An academic coach is much more than a traditional tutor

Close-up side view of cropped people ready to race on track field
If you’re not familiar with the idea of an academic coach, it’s similar to that of an athletic coach. A typical athletic coach works with that athlete over several years, exercising them to get them physically fit to excel on the field, developing their interpersonal skills through lessons about teamwork, and providing the team with strategies and plays for how to win the big game. That coach is with that athlete through their highs and their lows, their wins and their losses, and in the end teaches them much more than just sports — their coach teaches them valuable life lessons that stay with them long into adulthood.

An academic coach does the same thing, just not on the field. An academic coach’s realm is within the classroom — and wherever else academic work might take place.

Academic Coaching is a process in which a coach works with a student on a one-to-one basis over an extended period of time — perhaps even over the course of several years — providing overall academic support. The coach helps the student examine their strengths and deficiencies and identifies what is preventing the student from reaching his or her full academic potential. Academic coaches regularly assess their student’s academic concerns and aid them in employing the necessary strategies to address them. At times, an academic coach might also take on the duties of a traditional one-subject tutor, but the majority of the time the coach’s focus is more on helping the student in the long term.

Academic Coaching helps develop a student’s overall academic skills, which can be applied to all courses that a student is enrolled in. The focus is not simply on improving scores in one class, but rather on improving performance overall. Strategies for test preparation, adequate note taking, and improved reading skills are given a lot of attention. Additionally, academic coaches can help students develop strong scholastic interpersonal skills, modeling when and how to seek assistance as necessary. The goal is to help the student gain the skills needed to remain successful in school years after the academic coaching sessions have come to an end. 

Further, academic coaching techniques are tailored to students' individual needs based on factors such as learning style or grade level. For example, academic coaching in high school might focus on developing good study habits and managing the many resources often provided by most high schools, while academic coaching for college students may require a greater focus on building more independent skills, such as developing a personalized standard note-taking process or creating a more flexible schedule, to meet the needs of students navigating a less structured environment.

There are many benefits to academic coaching. The coach aids the student in developing better organizational and time management skills, enabling the student to begin to self-regulate their own learning. Over time, this boosts a student’s self-confidence. Procrastination is a big issue for many students but a coach can show a student how to break down a large, daunting project into smaller, less intimidating daily tasks, easing the student through a stress-free completion of the assignment.

Here’s an example of how the academic coaching model can help students work through a major assignment:

A student has been assigned a 500 word English essay on a topic they’re not overly passionate about. They can’t get their thoughts together enough to start working on it, so they avoid it until suddenly it’s the night before it’s due. This student’s procrastination has taken their stress level to the max. They’ve unnecessarily overloaded themselves with an intense single evening’s workload that was totally avoidable and certainly was not their English teacher’s intention when assigning it. Instead, here’s the same scenario working with an academic coach: the coach works with the student to lay out a plan for breaking this assignment up into smaller parts that can easily be completed little by little on a daily basis, removing the need for anxiety or rushing. The coach might lay out a plan such as this for the student:

Day One: The student can spend a few minutes stringing together some ideas for a possible thesis and writing a list of the major ideas that should be included in the essay.

Day Two: The student can spend a few minutes separating those big ideas into separate columns. For each idea, decide what are the most important details that should be included or highlighted.

Day Three: The student can spend some time analyzing how these different columns relate to one another. What do they have in common and where they differ? What’s the order of importance for placing each column within the essay? This is a day for just brainstorming the logical flow of one column to another. 

Day Four: The student can now spend some time beginning to transform these ideas into rough paragraphs. Maybe not all paragraphs the same day. The focus at this point is simply getting words and ideas onto paper in a relatively organized fashion, with no aim of perfection. The due date is still over a week away.

Days Five - Twelve: The student can spend as much time as is necessary each day focusing on the details within the essay. They can consider if there are definitions they need to add or ideas they need to clarify. Do they need evidence to support some of their claims? Does their essay require citations? They can start filling in all the missing details one at a time, without the need to rush.

The night before the essay is due: Now the student needs to focus on perfection. This is the time to make sure every word is in its proper place and that everything ties beautifully into the thesis. This is the time to do one final read-through of the essay and put any finishing touches on it.

This student has not only prepared a quality, well thought out essay for their current English class, but they have also developed the important life skill of combating procrastination, which they can apply the next time they have a big writing assignment due and to all aspects of their future adult life — in the office, on home improvement projects, or even paying off long-term financial debts. 

Valuable lessons like these are being taught by academic coaches every day. Why not get your student signed up to begin working with a coach today