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As I mentioned in an earlier blog I was at the September meeting of the Math Forum; the theme for the meeting was coaching.
There was considerable disapproval of the term coaching; that it set up a hierarchy of ability or skill, that it brought up visions of movie-football coaches berating their athletes. The word facilitator was proposed as something more appropriate. But what a banal, uninspiring word.
I however suggested that coach was the right word -- so long as we envisioned it as an Olympic-level coach. An Olympic coach works with athletes that already have considerable ability; there's not a hierarchy, in fact, the athlete has the spotlight, the fame, the medals. The coach of an Olympian is a specialist; he doesn't focus on every football position but emphasizes one activity at considerable depth. It's not that the coach is the better athlete, it's that the coach has the knowledge and skill to help the athlete reach great competency and the background to be credible. The coach knows how to communicate, to decide the right next step, to plan the process to get the athlete to the next level. He sees the big picture; it's not just the athleticism but the diet, the lifestyle, the mental attitude. He knows when to use the soft touch and when to put his foot down.
It's certainly what I hope I achieve when working at PCMI - these are already good teachers who are looking to improve. It's a challenging role, and as much sleep as I miss or stress I endure I do enjoy it. There's not so much an opportunity at my school, where there's neither time nor appreciation for such a process.
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