Why Coaching?

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How has academic coaching evolved? What's the difference between ordinary tutoring and professional academic coaching? When is it wise to hire an expert, despite the higher cost?

Academic Coaching is a rather new specialty in the field of private practice education, and the term "academic coach" is still unfamiliar to many people. The purpose of this article is to clarify the distinction between ordinary tutoring and academic coaching, and to help answer these common questions.

How has academic coaching evolved?

Historically, private tutoring was the way most education happened, the primary means by which critical knowledge and skills were passed from one generation to the next. Whether the subject matter is hunting mammoths, learning Latin, sewing a dress, playing piano, passing the bar exam, or mastering basic algebra, nothing beats one-on-one private instruction with an engaging, expert private teacher. Indeed, it's been said that the best possible educational setting is "yourself, Aristotle, and a log."

Since the 1980's, the tremendous expansion in the private practice education industry in America has been followed by a stratification of private teachers into two main levels: average tutors, and "super-tutors" or "coaches." Gradually, the best private tutors were distinguished for their greater ability to produce desired results and for succeeding with students whose situations were too difficult or complex for others to handle. Some began to provide value and benefits extending well beyond simple help with basic skills and home work, including training in thinking/learning/productivity skills, coping strategies for learning differences or disabilities, personal mentoring, and other elements of support critical to enduring, broad-based academic and personal fulfillment.

What's the difference between ordinary tutoring and professional academic coaching?

In general, a tutor is someone who meets privately with students to answer questions about particular academic subjects with which they're struggling. Tutors are qualified to address deficiencies in students’ understanding of course content, concepts, and basic skills, and to remediate these deficiencies. Tutors are often part-timer teachers, college students, or others who maintain a small private teaching practice to make extra money but have another primary source of income to fall back on.

An academic coach does these things also, but goes well beyond simply giving direct instruction on basic skills and course content. Unlike tutors, academic coaches also address contextual factors that play a key role in scholastic success and achievement and that may be critically impacting a given student's academic experience. Just as an athletic coach directs, instructs, tracks, and focuses each player's performance on the sports field, an academic coach provides leadership, specialized training, accountability, and regular, individualized feedback and support to make the most of each student's academic potential and optimize performance in the classroom.

In addition to teaching or reviewing specific course content with students, an academic coach works comprehensively with parents, teachers, and other professionals to address the entire constellation of issues affecting the student and the challenges he or she is facing in school. An academic coach inspires and encourages students to reach for their own personal best, provides additional instruction in organization, coursework management, and study skills, and fosters students' self-confidence, self-discipline, integrity, efficiency, and productivity. Academic coaches also prepare students to better manage their time, tasks, and goals, introduce and reinforce broader learning and thinking skills (e.g. information storage/recall techniques, utilizing "good questions" to improve focus and concentration, creating anchors to optimal states of mind, etc.), give personal support, and help students to enjoy the process of learning and take pride in their work.

Whereas a tutor merely teaches, an academic coach is part teacher, manager, mentor, organizer, cheerleader, taskmaster, counselor, resource expert, learning specialist, educational consultant, and motivational speaker. Academic coaches generally have greater expertise and better training in their specialty, possess superior communication skills, and have more private teaching experience than do ordinary tutors, and are devoted, full-time private educators who have chosen academic coaching as their professional career. While tutors focus on the little picture, work on short-term issues, and offer simple fixes, academic coaches focus on the big picture, work on both short and long term problems and solutions, and utilize comprehensive, multidimensional approaches to provide extensive, long-lasting benefits and catalyze maximum success in the lives of their students.

All coaches are tutors – but not all tutors are coaches!

When should I hire an academic coach? Is an expert worth the extra expense? Isn’t tutoring enough? Which is the best choice in my situation?

To clarify the distinction between tutoring and academic coaching, consider the following analogy. A motor scooter is fine for short trips around town, when you won't have much to carry, or anything really demanding or wide-ranging to accomplish. But when the trip involves carrying cargo or traveling longer distances, or when greater comfort, speed, or safety is desired, an automobile is a better choice.

Likewise, the services of a skilled academic coach are not always required. If insufficient understanding of course content is the only real predicament, the problem is not severe or complex, and deadlines are not a pressing issue, private tutoring may be all that's needed. But when a student's troubles are complicated by other factors such as a lack of organization, discipline, confidence, or motivation, when learning differences or disabilities, past history, or emotional or family issues play an important role, when the student is well behind or ahead of grade level, or whenever needs or goals are more extensive or specialized or must be addressed or accomplished with greater speed, it’s best to hire a professional academic coach.

Since academic coaches have better training, more experience, and more advanced skills than do ordinary tutors, and since coaches offer a broad array of additional educational support services that the average tutor is not able to provide, fees for academic coaching are often significantly higher than rates typically charged by ordinary tutors.

The scooter/auto analogy aptly applies here, as well. Although it may be possible to carry a heavy load over great distances on a scooter, it isn't advisable to do so. You'd be wise to spend the extra money and rent a truck. Similarly, whenever a learning challenge is of sufficient importance, difficulty, seriousness, or complexity, the extra cost involved in hiring a professional academic coach is usually justified.

In fact, considering the extremely positive effect it can have on lifetime potential earning power by opening doors to a better education at quality schools and colleges, professional academic coaching can be one of the smartest investments parents can make.

Why coaching? Because it works!

Copyright 2006-Present: Christopher R. Borland. All Rights Reserved.