excited to read Popova’s review (and can’t wait to read Focus) but it also spurred my funky morning mood.
So then I took a long walk in the hills with my son and then went to a Pilates class and then played cards with my son and cooked a healthy meal and wrote this and now I feel much better!
Read this article. It’s worth it.