June 14, 2000
1. University Students as Coaches
Our coaches are students enrolled in a university class (Pol Sci 381 Citizenship) I teach. Most are social studies majors-planning to be high school teachers. We meet Tuesday for 50 minutes on campus. On Thursday we go to Dakota Meadows for Public Achievement.
2. The Tuesday Seminar
In Tuesday class seminars I/we struggle to be more theoretical and talk about more than Public Achievement. Readings on democratic theory, group dynamics, the green book, and other sources develop conceptions and understandings of democracy and citizens' roles. I am tending to keep half or fewer of the Tuesday seminars open to deal with coaching and more extended reorientation. During spring semester last year teams of coaches each took a Tuesday and prepared a presentation or activities for half the period. I want to continue with this experiment this year.
3. Coach Orientation
a. Coach Prep Workshop
We begin the year with 6-8 hours of orientation to PA. Last year we did this the first three weeks of class. This year we are going to hold an all-day preparation conference on a Saturday. Coaches/students need to read the Green Book at this point. We deal with what is PA, the role and challenges of coaching, emphasize team builders and core concepts. Former coaches are important speakers in these sessions.
b. Site Orientation
We also go to Dakota Meadows for a site orientation one Thursday. We meet with some teachers and students and get briefed on school and PA policies and tour the building.
c. Small Group Meetings
Also part of coach orientation are the small group meetings they hold one Thursday with PA kids before the Issues Assembly. They get a randomly assigned group of youth. Explain PA to them (as best they can) and help them brainstorm issues. This is part issue development for the kids; but it is also coach preparation because they get to meet a group of kids prior to getting their own team.
d. Minnesota Workshops
All our coaches are required to attend at least one workshop, conference or other event organized by Minnesota PA.
4. Coach Manual & Assembly Display Boards
We have a brief manual for the coaches (The Yellow Book). It includes a suggested agenda for the first six meetings. It also includes a check-list for subsequent meetings (did you...evaluate?....use concepts?....rotate roles?......use and agenda?......etc.) It also includes a glossary on core concepts. We will probably be adding other resources.
We have an assembly for each grade scheduled for the last meeting before Christmas break. Each team is supposed to prepare a display board with their name, mission statement, rules, some research and maybe a power map. This is intended to give coaches and teams some specific tasks to accomplish as team-building takes place. Coaches' evaluation of this was mixed. Some thought it met this goal. Others thought it was busy work, and took too much time from other things. It may postpone the teams going outside the group and reality-testing.
Coaches said this helped. It gave them something to cling to so they had some idea what to do the first weeks. They all followed the agendas the first or second week. Only a few followed the script after that.
5. Observation of PA Team Meetings
Team meetings are public meetings. Coaches must expect visitors. As professor I am Coach Coordinator. I go to the school in our van with the coaches and stay the whole time. I circulate between teams observing and making notes. I try to see every team every three weeks. The Site Coordinator also floats and observes. The coach mentors (see below) observe a smaller group of teams.
These observations usually lead us to a "triage" approach to teams. Some are fine, some are in trouble. We try to intervene in a variety of ways to help improve the coaches and teams. Visit individually with coach, bring up topics in debriefing, talk to the team, put a coach mentor in to assist if the coach is in trouble. We try to be restrained about interrupting team meetings, but sometimes it seems the best way.
6. Coach Writing
The university students are required to do writing for the course. They write a weekly journal entry (based on Jim Farr's assignment). The write about their reading/class discussion; their practical (PA) experience and are expected to write integrative thoughts relating the two. I read and respond three times during the semester.
The coaches also write a year end report/evaluation that includes a letter to next year's coaches.
7. Coach Mentors
We have had 3-5 coaches from each year who return the next year to serve as coach mentors. Some coach their own teams but most do not. Each has a cluster of teams they observe. They debrief with these coaches and may organize Tuesday class seminar activities together. They read journals last year. They are supposed to report in to me by visiting periodically and/or fill out written report.
We only have 30 minutes at most for debriefing after team meetings. We have 30 coaches in two shifts. (So our whole class does not debrief together on Thursday. That's why the time in Tuesday seminars is also good for debriefing.)
Last year we had 16 coaches in one shift. That is too many to do much in whole-group debriefing. We usually divide into smaller groups. We do mostly check-in in the beginning of the year. Then we try to have a focused question or topic for debriefings. Sometimes this worked great sometimes not so great. We had teachers sit in on debriefing once last year. We plan to do this as much as possible this year.
9. Life Cycle of the Year
It helps to have the coordinators keep the coaches aware of how many meetings are left. We also try to use our experience from past years to help them know what to expect. We had some success in paying more attention to the particular challenges of the last few meetings.
With this many coaches and this much activity it is a challenge to get to know the coaches and to keep up with them and their teams. It is easy to form snap judgments about them based on a comment in a journal or a bad day coaching. Also they are changing over the course of the year so coaches who seemed weak in November on may blossom in the spring.
Investing the time is the best way to be a better coach of coaches. My ideal would be to read the journals more frequently and have an office visit with each every couple of weeks. But I haven't done that yet, fearing the time commitment. Meeting with the coordinators and mentors as a leadership team is something else we should do more formally. But that also is another chunk of time in the week.
It is important in class and in debriefing to set an attitude that welcomes evaluation, suggestions and honest comments. It takes a while for the students to learn and me to remember that they are partners in a collaboration, not just students taking a class from some professor. We try to establish ourselves as a team where everyone's input is needed.