The following represents a draft of an essay I am developing on the concept of academic coaching. Comments would be appreciated.
The task of this essay is to distinguish academic coaching from current conceptions of both teaching and tutoring in North America. This is neither to say that coaching is a necessary distinction from these two, nor that teachers and tutors must not engage in coaching activities or possess coaching traits. It merely acknowledges that teaching and tutoring have often come to be limited either by practical necessity or as a convenient option and to exclude the positive benefits that coaching affords.
Concerns of the Academic Coach
Teachers in North America are constrained by schedules, classes, and curricular requirements to focus their activities upon the content of the course being taught. While teachers of course are concerned with the needs of students in their classes, such needs cannot be allowed to hijack the activities of the class in ways that impede covering the required course material. When individual students are struggling with the curriculum or are falling behind the pace of the class at large, it is appropriate for students to seek tutorial help. It is the task of tutors in North America to spend extra time with individual students to overcome the difficulties they are experiencing in class or to help them increase the pace at which they are able to process the course curriculum. When the student has overcome the difficulty and is able to proceed at the pace of the class, there is no further need for the tutor.
By contrast, the academic coach focuses upon the performance of students being coached. Because the teacher is concerned with the required content of the course, the coach is able to focus upon how students are performing in the learning process. In distinction from a tutor, the coach is not engaged in the class primarily to help with “problem” cases or individual needs, although a part of the concern coaches have is with individual performance. Rather, the coach focuses upon increasing the quality of the learning experience by helping students in both their individual and in their collaborative efforts in the course. While teachers and tutors focus upon the content of the course, the coach focuses upon the lived experience of learning in the course as an individual, as well as a community, effort. It is this aspect of academic coaching that has not been addressed in the literature available on coaching. Most of the literature reviewed later in this essay focuses upon coaches working with individual students. In this essay, the view is taken that coaches create good individual students, but also that they create learning communities, or teams, that explore collaborative learning.
Activities of the Academic Coach
Academic coaches must engage students in four main activities in order to enhance the quality of the learning experience in courses. Coaches must develop strategy, communication, motivation, and feedback in the groups of students they coach. Each of these will be discussed more fully below.
First, coaches must develop strategy as they coach students. They must find out what strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, and interests each of their students has. Some of this will involve meeting with students individually to discuss these areas, but it should also be confirmed by direct observation as students function in the larger group. Also, the focus of the coaching should not be to “define” the individual, as if to place the student into a box or category. Rather, the activity should be seen as a emergent picture of the individual’s growth process.
While strategy involves communication, there is also an aspect of communication that goes far beyond what one coach does with each individual student in a group. Communication as an activity needs to be seen in terms of the overall learning process. The learning process itself is the communication activity overseen by the coach in a group. Coaches develop groups of students into learning communities as the communication of the group is enhanced.
Thirdly, coaches engage in motivation activities. These are often celebratory in nature, acknowledging the progress in learning that individuals have contributed to the learning community. Such celebration is a vital part of increasing the quality of the learning experience as students come to see not only their progress, but the value that the community places upon the progress of its members.
Finally, coaches provide feedback for students. Students need positive reinforcement that is not connected with results of their work in courses. Obviously, getting good grades is feedback, but students often need more than an overall grade and a few comments to improve their work. In addition, the feedback they need is concerned as much with process as it is with product. Also, the feedback system needs to be multi-directional; students must engage in providing, and not just receiving, feedback on both the process and products of learning activities. Coaches provide a less threatening non-peer person to engage in communication than teachers and tutors offer.
Characteristics of the Academic Coach
Academic coaches exhibit six major characteristics in their activities.
First, coaches are dedicated to the learning process. While teachers often enjoy the discipline they teach (or the particular curriculum) more than their students, the central enjoyment of the coach is a wide range of learning and, especially, helping others learn. Coaches are happiest when their students are performing at their greatest level, both as individuals and as a team together with others.
Because learning is more important than the subject learned, coaches are able to resist the temptation to show or tell students how to do things or the specific information required in the course. The have learned to avoid the role of “sage on the stage” with students, preferring to come alongside and celebrate the students’ own achievements in learning. This resolve on the part of coaches to resist demonstrating their own intellectual abilities, leads to a revised understanding of the learning process as active (information gathering), rather than passive (information reception).
Thirdly, coaches enjoy collaboration. Though they are supportive and encouraging with students who individually seek out information, they are even more satisfied when the learning community has teamed up to find out information or acquire a skill.Reliable information is not seen as flowing from the coach to students. Rather, it is the task of the whole group to increase the understanding of reliable information as common property.
Because the curriculum content has taken second place in the coaches’ focus behind the quality of the learning experience, and because the coaches’ own performance has little to do with the specific content of the course, coaches have patience to allow students to learn and are not often tempted to rush the learning process.
When a learning community is engaged in high-quality function, it often finds that it needs new sorts of learning activities in order to engage all its members in learning. Coaches need to be able to create new learning activities, so that everyone in the community experiences fulfilment in the group’s activities.
From time to time, members in a community will have different opinions regarding activities they are engaged in. What may be enjoyable to some of the community, may be stressful (or boring) to others. Not all people have the same activities they enjoy, but it is also true that not all people have an equal amount of tolerance for the differences of preference, ability, and taste found in community members. As a result, coaches must learn to mediate conflict well in the learning community.
Teachers and tutors can learn many helpful techniques from academic coaches to improve the performance and satisfaction of their students, but neither of these two roles substantially decreases the ongoing need for academic coaching in education. Teachers will continue to be required to cover planned curricula on schedule, and this requirement will tend to push critical needs of the learning community aside from time to time. Tutors will continue (at least in North America) to be seen as corrective measures, to be brought in only for special situations or when problems are encountered. Most telling in this regard is that tutors will continue to operate to provide one-on-one help.
Academic coaches come alongside teachers to ensure that students' needs are met within the overall pressures of curriculum plans and class schedules. Academic coaches work in a preventative way to avoid problem performance by individual studentsin classes. When coaches recognize an individual student's need for tutorial help that is beyond the capability of the coaches to provide, they are able to partner with tutors to make sure students are adequately served in a one-on-one setting. However, academic coaches are uniquely placed in the educational setting to provide what teachers, with their curricular concerns, and tutors, with their focus on individualized help, cannot; coaches collaborate with students to create learning communities. The learning cooperative becomes the venue for the education process to be owned by the students who stand most to benefit from the products they provide each other.
At present, I have consulted the following sources (linked) and gleaned the information below each link from the website the link points to. Quotes are designated by open-bullet (and sometimes square-bullet) paragraphs, and comments I have attached to the quotes are in square-bulleted paragraphs that end with the words "- post by learningcoach"
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.