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All About Academic Coaching

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Updated on Dec 27, 2012

Report cards, progress reports and parent-teacher conferences can be just as stressful, if not more, for you than for your child. No doubt you've been pushing and encouraging every day. You've set rules and you've done your best to make success possible. But maybe something about school just isn't clicking.

When you're reaching the point of ultimate frustration, it might be time to bring in reinforcements. It might be time for an academic coach.

What is an academic coach?

Academic coaches teach students how to be rock star scholars. They usually don't work with actual academic content. Instead, they help with time management, organization, study skills and self-advocacy.

Wait, that sounds like a tutor!

Don't be fooled! Academic coaches are not tutors or education therapists. Tutors help with content, but academic coaches teach students how to work smart and become excellent students.

Academic coach Gretchen Wegner typically uses this example to tell parents what she does: "A tutor helps with the Pythagorean theorem. I'm more interested in learning styles. How are you using your textbook? How are you practicing problems that are hard for you?"

But how do I know if this is right for my kid?

Coaches work with children from a variety of backgrounds. They are particularly skilled at working with children who have learning disabilities. Gretchen pushes her students to figure out how they learn and to come up with a study process that works great for their mind. This can be crucial for children whose brains process information differently.

Leslie Absher, another academic coach, works very closely with students who struggle with tests. She says many of her students "think they studied for a test, but what they did was a very passive form of studying," which for most children won't work.

Coaches also shoulder some of the burden for parents.

Wait, what? This helps me too?

Absolutely. Gretchen says she hears parents often say, "My student just won't listen to me anymore. I've been trying to do X, Y and Z. He or she just won't listen to me."

Coaches help parents by taking away some of the “nagging tasks” that parents usually have to do themselves. With a coach’s help, you can be free to focus on building a healthy parent-child relationship. Let the coach do the nagging for you!

It sounds magical, but how does the coach do it?

Coaching is highly customized. What the coach does is almost entirely dependent on the child's needs and learning style.

But Gretchen did offer an example. An eighth grader came to see her for help with his writing skills. In their first meeting, she saw that he didn’t have a planner or a sense of time management, and his notebooks were a mess. His entire academic life lacked structure.

At the end of the hour, she asked him to bring an essay with him next week so they could work on his writing. He didn't write it down and completely forgot the assignment. Where a tutor might make up a writing assignment on the spot or go over some grammar, Gretchen talked with him about his thinking process and what he needed to do differently next time.

They made plans to get a planner and to start packing his backpack in the morning to include everything he needed. He was on his way to being a stronger, more independent student.

Eighth grade, huh? Well, my child is older (or younger).

Academic coaches typically work with students at a variety of age levels. Leslie has students in elementary, middle and high school. Gretchen has several clients in college who Skype with her from their dorm rooms.

Coaching can benefit students at any level, partially because it's so customizable. Coaches just meet students where they are academically and emotionally.

Leslie believes that seventh or eighth grade is the ideal time for a student to start meeting with an academic coach. It's a "great time to get your stuff together" before the pressures of high school. Children who improve their study skills in middle school will be more prepared for high school and college.

It really does take a village to raise a child. Your village probably already includes extended family members and teachers. If your student is struggling, it may also be time to add an academic coach to your village. They can help your child overcome academic hurdles and reach his academic goals while taking the pressure off of you.

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