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Using coaching with students

This route finder is particularly for individual academics who are interested in incorporating coaching into their teaching, but who perhaps are not in a position to introduce a new module or change a module structure. If that is you, what can you do and which parts of the Toolkit are most relevant to you? Start with the overview of using coaching in learningThere are a number of ways you can introduce coaching principles into your teaching. 


Adopting a Coaching Style

You can enhance the support you provide to students by adopting a coaching style in the conversations you have with them, whether formal sessions as a personal tutor or supervisor, or informally within your classes, extra curricular activities or simply when they ask for assistance.  Find out how to do this here


Structuring conversations

Simply adopting a coaching style will make you more effective and the support you provide will be more personalised to the student. However, you may find it useful to use a simple framework to help structure or orientate the conversation. This can help to maintain focus and lead to positive action. You can use a coaching framework to do this: a simple yet powerful one is the GROW model.


A question of time

One objection to using coaching to support students is that it is more time-consuming than other approaches. This may be the case if you use a full coaching approach, but by using a coaching style, any conversation you have with your student can become a coaching conversation and be incorporated into the normal time allocated for personal tutoring or supervision. If you do this, you will make the conversation personal to each student by focusing on the problem as they see it; you will ensure that the solution reached is owned by the student and is therefore more meaningful to them; and you will help them to learn not only how to solve this particular issue, but how to solve issues in the future.


When to use coaching in your teaching

Coaching-style conversations can be used in any situation where your student needs support and can be incorporated as a formal or informal element of your course.


Try it particularly in the following four scenarios:


Clarify choices that have to be made

A coaching-style conversation can help a student make necessary academic decisions such as what options to select, what kind of placement to undertake, or whether particular volunteering would be beneficial. It can also help students to make decisions about their future career path and how to prepare for this while at university. In these situations, use coaching to clarify what the student wants to achieve and what is important to them before moving on to the specific choice, as this will help ensure that choices are relevant and appropriate.


Explore blocks and perceived issues

Sometimes it is a student’s belief about themselves and their own abilities that is the issue. If someone believes they cannot do something – or assumes that something bad will happen if they try – then they will need to examine these beliefs and assumptions before they can progress in this area. It may be that they have had a previous bad experience, or that others have told them that they can’t do it, or they may be afraid that something will go wrong if they try. Through coaching you can challenge these assumptions. Ask questions to get them to examine the beliefs and assumptions they hold:

  •  what are you assuming that is stopping you…?
  •  what would happen if you did that…?
  •  who is saying you can’t…?

Learn to listen for blocks such as these and be prepared to challenge them.


Develop action plans for learning

Coaching is very useful to help students develop personalised action plans for learning. The GROW model provides a useful framework for this. The first step is to establish a clear, measurable and realistic goal. Then the student needs to understand where they are now in relation to their goal. The third step is to consider the options available to move the student forward and finally the student needs to commit to action. Action plans can be built forwards from where the student is now towards the goal, or backwards, starting with the goal. In either case, ask the student to envisage a time line between where they are now and where they want to be, and get them to identify the specific steps they would need to take to move from one to the other.


Improve or hone work

In an academic context, a valuable use of coaching is to help student improve their work. Asking probing questions encourages the student to look more carefully and objectively at their work and consider how to improve it. These can challenge the assumptions they have made and help them to ensure that their arguments are clear and well constructed. They can encourage them to examine how their work addresses the key criteria and ensure that they have met all the requirements. Going through this process with a coach can also encourage students to use similar questions when reviewing their work on their own, enabling them to take another step towards becoming a confident, independent learner.


Where to go next

If you want to learn more about coaching and develop your coaching skills, try A self study guide on learning to coach. If you are interested in more formal coaching training, consider accredited coaching training.


To find out about different tools and techniques and to see how to make use of technology in your coaching, see Models, practices and tools. For resources to use with your students, see our resource page. If you want more evidence of the benefits of coaching for students, see Benefits of coaching or go straight to the Case Study 1: Sport Business Management for inspiration.


Our Additional resources page has further reading. 


You can download our staff guide, which gives more information on using coaching for student support.





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