Coaching for Student Success

by Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

I came across a quick article today on Ohio University’s website titled: Are You a Good Coach–or a Great One? At the start, the article says:

“Successful coaches are more than great motivators. They are leaders, mentors, and teachers. They cultivate behaviors in their athletes that drive passion and performance.”

I am always intrigued that at many grade schools, the coach’s office is often right next to principal’s office. A coincidence you say? I think not. Coaches are coaches because they have a level of leadership that not everyone possesses. Coaches are often admired, if not exalted. As former Ohio State University President Gordon Gee said about his football coach, Jim Tressel, during the 2011 debacle where Tressel lost his job, “I’m just hoping that the coach doesn’t dismiss me!”  Tressel, by the way, is now president of Youngstown State University. Coincide? I think not.

People look to others who provide direction. Motivation. Coaching. Enthusiasm. Belief. And to those who do it in a way that is not only professional, but provocative and considerate.

The original article lists eight elements that can make a difference in being a good coach or a great coach. I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing and editing their list for teachers and others who are responsible for student learning. I encourage you to read the original coaching centric list as well. So here we go:

  1. Lead by example.

People notice when commitment and passion comes from the top. If you want your students to go the extra mile, you need to do the same. Let students understand the work ethic required to be successful. And it starts with you. Students watch what their elders and peers do and take from that. Just because you don’t always see it in their eyes or hear it in their expressions, do not think for a moment that they aren’t watching you. They are always watching you. Set the standard for work ethic; raise the bar; and dare every one of your students to meet those expectations.

  1. Share the game plan.

It is much easier to follow a higher road if everyone knows how best to follow that road. Good coaches and great teachers provide a clear vision of strategy and objective because students and athletes need to know why they are doing what they are being asked. If students understand that algebra is not just about crunching numbers but also to help develop the critical thinking ability, perhaps they’ll push less away from mathematics. If they understand that reading every day improves greatly your possession of language and increase their ability to think critically and communicate to others, perhaps they will read more. Learning isn’t a secret. Pull back the cloak and be honest and open about the game plan.

  1. Coach the person, not just the athlete.

Just as a coach must go beyond the X’s and O’s of skills and strategy, a teacher must go beyond mere academics with students. Teachers and others involved in learning must take an interest in the lives of students and be equipped to address their needs, help them grow, and cultivate a culture of excellence. People learn much better in an environment where they are cared and respected, and that happens when the teacher takes the opportunity to learn more about everyone in that classroom. Teach by example, but also take the opportunity to learn more about who you are teaching.

  1. Communicate effectively.

Back to the X’s and O’s, all of the technical knowledge in the world will not help you if you cannot communicate it effectively to your students. Take time to understand how your students learn and then tailor your instruction accordingly. The best teachers are able to deliver both criticism and praise in a way that’s well received and taken to heart.

  1. Keep your eye on the ball.

Success is a moving target. To stay relevant, you must commit to lifelong learning and continuous improvement. You must also strive to develop at a faster pace than your peers. This world changes at an astronomical rate, even within key academic disciplines. Ramp up your game through professional development so that, if necessary, you can alter the game plan to something that will benefit your students. To improve “them” requires that you improve “you.” This is what lifelong learning is all about. It isn’t just about “them.” It’s about you, too.

  1. Be a game changer.

Good teachers follow great teachers, and great teachers invent new ways to do things. Creativity is key to your success as a teacher, and your ability to remain open to innovative ideas and teaching philosophies is critical to your ability to be a great teacher. Read professional journals. See what your peers are doing. And bring something new to your classroom every day. Back in the old days, we used to joke about teachers and professors who brought their stack of 100 acetate slides in for the overhead projector. You know the ones? Especially those that were quite literally brown colored from age. Well, the same goes for PowerPoint. Although we may not be able to see the brown ting of time on them, we know how old they are. Reinvent your information so that it makes sense to today’s students, not their parents.

  1. Push for peak performance.

Great teachers make learning challenging – physically, mentally, tactically, and emotionally. They plan lessons with great attention to detail and ensure that every lesson provides the optimal environment in which students can reach their full potential.

  1. Stay humble.

Every teacher wants their students to be whomever they can be, but it only comes with the hard work of developing skills necessary to compete in this great world of ours. Our best teachers realize that it is about the student, not the teacher. Remember our role: to help others develop in to the greatest person they can, just like our teachers did for us.


I’ll leave you with a clip from the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” with Gene Hackman. If this doesn’t say it all, not sure what does.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.