The Difference Between Clinics and Coaching

“I can give you a fish, and you eat for a day. Or, I can teach you to fish, and you’ll eat for a lifetime.”

Regular feedback is vital for continuous improvement. Continuous improvement leads to success and growth and keeps a teacher invigorated. Instructional coaching is a way to receive that feedback and keep moving forward. It is so important, and we must seek it out as it’s not always easily accessible.

As a student teacher, we receive feedback from our cooperating/mentor teachers and our supervising teachers. After a class, we debrief and review the positives and negatives. In a core class (English, Reading, World Language, Math, Science, Social Studies, ETC.), usually each campus discipline has a Department Head or Dean who observes teachers and provides feedback. For music teachers, more often than not, there is a single Fine Arts Director for an entire district, and this person only sometimes has the time to visit campuses and provide feedback regularly. And, when they do, it’s often “triage” based, so often, only the weakest teachers receive constructive feedback, leaving those “proficient” and “competent” teachers in situations where they may or may not receive essential guidance.

At CTJ, I have had multiple “instructional coaches” in my career, and this was different from a “clinician whom I might bring in once or twice to provide an experience for our students and learn by watching them conduct the band.” Of course, there is always some crossover. Still, even when I would bring in a clinician, I aimed to learn from someone who would compliment my instructional coaches and provide an environment where I could apply the things they worked on when I left.

Ms. Rhodes is available to mentor our students and directors year-round. Mr. Bennett and Mr. Dixon have visited our campuses at least once and sometimes twice a month since 2009. Dr. Rhea visits several times through the spring, along with Mr. Brashear and Mr Benzer. Mr. Cipriani leads our fall semester. Professor James Keene had a profound impact on our students and me and was beyond a clinician – he was a friend.

Each of these coaches would watch me teach, then provide live feedback for the students and me. They would only conduct if they were helping demonstrate something for me. We debrief after classes, and they regularly discuss how I can improve my job. While they give a lot of “band” and “pedagogy” information, they provide equal details on procedures, goals, and tools to be more effective in rehearsals. They also share information about selecting literature, managing culture, and discipline. They are the true definition of “Continuing Professional Education.” It goes beyond a clinic.

Mr. Cipriani provides regular feedback and information during the summers when I teach Boston and formerly when I taught at Cadets. His feedback is on pacing and delivery as much as on information to teach brass. He comes to Johnson and will mix teaching our brass with watching me teach and providing information. This information during the fall and summer complements the information that Mr. Bennett and Mr. Dixon provide.

When Dr. Rhea, Mr. Brashear, and Ms. Rhodes help, they always provide information that supports the students. Sometimes, the feedback differs or provides a different thought process from Mr. Cipriani, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Dixon. I always find 80% of the time, the information is complimentary, and other times there is a contradiction. In those cases where the information contradicts, I learn the most from talking through that with the different parties and helping the students understand the different approaches.

I love that there are multiple ways to approach a piece, a concept, or a topic — I am most interested in finding ways to blend these philosophies. That said, everyone who works with our students is also helping me become a better music teacher.

How Coaching Sessions Will Work

First Visit or “Diagnostic” Visit

  1. I will come to observe and take notes
  2. I won’t talk
  3. I will time how much the kids actually play in a rehearsal and provide this feedback (i.e. in a 50-minute class, you played 20 minutes)​
  4. We will debrief after and share observations/talk through​

Second Visit

  1. I will come to observe, take notes, and begin to interject some​
  2. I will focus more on fundamentals and offer suggestions on how to improve on instruments more than music​
  3. I will watch/observe your music rehearsal in addition to your fundamentals 
  4. We will debrief after, share observations/talk through, and make a plan based on the ensemble’s strengths and weaknesses and also the literature you want to play​
  5. We will rank/rate sections and decide on appropriate literature based on the strengths and weaknesses of your players​
  6. We will evaluate and plan how to build skills for the current semester and the future​

Third Visit Onward

  1. Our clinic will be interactive; you play through an exercise, and we work to make it better and assign some things for the next visit​
  2. We will review things at a visit that we discussed last time​
  3. We will observe if things are better or if you are struggling with the same issues​
  4. We will create a plan on how to tackle specific challenges unique to the ensemble​
  5. We will create a plan on how to tackle specific challenges unique to the music you are programming​

I can “conduct” or “clean the band” if you prefer to observe from time to time — but YOU should conduct while I am here most often, so you can learn and receive feedback. You will want to prepare the students that the coaching is as much for YOU as it is for them.