Academic Advising Resources


A Practical Approach to Advising as Coaching
Authored By:
Jeffrey McClellan and Clint Moser

Advising and leadership or executive coaching both emerged in the last 50 years as important educational processes. In this article, we provide an overview of a practice oriented model for advising as coaching based on the coaching and advising literature and our own experience as advisors and advisor trainers.

Leadership coaching is “a short to midterm relationship between an executive and a consultant with the purpose of improving an executives work effectiveness” (Feldman & Lankau, 2005, p. 829). While coaches may be internal or external to the organization, a supervisor, or a peer (Bono et al., 2009; Hall et al., 1999; Wasylyshyn, 2003), the means whereby this relationship focuses on achieving the desired outcomes is referred to as the coaching process.

Although different models exist for conceptualizing the coaching process, general consensus appears to exist regarding the following stages, “Relationship building [including contracting], assessment, feedback, planning, implementation, and evaluation and follow-up” (Cocivera & Cronshaw, 2004; Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson, 2001, p. 208; Stern, 2004). This process is designed to facilitate the decision-making activities of the and to provide ongoing accountability and follow-up, with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility (Whitmore, 1996). This is accomplished through regular interaction sessions either in person or on the phone. Research suggests the coaching process represents a highly effective means of reinforcing training and team building efforts, increasing self-awareness, enhancing performance, and improving relationships and interpersonal skills at work (Boss, 2000; Feldman & Lankau, 2005; Joo, 2005; Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson, 2001; Olivero et al., 1997; Stoberr, 2005; Waldman, 2003; Wales, 2002).

Given the value and popularity of executive coaching, and its apparent process similarity to academic advising, multiple programs have been developed with apparent success. Examples of programs include a coaching initiative established at Lake Tahoe Community College (Green, 2004), a mentor program at Utah Valley University (McClellan et al., 2003), a program for students with ADD/HD (Swartz et al., 2005), and other elementary and secondary school programs (Farrell, 2007; Nealy, 2008). The existence and success of these programs, infers the need for a practical model for engaging in advising as coaching.

A Model of Advising as Coaching
In developing the advisor certification program at Utah Valley University, we built a practice oriented model of the process of advising as coaching suggesting that advisors proceed from initial preparation for the session to, welcoming the student, building rapport, exploring and clarifying student needs, advising students (with ADVISE serving as an acronym for the actual coaching process that takes place in this stage of the process), wrapping up the session and, ultimately, follow-up. (Bloom et al., 2008; Nutt, 2000; Schein et al., 2004). This process is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 The Advising Process


While this process is similar to the coaching process delineated previously, it is in the actual process of advising students that our practice oriented model of advising as coaching emerges. Founded on the inquiry based approach of coaching and a review of the literature on coaching models, we developed the following five stage advising as coaching process:  (A) Active listening, (D) Determining the desire, dream, or problem, (V) eValuating what has been done so far, (I) Identifying options, (S) Selecting options, and (E) Engaging in and evaluating the plan. See figure 2.

Figure 2 The Advising as Coaching Process

Each of these phases is focused on different elements of the coaching process as it relates to facilitating decision-making. Furthermore, the phases are driven by questions that encourage the student to take responsibility for the process of developing, refining, and engaging in their own decision-making and planning activities. A brief description of each phase with sample questions that might be used at that phase follows.

Active Listening
The active listening stage of the model represents the first step in the advising as coaching process.  It differs, however, significantly from the other stages in that while they are linear in nature, this stage is not. Instead, active listening initiates this process as it forms a connection between the exploration and clarification stage of the larger scale advising session process, however it does not end when the next stage, determining the desire, dream, or problem, begins. Rather active listening continues throughout the process and represents the dominant approach to the process, asking questions and listening to the responses as opposed to telling the student what to do.

Determining the Desire, Dream, and/or Problem
The second stage in the process involves clarifying the issue upon which the session will focus. Problem solving and coaching models approach this stage of the process differently. Traditional problem solving approaches begin by identifying symptoms and underlying problems that need addressed, positive psychology based approaches focus instead on positive goal oriented formulation or developing dream statements (Anderson & Johnson, 1997; Bloom et al., 2008; Orem et al., 2007). Both approaches are relevant to the work of advisors. Thus in this stage, advisors inquire to understand the student’s situation the student and what he/she would like to see happen within the situation. Common questions include:

  • What would you like to achieve in this visit?
  • Please describe the problem for me?
  • What is the history of the problem? What caused it?
  • Why does it concern you?
  • What would it be like if the problem were gone? How would things be different?
  • What do you envision as the best possible outcome in relation to this problem?
  • What is it that you most want to attain, become, do, or be able to do in relation to this situation?
  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What is your dream?

Evaluate What Has Been Done
The third stage in the model suggests that advisors should inquire into the efforts already taken by students in relation to the problem or dream. A good question to ask is, “What have you done so far to address this problem, achieve this dream, etc.” This is a common aspect of multiple coaching models (Cocivera & Cronshaw, 2004; Whitmore, 1996). It is beneficial in that it allows the advisor to assess the student’s problem solving ability, the extent to which things have improved or declined as a result of the student’s efforts, and helps to identify additional details regarding the situation that might help in seeking resolution.

Identifying Options
Having examined the efforts already taken to address the problem, students should be encouraged to explore any and all creative possibilities for seeking a solution. This involves brainstorming which requires encouraging the student to think of as many potential solutions as possible in a relatively short period of the time. The most significant rule of brainstorming, however, is that neither the student nor the advisor may engage in evaluating the options identified. Creativity shrivels amidst criticism. Therefore, the advisor should be careful to restrain the student from reflecting on or offering analysis of ideas at this stage (Gallupe et al., 1992; Napier & Gershenfeld, 1999; Osterhout, 1992). The goal is to simply identify as many creative solutions as possible, no matter how farfetched. The following questions can assist an advisor at this stage:

  • What have you thought about doing to fix the problem?
  • What have others suggested?
  • What have you done in the past to overcome similar problems?
  • What would you tell someone in a similar situation?
  • What do you see as possible next steps?
  • Thinking about your dream, what would make it come to life?
  • What accomplishments would make you feel as if you were close to accomplishing your dream?
  • What habits would you need to develop to accomplish your dream?

These questions help initiate brainstorming; however, additional follow-up questions can be used to generate further ideas including: asking students what suggestions might be offered by some interested party in relation to the problem. For example, if a student is not passing a class, the advisor might ask what do you think your teacher might suggest you do? What do you think a peer in the same class who is doing well might suggest? These kinds of questions not only invite the student to look through another set of creative eyes, but might also prompt them to discuss the situation with these individuals. Finally, if an advisor, after listening to all the other ideas generated, has ideas to add, it is typically okay to do so. However, advisors should be careful to not give the impression that their ideas are in some way “better” than those already suggested. Thus the advisor could ask:  May I offer some suggestions? And then proceed to offer these with the caveat that they are only additional ideas that might be of value.

Selecting Options
Once a solid list of options has been identified, coaching models suggest the coach assist the student in the evaluation and selection of options that can be crafted into a plan for moving forward (Lyons, 2000; Whitmore, 1996). Options should be analyzed for their rational and emotional value thereby assuring the plan both makes sense and feels right to the student. The advisor then assists the student to develop an action plan with specific and clear goals, a list of action steps that need to be taken, and a timeline for completion. The conversation might also include discussing individuals the student might ask for assistance and support (Khoshaba & Maddi, 2005; Orem et al., 2007). Effective questions for facilitating this process include:

  • Which options appear most viable/effective?
  • Which options “feel” like  things you would like to try to address this problem?
  • What are the action steps you need to take?
  • When will you take them?
  • What kind of support will you need?
  • Who could you recruit to help with the plan?
  • How will you recruit them?

Engaging in and Evaluating the Plan
Once a plan is developed, the final coaching stage, and the one that completes and renews the cycle of coaching, involves encouraging the student to engage in the plan and account for progress. This involves offering motivation and encouragement and inviting the student to return and report on the things he or she has accomplishes. Some effective questions for facilitating this process include:

  • How are things different from when we started discussing this plan?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of so far?
  • What do you want to see or do more of to accomplish your dream?
  • When can we meet again to discuss your progress?
  • What success have you had so far?
  • How close are you to accomplishing your goal?
  • What do you need to do next?
  • Is your plan sufficient to achieve your goal?

Like the coaching models from which it is derived, this model is both simple and effective. It can be used in situations where an advisor has either a lot of time to engage with students or when limited time is available. It works equally well whether the advisor subscribes to a developmental advising approach, a teaching approach, or other approaches. It also furthers the goal of encouraging student responsibility by advocating a question-oriented approach as opposed to a prescriptive approach to advising, which is not to say that in some cases this is not necessary.

Based on our experiences in both training advisors and advising students, this model has provided us with the ability to better convey an understanding of the process of advising and to assist students in overcoming the challenges they face as they strive to achieve success in college. As a result, we are convinced that coaching-based approaches to advising have a lot to contribute to the work of advisors, administrators, and those who train advisors. Our sincere hope is that this model provides some significant benefits to those who use it as they engage in the work of helping students achieve their goals.

Jeffrey McClellan

Frostburg State University

Clint Moser

Utah Valley University


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McClellan J. & Moser C. (2011).A Practical Approach to Advising as Coaching. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website:

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