Do You Coach or Do You Judge?

“When it comes to assessment, think purpose, purpose, purpose”— Caren Cameron

Coaching and teaching have always been passions of mine; however, I had previously considered coaching and teaching to be two completely different things. About 5 years ago, following some conversations with my principal as well as beginning my master’s program, I began to reflect on the techniques I used as a high school volleyball coach and how those related to teaching. My volleyball teams had greatly improved, demonstrated success, and players seemed to be very motivated. My coaching philosophy was based on focusing on process rather than result; I kept statistics but stopped sharing these with players and provided only performance feedback in the form of words. Although we never discussed winning, the more we focused on the process of skill and team development, the better we played. I was doing well enough as a teacher but I questioned that if I was experiencing such success as a coach why was I not doing more coaching in the classroom?

A year later, I had the privilege of being involved in the British Columbia Education Leadership Council (BCELC) seminar series. During this 5 weekend series, we were challenge to rethink the way we do many things, including the way we assess students.

I am embarrassed to say but prior to these events and the resulting conversations, I assessed students like I had been assessed – tests, quizzes, and assignments. As a high school teacher, I had it all figured out. I could somehow brilliantly determine a child’s learning, based on these assessments, right down to a tenth of a percent. I somehow believed that a child with 85.5% was an A student and a child with 85.4% was a B student. I was the assessor and I used grades as carrots and attempted to motivate students by assigning zeros, taking off marks, and providing bonus marks. I did provide feedback to students but I always included a grade along with the feedback. I offered re-writes but very little changed in between assessments. My focus was on summative assessment or “Assessment OF Learning”.

During the BCELC series, we were shown this slide by Caren Cameron:

slide from the BCELC and Caren Cameron

slide from the BCELC and Caren Cameron

Through looking at the above slide, taking part in some powerful dialogue, and reading important research by Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black (ie. Working Inside the Black Box – a must read for every parent and educator), I began to reflect on how much time I spent on the road on the right hand side.  As a coach I spent most of my time on the left, yet as a teacher, I spent most time on the right.

Since then, I have basically switched roads.  As a teacher, I spent the majority of time on the Assessment FOR Learning path which focused on descriptive feedback and ongoing coaching that included learners and was designed to enhance student learning.  As a principal, I continue to encourage and discuss with staff methods to which we can increase descriptive feedback and reflect upon the use of grades and marks.  Through these experiences, I have seen more and more students end their “losing streaks”, become more intrinsically motivated,  and begin to become confident learners.

So my question to you is: on which road do you spend the majority of your time?  Do you coach or do you judge?

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.


  1. A great article – thank you! AfL is a really powerful tool that I use daily in my classroom. The problem comes when the school system just outside is geared heavily towards grades which is certainly something that happens all too regularly in here in the UK. This can lead to the children themselves being all too often hung up them too. Working through this is a real challenge – even with 9 and 10 year olds so goodness knows how hard it is when you are teaching older children and young adults.

  2. Chris,
    Great post. In my role as coach there was very little use of statistical data, even though we did keep track of leading goal scorers and assists, overall wins and losses. My conversations with my players rarely included such data, though, because we talked about their observable behaviors- how they were performing on the field, the choices they were making when they had possession of the ball, the defensive strategies they were employing. The other coaches and I were able to model and demonstrate for them how to improve their skills and game tactics, allow them to practice in a supportive environment, and then provide more feedback. The players encouraged each other along the way, and all of that descriptive feedback allowed for personal growth in skills, attitudes, and confidence. We owe the same to our students in the classroom. Thank you for sharing the Black Box article about formative assessment. We’ve been examining the role of assessment in our school this year and this is a must-read for our team!

  3. I spent a number of years coaching cross country and track at the high school level. Amazing how we “get it” while we’re coaching, and “forget it” while we’re teaching. Thanks for the reminder, Chris.

  4. Excellent article! I work at a sports focussed college and a lot of the staff here are split between coaching and teaching. I think they’ll be interested in hearing what you have to say 🙂

  5. Chris,

    I enjoyed reading your post and plan to share with some of my teachers.

    As as former college basketball player, I am a huge fan of sports analogies to the field of education. When I think back to my playing days, the best feedback I got from my coaches was during practice when they immediately corrected my mistakes and demonstrated exactly what they needed me to do differently. Also, watching game or practice film and discussing what I was doing well and what areas I needed to improve in was hugely beneficial. Being able to see myself in action, while they discussed this information on a personal and individual level, allowed me to actual make a positive change in my performance. The statistics were used, but they were used to show the results of my efforts not to provide the instruction.

    Thank you for sharing!

  6. I am currently in my second year of secondary education and I am just facing all these questions myself. I have quite a bit of experience coaching and teaching swimming lessons which has allowed me to have a glimpse into my own teaching styles and habits. I myself find myself “assessing of” and now reflecting on my own approach I feel as though I may have disallowed some of my students to grow. I applaud you for bring this up! I am going to share this with my ed math and coaching theory class for sure!

  7. @Hannah – yes, this is a huge problem in BC too. The current structures that focus on percents and grades makes AFL more difficult to implement. Having said this, it is not impossible and we are seeing more and more teachers using the philosophies of AFL. I agree, the older the child, the more difficult it gets as the system focuses more on AOL. Thanks for commenting!

    @Lyn – Thanks again for commenting. I enjoy our conversations we have around assessment and it is great to see both our schools moving in the same direction. Baby steps is key as this transition is sometimes difficult for people to understand. Thanks for adding your experience as a coach!

  8. @Tom – Love that quote.. I tweeted it out!

    @Sean – So many coaches can relate – great post!

  9. @Alicia – yes, I think many teachers can be more like coaches and many coaches can be better teachers. Thanks for commenting and adding to the conversation!

    @Payton – someone wrote that we need to be data-informed rather than data-driven. Keep the data to ourselves to help us and use feedback to move us forward in the learning process. Thanks for adding your personal experience to the blog!

  10. Great post! It reminded me of watching a great Phys Ed teacher /coach, Rebecca Young, in action this year. She gave individual feedback to each student to help them adjust one thing that would help them improve. I was in awe & know that if she had been my gym teacher I wouldn’t have hated gym class my whole school career. A coaching approach definitely fosters a growth mindset whether it is in the gym or in the classroom. Thanks for sharing and reminding me to focus on AFL.

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