Liz Freedman, Maria Makeever, and Katie Weller, Peer Advising & Mentoring Advising Community Members
Editor’s Note: Readers interested in more information on this topic may want to check out the upcoming NACADA Web Event, Incorporating Coaching Conversations into Academic Advising Practice.
The Bepko Learning Center is an academic resource center on the Indiana University-Purdue University (IUPUI) campus, which is a large, urban university located in the Midwest. The Bepko Learning Center houses a one-on-one peer-coaching program in which academically successful students are paired with their peers in order to aid them in achieving academic success. Coaches mentor other students on how to be successful in college—whether that means learning study techniques, creating weekly schedules, or setting long-term goals.
Exemplary coaches are sometimes offered the position of a student coordinator; coordinators complete large-scale projects, organize workshops, mentor the coaches, and are in charge of training new coaches. In spring semester of 2017, a new set of coordinators began receiving complaints about some of the training materials given to coaches. In the past, coaches were instructed to use a coaching model known as the Hudson Coaching Methodology when working with students (Hudson Institute of Coaching, 2017). The Hudson model was originally targeted for professional coaches who are hired to coach business clients. It outlined the process of setting goals and addressing problems while coaching, but the coaches felt that the model was difficult to understand within the context of a peer-to-peer academic coaching program.
During the summer of 2017, the team of coordinators began working tirelessly to change the coaching model to better adapt to the program. Overall, helpful lessons were learned throughout the process of creating a unique coaching methodology and implementing it into training.
Lesson 1: Do Your Research
The first step in the process was to research, research, research. The coordinators began by examining how similar programs at other universities were training their mentors. Pretty quickly, they discovered a methodology used by Nova Southeastern University that was roughly similar to the Hudson coaching model, yet academically focused (Nova Southeastern University, 2017). The methodology utilized the acronym S.U.C.C.E.S.S. to outline each step of the coaching process. It also incorporated a strengths-based approach, clarifying key points of the coaching process in which mentors or coaches should use a student’s strengths as a solution to overcome the student’s potential obstacles.
From there, the coordinating team spent quite a bit of time tweaking the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. model so that each step fit the program precisely. They created a detailed packet of information called the Path to S.U.C.C.E.S.S. to give the coaches at the two-day training before the semester began. The packet included:
- each step of the methodology;
- what activities or conversation should occur at that step;
- when in the coaching process it should occur;
- examples of questions the coaches could ask themselves or their students;
- how to incorporate the strengths-based approach; and
- which resources are available at IUPUI that may help throughout the process.
Below is an image of the Path to S.U.C.C.E.S.S.:
Lesson 2: Try New Things
The next challenging part about creating a new coaching methodology came when planning for training began. The coaches are required to attend two-hour training meetings every Friday throughout the semester. The first semester after the Path to S.U.C.C.E.S.S. was implemented, the meetings were used to present the model to the coaches via a series of PowerPoints. After one semester of this, the coordinators felt that a more hands-on approach might help coaches to connect with the methodology.
During the training meetings the following semester, the coaches had discussion circles and guided conversations about how they had implemented or planned on implementing the Path to S.U.C.C.E.S.S. into their coaching meetings. Over the course of the next two semesters, the coaches responded positively to the new methodology via an open-ended survey. They liked it better than the Hudson model and felt that the packet was a useful resource in generally guiding them through the process of coaching a fellow student.
However, this training process is still not perfected. Even after this most recent semester, the coaches still make suggestions on how to make this process more hands-on and useful to them. The coordinators consistently try to find improved ways to help the coaches in all arenas, as well as to implement this new model specifically.
Lesson 3: Leave it Open
As was just indicated, many of the coaches used the packet as a general guide—and that was okay. The packet was not meant to be a step-by-step instruction sheet on how to coach or mentor a student. The packet was meant to give the coach suggestions and provide resources by outlining a rough timeline of the semester-long coaching process. Ultimately, it is always up to the coach to determine what works best with each of their students. They may need to change the pace of the coaching process or take detours along the way. The path when mentoring a student should be a trail that is subject to change, not a paved and permanent road.
Lesson 4: Make it Accessible
With the Path to S.U.C.C.E.S.S. packet, the aim was to provide as many resources to the coaches as possible. The goal was to provide them with the structure of a coaching and goal-setting process, but also provide everything from resources (e.g. how to refer to the Math Assistance Center or to Counseling and Psychological Services) to reflective questions for the coaches to ask themselves (e.g. “Have I let the student try to find solutions to their problem before I offer my own advice?”).
The training that was offered alongside the Path to S.U.C.C.E.S.S. included more of these resources, helping the coaches to respect the diverse student body and their many different needs.
Lesson 5: Listen to Feedback
The introduction of this new coaching methodology has been highly successful. The program could only have reached this level of success and happiness because the feedback from the coaches was taken seriously. In the spring, two student coordinators and the Assistant Director of Academic Enrichment had the opportunity to present the process of the creation of the Path to S.U.C.C.E.S.S. at the Regional V NACADA conference in Columbus. The presentation was given after about one year of the methodology being implemented into the academic success coaching program. After the presentation, the team received questions about whether or not the new methodology had been proven to help students get off probation. Anecdotally, that seems to be the case, but the formal assessment process is still in progress.
What the team realized later is that the creation of this model was not necessarily about the students being coached, but rather it was about the coaches. Obviously, the main goal of the staff, coaches, and student coordinators is helping the students. However, the team strongly feels that by improving the happiness and comfort of the coaches, it will in turn improve the coaching program as a whole and therefore help the students. The coaches are now more comfortable going into their coaching meetings because they have a helpful structure to rely on as they coach their students throughout the semester.
It certainly seems to be working. This fall, the center is welcoming back more fourth-semester returning coaches than in the past three semesters combined. The coaches feel happy and excited to return to their jobs. Overall, retention has been better. The number of returning coaches has outnumbered the number of new coaches in the past two semesters.
But the work does not stop here. Feedback is still collected every semester on how to make this better. In fact, it is encouraged. At the end of every semester the coaches are asked to complete a “Stop. Start. Continue.” survey. The survey asks what our program should stop doing, start doing, and continue doing. This summer the team is planning new techniques for changing and improving the Path to S.U.C.C.E.S.S. training in the fall.
Whether you work in a peer coaching program similar to the program at the Bepko Learning Center or an academic advising program, it is important to find or create a framework to follow. A coaching or advising process can be challenging to navigate, and following a guide that offers structure, resources, and opportunities for self-reflection will help significantly. Just remember to do your research, try new things, leave it open, make it accessible, and listen to feedback.
The staff is encouraged by the progress made in the program so far, and excited to see where the Path to S.U.C.C.E.S.S. will take the program in this upcoming academic year.
Assistant Director of Academic Enrichment
Bepko Learning Center
Senior studying Journalism at IUPUI
Student Coordinator, Bepko Learning Center
Senior studying Biology at IUPUI
Student Coordinator, Bepko Learning Center
Hudson Institute of Coaching. (2017). Our approach. Retrieved from https://hudsoninstitute.com/approach/
Nova Southeastern University. (2017). Academic success coaching. Retrieved from http://www.nova.edu/yoursuccess/coaching.html
Cite this article using APA style as: Freeman, L., Makeever, M., & Weller, K. (2018, December). Five lessons for creating a coaching methodology. Academic Advising Today, 41(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]