What’s an Academic Coach?!

From Academic Coaching

There’s an area of my professional life about which I’ve been strangely silent on this blog: my life as an academic coach for teens.

I’m not sure why I’ve been so tightlipped about this amazing work; maybe I’m afraid others will find my musings boring. I mean —  time management, organization, and learning strategies? For teens? Biiig whooop! Who cares?

But the truth is this: I care. Very deeply. So do the parents. The teens care, too (for the most part; they want to be successful. They really do.). The work we do is amazingly transformative, for the teens but also for me. It’s time I start telling our stories.

Academic Coach Versus Tutor: What’s the Difference?

But first things first. Most people have no clue what academic coaching is. “So you’re like, uhhhh, a tutor?” they ask.

And the truth is — not really. A tutor helps teenagers understand subject-specific content. Want help memorizing and practicing the quadratic equation? Talk to a tutor.

An academic coach, on the other hand, helps kids troubleshoot their learning process so that they can eventually learn the content on their own. The goal is self-sufficiency. Need to figure out why you didn’t get the quadratic formula when the teacher taught it in class (and how you might get it next time)?  Talk to me.

Here’s another example: Want someone who knows a ton about US History and can help you answer the essay question? Talk to a tutor. Need help organizing your thinking and writing process so you can research and write the essay by yourself? Talk to me.

Maddy Learns a Writing Formula

This summer I had several clients who sought me out for extra help. Uhhh, well that’s only partially true. Their parents sought me out. Luckily, I’m gentle, fun, and full of good ideas. So by the end, the kids admitted it wasn’t that horrible. And they even learned a thing or two that they could actually use.

As one parent reflected:

The information you have provided is packaged in a much more user friendly way that Maddy can put to much better use.”

The information I packaged so well was, simply, this:

1. What are some basic writing formulas that help essays write themselves? (Maddy complained of working really hard on all her essays, but usually getting disappointingly low grades).

2. Given how much she detests doing homework  and her busy sports schedule (but also, given her goal to get B’s her sophomore year), how can she plan her afternoons so there is enough time for both sports and homework?

Maddy left my office much more confident about her approach to writing as well as to time management. She was psyched about the strategies that would help her work smarter, not harder. I can’t wait to find out whether this school year feels different than last!

Conrad Learns How to Advocate For Himself

Another client I saw this summer was a young man. Headed off to college after four years attending the “resource” class in high school (that’s the fancy term for “special ed”). This young man and his parents were concerned that he’d flounder during the rigor of college.

When I met Conrad, I was surprised that he barely understood his own learning disability. We spent most of our time reading through his Neuropsychological Evaluation, translating all the scary psycho-babble into teen friendly language, and role playing how he might explain it all to his professors? After four short sessions, Conrad’s mother raved:

Honestly, you taught my son more in regard to his learning style than he learned in years in his high school’s Resource program or with private tutors!!! I wish I had used you earlier.

Again, it will be fun for me to follow up with Conrad and find out whether freshman year felt more manageable. He certainly left my office in higher spirits than he entered!

It’s All in the Organization

It turns out that a lot of my job revolves around helping kids be more organized — organizing their time, their stuff, and their thinking.  Many teenagers just need a gentle but straight talking adult to help them troubleshoot their processes.

I feel so blessed to spend my days helping teens become self sufficient learners. I can’t wait to use this blog to tell more of their stories.

6 thoughts to “What’s an Academic Coach?!”

  1. Gretchen, This is so great! It seems these young people are learning HOW TO THINK!!! — HOW TO FIGURE IT OUT! This is so…. what is needed. Instead of how to take a test and score well. Boo. Fascinating.

    I want to meet you, Gretchen. marlys

  2. Great work, Gretchen . . . sorely needed. You are a true blessing in this world. I look forward to more.

    Laurie

  3. Love it! I try to do many of these things with my students as well, but I have to do it to the whole CLASS. It would be lovely to do it on a more person-to-person basis (which I do, but only if they seek me out for it).

    One of the hardest parts about teaching is having students with WILDLY different backgrounds and levels of experience, as well as having very different styles of learning. I do everything I can think of to present material in ways that many different students will find useful, but it always feels a bit like I’m throwing mud at a target, hoping some of it splatters to every point! Your personalized approach is clearly a god-send to these students who might have not gotten what they needed from their teachers.

    As always, great to hear what’s on your mind.

    Celia

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