What is Academic Coaching and Why Now?

As an instructor, I have always loved autumn. As thousands of students come together at the University of Saskatchewan and at campuses across the country, laughter and music fill the air. Their youthful energy is palpable as they gather and share stories. Such possibility. . . . such promise.

Every September, when I ride my bike to campus for that first class with my new students, I am both excited and a little nervous. I walk into a classroom and see shy smiles and instant fear that they are in the wrong room. I quickly put them at ease announcing, “This is English with Glorie Tebbutt, and please feel free to call me Glorie.” They collectively relax, and in a few moments, we embark on a journey of learning. I invite my students to fully grasp this new beginning, this fresh start. I urge them to be open to new learning and new friendships. In short, I encourage them to savour the experience of university.

But what about this year, the year that COVID-19 has upended so much in our lives? What about this autumn and students’ experiences of university?  

I am well aware that my first-year students did not experience a normal academic ending to Grade 12. For most, there was no graduation ceremony or, at best, a cobbled together loving effort by parents and teachers. Many of these students likely had their summer employment affected. And those wonderful heady days of arriving on campus to start the next chapter is not possible right now. They begin classes with none of the external markers that signal a transition, as well as none of the physical connections that such a transition offers—meeting instructors and friends, new and old, in person.

 In an article published in The National Post, on August 14, entitled “How professors and students across Canada are preparing for a university year like no other“, the writer, Richard Warnica, quotes Ken Coates, a Canadian researcher who has studied student transitions.

In the article, Coates expressed real concerns about the cohort of students beginning university this autumn and what the term might look like for many of them when the experience of university is reduced to a computer screen in their family home. 

I share Coates’s concerns. I know how much first-year students, in particular, struggle with structure, motivation, and connection. When I taught online, these issues were critical in students’ success or failure. 

With most campuses delivering remote asynchronous learning (no regular class times), the onus is on the students to develop their daily structure, motivate themselves, and cope with diminished connection to instructors and peers. That will not be easy – even for upper-year students. 

Hence, the need for academic coaching, a new concept to some, but an established support and potent learning modality in other environments. In the world of sports, coaching has been critical in athletes’ success. Even many in their personal and business lives hire coaches to help them fully achieve their goals. Why should academic study be any different, particularly now?

Academic coaching helps students develop both the skill and the will to learn, grow, and succeed academically.

Such coaching helps them feel connected and empowered to do their best learning regardless of the circumstances. Tailored to the individual student and their situation, academic coaching provides that extra support for a student who feels overwhelmed and alone. Such coaching helps students reduce their anxiety and focus on the task. In a year when instructors will be overwhelmed by the demands of remote teaching, an academic coach can be that trusted guide for students who struggle to negotiate the online learning environment.

This autumn, students are facing an unprecedented learning situation. It is not impossible, but it won’t be easy. Many will need extra support. There are rich learning possibilities even in this environment of challenge. Learning and growth are possible.

Let’s talk about how we can get you or a loved one on track to have a good term.

Contact me to help you or a loved one achieve your best learning this term.

Warnica, R. (2020, August 14). How professors and students across Canada are preparing for a university year like no other. National Post.