Education Opinion

12: The Maximum Number of Teachers That a Coach Should Coach

By Elena Aguilar — October 23, 2014 2 min read

Yes, I used “should,” (which elsewhere I suggest we banish from our vocabularies). And here are some other numbers that relate to our work that you might appreciate.

The November day which has been designated as International Coach Appreciation Day. So if you’re a coach reading this, you might want to let those who love you know what your preferred gifts might be. And if you’re someone who loves a coach, well you have some time to think about it. And by the way--November 4 was named International Coach Appreciation Day by me! There wasn’t one, so I called it. Coaches need appreciation!

The number of years that an organization takes to change when it’s engaged in a systematic, focused change effort facilitated by effective leaders.

The maximum number of clients that I feel I can effectively coach at one time. One of the reasons I feel effective is that I can hold their stories in my head--I can remember lots of details, phrases they’ve used and the relationships they have. When I’m coaching five or six people at one time, I can feel the edges of my mind getting fuzzy and cluttered. Six is my absolute max--even though I suggested 12. Keep reading.

The “channel capacity"--the amount of space in our brain for certain kinds of information. We can only channel so much raw information at once. This is why telephone numbers have 7 digits. It’s referred to as the “Magic Number Seven.” Not sure how this is related to coaching but I think it’s interesting.

Our “sympathy group.” Caring about someone deeply is exhausting. Psychologists tell us that we can’t care deeply about more than 12 people--so this, I say, is why coaches should never coach more than 12 people at a time. If we don’t have the capacity to care deeply then our coaching won’t be transformational.

The number of professional development hours that Professor Linda Darling-Hammond says that teachers need in order to improve their skills and therefore improve student learning. Do you think teachers are getting 50 hours of PD on a skill set?

The maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuine social relationship, where we know who they are and how they relate to us. This was the average number of people in many hunter gatherer societies. Our brain can only handle about 150 complex social relationships. While having 150 students is far, far too many for any teacher already, this is further evidence for why a teacher should never have more than 150 students.

The number of years that the Dalai Lama says we might have to wait to see the “fruits of our labor.” Some years ago, he told a group of activists who were distraught about the rate of change, “Do not despair. Your work will bear fruit in 700 years or so.”

The number of hours that it takes to become a master at something. This comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s work, Outliers, which is a fantastic read. For educators, this translates into five to seven years of teaching or coaching or leading. That’s a lot of time! And of course, this is 10,000 hour of deliberate practice during which we get feedback because practice alone won’t turn us into masters. And so those of you in your first year or two of coaching, know that it’ll take a few more until you feel really competent--and that you’ll need a lot of job-embedded PD and coaching in order for you to refine your practice.

The opinions expressed in The Art of Coaching Teachers are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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