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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Cosmic Whack on the Side of Mark Caldwell's Head

Reading Chris Behan's recent blog post provided the sense of guilt he had hoped to achieve. My lack of recent writing was more a function of the absence of a creative thought about advocacy teaching these past months. Over the years I found that much of what is new in advocacy teaching is really not "new" but a variation on a theme. I look back at many of the things I use that colleagues call innovative and realize these ideas came from sources outside the law but within the teaching and coaching communities. Sadly, I confess that many of my forehead slapping realizations came from observing what gifted teachers and sports coaches do as they work in elementary and secondary schools. These are not new ideas but adaptations of the successes of others.

I write today about my most recent "whack on the side of the head." Sometimes the most effective teaching comes not from the instructor but the student. I know this may sound heretical but it really is based on sound educational principles.

Each of us has had the wonderful experience of watching a student performance where the student does something incorrectly, stops, and then corrects the problem themself. As instructor, we smile and pat ourselves on the back for instilling the knowledge of the skill that the student applied. This is partially true and partially false. Yes, the instructor did initially plan the seed of knowledge. However, it is the student that has taken in the piece of information, reflected on the information, practiced using the skill, and finally made it their own. Depending on which educational theorist you follow you recognize this as the circle of adult learning theory.


The important part is the reflecting and thinking about pieces the student uses to make the new behavior their own. This self teaching is the difference from training monkeys to repeat a skill and the independent thought process of using information appropriately when the information is necessary.

Is there a way to speed this process as we teach advocacy skills? I believe the answer is yes. The answer comes from repetition and coaching instead of pure teaching. The coaching process parallels the precepting process used in medical schools. A preceptor is a unique combination of teacher and mentor, being in a position to foster the growth and progress of each student.

Coaching is the act of engaging a participant in a problem solving discussion during which something new is learned. This is based upon an understanding that students come to courses with a developing set of skills and an understanding of the skills taught at courses. Instructors do a disservice to students with the perception they have no previous experience or understanding of a skill. A good coach causes a learner to apply that which was taught earlier to practice and to take the learning to the next level or case.

Coaching is often the skill of allowing the participant to self-realize and direct their own learning. Some teaching activities you can employ to aid in this process are:

1.        Tying classroom experience to real world experiences (This is not an excuse to tell lengthy war stories);

2.       Encouraging the participant to reflect on the current classroom and past experience;

3.       Allowing the participant to define what they want to emphasize in the session (What do they want to do?);

4.       Allowing the participant to participate in the evaluation process (What are they seeing?).

Sports coach, Tim Gallwey[1], suggests distilling the process of coaching to two questions and a statement. These apply to almost any coaching situation:

1)       What do you want to achieve?
2)       What happened?
3)       Don't "fix" it!

The first question is paramount to any coaching situation. What does the participant want to achieve or learn? Without such initial clarification, there may be little success. This often leads to a sense of frustration and wasted time.

The second question is the ideal coaching instruction: What actually happened? The coach wants to discover what the participant felt and the responses of those involved in the performance – witness, opposing counsel, judge, and instructors. .

The final line is the coach's challenge and most difficult. The idea of not correcting a problem is antithetical to what we do as instructors. We want to correct the behavior –  fix it. This is one of the central reasons why we teach. In a coaching model "fixing" things is less effective and fails to give the participant a portable skill to take to the next case or situation. Awareness will lead to corrections and growth much more effectively than simple repetition or correcting. By telling the participant to not "fix" it, you're telling the student to trust what they see and to learn from the experience. Leading the participant to self awareness and discussing solutions leads to learning. The difficult part is avoiding your desire to look good (as an instructor) and the participant's need to look accomplished. It's difficult, but very enlightening and valuable to you as a coach, and to the student as an independent learner.

Some suggestions:

1.        Awareness - yours and the participants. Make sure they are aware of what is happening. Give them transcript or playback!  Let them reflect on what is going on and rephrase.;

2.       Observation of the new performance with curiosity and openness (what could be called Exploration or Discovery);

3.       No judgment of good or bad -- just observation of what happened;

4.       "Positive" feedback, positive coaching. Point out what's working and what can work. Positive thinking may be too much thinking. This is about looking for and highlighting things that are working, even a little. Fragile egos need strokes and this is the opportunity. Show them success, they are approaching success or at least on a path that is leading somewhere. It is very powerful to point out what is happening and the little successes being achieved. Help them to succeed.

We learn best by our experience, not by the wonderful words of the instructor. As we teach skills, experience is the best teacher. Another way to say it: Awareness is development.

5.       Make use of mini-demonstrations. Demonstrations can help, if they increase understanding of possibilities.  By providing a model we lead to self realization of what works. Make them short - you are taking their time when you perform.

Conducting a coaching session

Coaching sessions are done individually, so interaction is one on one. Unlike sessions in a performance room where other participants, actors, or other instructors serve as witness, the coach must assume the duel roles of instructor and witness or fact finder. This juggling role is not difficult. It often occurs in performance rooms as instructors play witness during drills and other witness exercises. In a coaching session the instructor answers questions in a way that directs the participant's learning. Responding to poor or objectionable questions allows the student to self-discover a problem. It is not essential for an instructor to have a perfect memory as to case facts. Focus is on working skills, not presenting the case. Make sure the student appreciates this distinction.

Logistics of room allocation often do not permit the luxury of having individual coaching rooms. Repeat performance/coaching sessions can be held in the hallway or another public space. Usually, coaches have sufficient space to spread out so they can work. Privacy is not the focus of these sessions. Depending upon what the student wishes to work on, coaching sessions may be done seated with student and coach facing each other. Except for those situations where the student is working on issues involving voice or movement, the ability to sit and "chat" allows for a more "peer" driven conversation between instructor and participant. It also provides time for the participant to ask questions, something discouraged in the group performance room.

Some may discount my suggestions, saying coaching is a luxury only afforded through continuing education courses. I believe coaching is appropriate for law school courses and mock trial teams. This is that great opportunity for instructors to reach out to the community of lawyers and judges and ask for them to volunteer. Likewise, students who previously participated in the class may also provide a pool of potential coaches. You will know the obvious candidates and they will be flattered to be asked to be coaches. Granted, you should do a training session that helps your volunteers understand the process. Meet with them shortly before class to remind them of the specific teaching goals of the individual session. The benefits of adding coaching sessions to your class or team development include improved performances due to higher repetition and individual learning plus the appreciation of students who rarely receive individualized instruction.

Back to my original point, many of my "new" ideas arise from borrowing from what is happening in the broader world of education. We often forget about the myriad of master teachers who came before us and work in other fields besides the law.  See what master teachers did in the past. Take the time to see what corporate trainers are doing. Review the literature of what is being done in elementary and secondary education.  I believe you will be pleasantly surprised and may have your own "cosmic whack on the side of the head."

--Mark Caldwell

[1] W. Timothy Gallwey is an author who has written a series of books in which he has set forth a new methodology for coaching and for the development of personal and professional excellence in a variety of fields, that he calls "The Inner Game." Since he began writing in the 1970s, his books include The Inner Game of Tennis, The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner game of Music (with Barry Green), Inner Skiing and The Inner Game of Work. Gallwey's seminal work is The Inner Game of Tennis, with more than one million copies in print. Besides sports, his training methods have been applied to the fields of business, health, and education.

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