The difference between teaching and coaching

I've been thinking lately about the difference between teaching and coaching, and how by understanding the difference between the two, we can learn more from those who are doing both. Likewise, understanding this difference can also help us properly focus our energy when we are ourselves showing someone how to do something.

Both teaching and coaching are of course helping someone learn a particular skill or sharing a certain piece of knowledge, and both of them are gifts that are given to a student. Teaching however, is primarily a one way interaction. A person that knows something shows you how to do something or tells you some piece of information that they know.

If I write a blog post on how to use Google Apps to set up your company email accounts, I'm teaching you. The only interaction required is that I send this information to you, and you receive it. There, I've taught you something.

Coaching on the other had requires a cyclical, ongoing interaction. In order to coach someone, you need to first teach them something, then observe the student, and then provide feedback again. Unless all three of these interactions are taking place, it cannot be considered coaching.

The biggest difference is that, ultimately, teaching is about the teacher and coaching is about the student.

Think about who your favorite teachers were. I bet you'll find that the thing that made them so great was not just the way they taught you. Most likely, they also watched how you did something and gave you great feedback.

The best teachers aren't just teachers. They're also coaches.

I think about this when I'm reading blog posts. There's a difference in tone in those that are coaching versus those that are teaching. People that teach talk about what they're doing, how they did something, and teach you how you can benefit from some of the same things that they've learned.

People that coach though, their posts seem to be based more on the observation of others, and then giving feedback based on those observations. It's a subtle difference, but an important one.

The other way this difference can be seen is based on how people react when you reach out to them. If you reach out to someone that's taught you something and you don't get a response, it just means that they can't coach you. If someone writes you back though, and gives you a little bit more insight or perspective based on an observation, then that's an entirely different kind of gift.

Coaching, by it's nature, is more scarce. One person can teach a room of 1,000 people how to do something. It's very difficult, if not impossible, for one person to coach 1,000 people because observing those 1,000 people would require an extraordinary amount of effort.

I point these differences out not to say that the teachers aren't doing enough. Again, it's simply impossible to coach as many people as you can teach. Instead, it's important to recognize and truly appreciate when someone takes those extra steps to observe what you've done and gives you feedback. They can't do it for everyone, and it's really important to understand that they've given you something much more rare than teaching.

Likewise, if you're teaching people, think about how you can coach someone now and then. Because when you do, you're taking a moment to invest in the student.

It isn't the point of coaching of course, but in return for doing so, you're likely to earn a true fan for life.