October 2011, By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman
My daughter Bethany loves soccer. We just attended our initial parent meeting where the coach told us not to “coach” our children but rather encourage them without criticizing them. “They already know what they did wrong,” he pointed out.
Sports teams have always used coaches (note, they are not called teachers) to work athletes hard and keep them focused and thinking positively. During the past several years, the coaching idea has been spreading to other areas. Life coaches are now available to help adults and teenagers set goals, focus and work harder to produce results; some weight loss programs include personal coaches. It’s harder to cheat if you are accountable to someone. And, just as some people won’t work out unless a personal trainer is there to push them, some kids won’t do their homework unless a coach is helping them.
For students, we have academic coaches, also called educational coaches. As the owner of a tutoring company, I have spoken to thousands of parents about their children’s tutoring needs, be it math, English or Spanish. Sometimes, the student just needs a coach, someone to encourage him, help him focus, organize his time and get his homework done. For these students, we send tutors who have been trained to be academic coaches. In a world that has become more and more complicated with extracurricular activities, sports practices every night and increasing academic pressures, keeping up with responsibilities can be mind-boggling for a child or teen. With a coach, a student can take a deep breath and see a way that it all can be done, and with less stress. This is a holistic way to achieve success.
Here are some responsibilities of an academic coach:
Monitor quality and completion of homework. Too many students are fighting with—and misleading—their parents about homework. Many students are much more receptive to professionals than they are to their parents in finding better ways to get homework done efficiently.
Teach time management. This includes prioritizing and tackling homework and long-term projects, finding shortcuts, focusing in order to use time productively and fitting in extracurricular activities and down time.
Teach organizational skills. This includes organizing supplies and papers so everything can be found easily. It also encompasses organizing ideas for writing and organizing material to study for a test.
Help develop self-discipline. A coach can help a student work harder and better than he thought he could, while helping him move out of his comfort zone.
Teach study skills. A coach can help each student develop and use personalized study skills, while increasing a student’s knowledge of his learning style.
Explore goal-setting, both academic and personal. A coach can help a student see that schoolwork, homework, tests and essays are important—not just in the short run but as part of a greater goal.
Provide focus. It is so easy for a student to get distracted. A coach can help a student focus by assisting in setting and writing down goals and looking at the big picture, as well as the small steps to get there.
Motivate. A coach will help each student find a reason for doing today’s tasks, with a reward in sight, and help students discover a renewed excitement and curiosity for learning.
Provide encouragement. Sometimes, just knowing someone believes in you can make you work harder. Improving self-esteem goes a long way.
Expect you to do your best. An academic coach builds a relationship with a student and can tell when he is just getting by or doing his best. High expectations can build confidence.
Provide a system for rewards. If a student can work more efficiently, there will be more down time for fun and more time to sleep.
Reduce stress. Learning skills to work resourcefully towards goals provides a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Provide regular check-ins.Texting and email help keep students on task and accountable.
Help balance school with personal life and be successful with both.
Can one coach accomplish all of the above? An academic coach is not a superhero. He works not only with the student, but with his parents and teachers to coordinate tasks and goals. While the coach may meet with the student once or twice a week, he can also show the parents small things they can do to facilitate the process. Communicating with teachers can uncover problem areas, such as too much homework in one or more subjects or a miscommunication between student and teacher. This is also an opportunity to clarify goals for each subject. It is much easier to get good grades when you have a clear picture of what the teacher is looking for.
Students with Special Needs
For students with a 504 plan or an IEP (individualized educational plan), it is advisable for the parent and coach to meet with teachers and the counselor at the beginning of the year and to keep in touch throughout the year. A coach can also teach students how to advocate for themselves concerning their unique needs at school. Sometimes a basic accommodation, such as permission to use a keyboard in class for a student who struggles with writing, can make a tremendous difference.
An academic coach can be short- or long-term. Some students simply need to learn some organization, planning and study skills, which they can internalize and then work independently. They may need coaches again at a later time. But some students will work harder and achieve more with a personal coach on a regular basis for the long haul. This is especially true for students with executive functioning difficulties, which cause weak organization and planning skills. We all want to work to our potential. An academic coach is another avenue to help with that goal.
Choosing an Academic Coach
Look for coaching experience and knowledge in at least the subject areas that are most difficult for your child.
Look for someone who is personable, loves helping kids and is an excellent listener.
Look for strengths in organizing, motivating and prioritizing.
After a couple of weeks, ask your child if the rapport is good and the coach helpful.
Look for signs of a more relaxed and confident child who is getting work done successfully.