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What can educators learn from health care coaches?

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Catching up on yesterday’s papers this morning, I clicked on Rosenberg’s column The Health Coach You Know.  Thankfully at this point in my life none of my immediate family members suffers from a chronic or terminal disease.  This is not so for many, however.  My best friend’s dad just died this week in Maine after a long bout with Alzheimer’s, and this is on my mind.  Rosenberg hones in on the daily challenge of “getting ourselves to live more healthfully” from both an individual and societal perspective.  Gnawing on my second donut, I read on. 

What Rosenberg gets at, as her title implies, is that health coaching works.  When you think about it, much of the work of professionals from MD’s to home health personnel does consist of coaching, that is, of listening and responding, being truthful and resourceful, supportive without fostering false hopes.  Rosenberg references a California Healthcare Foundation report that touts the efficacy of peer coaches and support groups; this is not surprising given that trained community workers take a holistic view of patients, work with them one-on-one, and serve as their navigators through the health care system.  Rosenberg’s real point, though, is that we all have coaches among our family and friends; it is those who care that prod us along.  Yes, trained professionals are needed, but as she so poignantly suggests, why does grandmother’s pill bottle state take with food?  “Why not ‘take with spouse’ or even child?  A seven-year-old would love this job.”  The medical term may be treatment adherence; the human method is talking with people and caring for others. 

What does all this have to do with teaching?  Well, Rosenberg also points out that the most effective peer coaches are ones who are taking the same journey.  While her focus is on health and wellness, in the world of education, this translates to mentoring.  As CETL works to get our faculty mentoring program off the ground, the importance of training cannot be overlooked.  But more importantly is the willingness of seasoned faculty to share with new members their journeys, their teaching “experiences” as well as their “experience” (try explaining this nuance to an ESL student, but I know you get it).  Informal and formal mentoring already occurs across disciplines and campuses at SPC, and the number of faculty who attended our February workshops attests to the value ascribed to peer mentoring.  We’re still in the organizational stages, working on guidelines and a handbook for mentors, a needs analysis of new faculty, and an effective and efficient matching process.  In the meantime, let’s not forget the power of simple conversation.  Inviting a colleague to sit down and chat for a moment rather than a quick hallway hello fosters camaraderie along with deeper personal and professional relationships. 

Chris Pultz, an instructional technology “coach” in the public school system in Lincoln, Nebraska, kept notes on his various encounters with teachers for a year.  He poured this anecdotal evidence of his work into Tagxedo, a web-based text analysis tool similar to Wordle.  He removed nouns in order to get at verbs, that is, what an educational coach actually does, and posted results in a coach’s work of art.  Pultz puts it this way:  “What is interesting to me, and accurate I think, is how many of the verbs are some variation of talking to people. That really gets to the heart of coaching.”  Imagine that.  Talking to people and caring for others:  the human method.

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