Updated: May 5
We all have a story. And each of our stories are unique. We need people who understand our stories. We need people who can partner with us to provide encouragement, practical help, and strategies when we need it most. Good coaches jump into our stories to provide just this sort of support.
Online environments provide the perfect platform to connect compassionate people to families who need help, who need coaching, in comfortable contexts. One of the surprising silver linings of COVID is that we can meet kids on the same platforms that our kids already know. Our kids game, text, and stream online. Our kids communicate remotely all the time, and most kids find home more comfortable than school. Why not leverage the comfort of home for more than gaming? Why not make interactions more strategic?
Despite the challenges of remote learning, we've found some pretty amazing sweet spots that are unique to online learning. We can share videos, online whiteboards, and resources that kids are familiar with in seconds, and we can do this best virtually. We can also connect compassionate coaches that we personally train to the families who need them most.
Before we go into details about coaching methodology, let's take a deeper dive into understanding why it's important to approach coaching as a "one size fits one" and not "one size fits all" solution to understanding people’s stories better. To do this, let me introduce you (anonymously) to some of my favorite students.
John: Burdened with a Desire to Succeed
Just before COVID, I had a student named "John" (I am all about privacy, so of course, that's not his real name). John was often sick, but when he was well, he joined me every first period class with a surprisingly enthusiastic, "Good Morning!" and a big grin.
John is an incredibly bright and driven student, with a strong desire to tick all the boxes and get every assignment right. During class, John's eyes lit up every time we discussed the finer points of literary analysis. John was quick to engage, eager to please, and always ready to work hard (even if he had to stay up late while sick).
But John was burdened and overwhelmed. John was wiry. Active. Skinny. He scuttled through the door to enter class hunched over at the waist to balance an oversized backpack which swung precariously to either side if he didn't balance it properly. When I suggested to John that he keep some of his books in his locker (which was right outside my room), he told me he didn't want to be late, and he didn't want to miss anything.
John's slump-walk through the halls and into his classrooms meant all of his attention was directed to the physical hurdle of getting his books from place to place. This also meant he barely said "hello" to classmates in the halls. John's hunched track from one side of school to the other, carrying a burden too big for his frame, was a real life metaphor of the social, academic, and physical stress John carried each day.
It wasn't just his backpack that was burdensome - John also struggled to organize life. John missed points on assignments by forgetting, or being late. Sometimes, he forgot to contact teachers when he was sick. Often he seemed overwhelmed.
Of course, John's Mom knew he was overwhelmed. Mom was forthcoming and detailed when we met for teacher conferences. She wanted to help. But due to long work hours and a demanding professional job, it was clear she had limited bandwidth. John needed help, and so did his Mom. I wished that I could have helped John and his Mom (who invited regular contact) even more.
But I had over one-hundred students with burdens as distinct as John’s. I spent many planning times with students. I moved planning to evenings and weekends at home. I worked, and worked, and I had always wished I could do more.
Thankfully, now, as a coach, I can.
John's story is one of burden-bearing, and other students face their own burdens. It's important to help our kids manage these burdens well, and that works well 1:1 because we can creatively problem solve to help students manage both their organizational style and the assignents they want to do well on.
Susi, Driven to Distraction
Susi, like John, wanted to do well academically, but she lacked confidence. She also found writing absolutely taxing. Even though she was finishing up middle school, she struggled with the basic mechanics of how to write an essay, a paragraph, and even simple sentences. This isn't surprising, because Susi spoke English as a second language, so she felt like she was missing that intuitive sense of writing that some kids have, "this just doesn't sound right."
Whenever she wrote something, she often called me over and asked me, "Is this OK?" "Great job!" I told her, and I meant it. But it also revealed that one of the biggest hurdles Susi faces is herself. She lacked confidence and needed affirmation.
Susi also needed repetition. When we walked through step-by-step instructions in class, inevitably, Susi would look to me or her classmates. Susi struggled to remember instructions. Sometimes she was puzzled about how to accomplish tasks. Even simple assignments her classmates completed with little effort left her in a quandary, and I saw her glancing at other students, and at me, to make sure that she got it right.
It is almost no wonder that Susi didn't want to go home for more of the same. Who wants to climb a mountain at school only to go home and begin hiking again? Not Susi. She told her parents she was working hard. But, much to their surprise, computer recorded times often showed Susi hadn't even logged on in the evenings. Susi confessed to me one day that TikTok, texting, and gaming were far more interesting, and she confessed that she didn't even do the assignments in other classes.
But to Susi's credit, whenever I called on her in class, she showed genuine interest. She even began volunteering. I saw her light up. She began to genuinely engage to make connections between what she did in daily life, and what she read in the remarkable literary works we read in class.
Susi’s parents recognized her challenges. They noticed that she was easily distracted, and required repetition, even at home. They pursued advice and help from her pediatrician to address attention issues with medication, and a diagnosis (ADHD, ADD). But for Susi, focusing in class wasn't just one issue - it was one of many.
Though I met with Susi during planning periods to give her individual help, I couldn't rescue Susi when she chose to plagiarize a major paper. Our LMS (Learning Management System) and Academic Plagiarism Tool showed that Susi spent just minutes on an assignment and copied word-for-word from a literary site, even though we had discussed plagiarism extensively in our first week of classes. When asked, Susi explained tearfully that she just couldn't write as well as the author of the literary website she'd copied from. I understood that this wasn't so much a moral failure (though of course, plagiarism is a moral failure, whether Susi understood or not) as it was a failure of Susi's confidence in her own ability to write. And she could write - it just took time, focus, and a lot of encouragement.
Most of the time, Susi just felt like she couldn't do it. So, she didn't try. She gave her parents subterfuge and sought easier paths than the mountain of work she faced every evening. Instead, she found solace in a host of online distractions to escape painful failures.
Alas, Susi needed far more than our busy and competent teachers could give her.
In short, Susi would have benefited from an approach that helped her not just address how to write an essay, but also strategies to focus, and an arsenal of study skills, and someone to encourage every step of effort. Susi needed not just a tutor, but a coach.
Asher, Gifted Underachiever
Unlike Susi, Asher had no trouble focusing. He could focus easily when he wanted to, but often his focus was directed away from academics. Like John, Asher would fit the profile of "gifted." Unlike John, Asher didn't work for it. Asher wrote with unusual clarity, wit, and had a kind of innate ability to juxtapose themes or put together words in a way that made his writing luminary. But sadly, Asher didn't even care.
Asher was too busy looking for the approval of his peers. He boasted, "I never study." His friends knew this, too, and seemed to expect him to perform somewhere in the middle, and sometimes at the bottom of the class. What the didn't know - is that Asher could write. His grades were only low because all the assignments that had garnered a "0" weren't turned in.
Unlike John and Susi, I never met Asher's parents. But I heard (on the DL from Asher's friends) that they were actually worried about him. They were concerned about Asher and his relationship with his Dad. I was, too.
I pulled Asher out of class on more than one occasion because he was able to rile up his class in a moment - in debate, or laughter, or just somewhere off road.
Actually, this is a skill, one that I heard from more than one teacher that he had employed in opposition to their rules and he had sometimes correctly recognized that he'd gotten on the wrong side of his teachers. I wish Asher had recognized this skill as more of a gift, and had leveraged it more productively. But Asher knew how to work his skills, and he invested them strategically to garner laughs, not good grades.
I tried hard to bring Asher back on road. Asher probably never told his friends, but when I pulled him out of class, I told him that he could make A's. I told him his writing was extraordinary. I told him he could do it. He'd walk back into class with his classmates tittering. He'd sling his hair over his face so they couldn't see that sly smile that had crept onto his face after hearing something encouraging. (I have a feeling that mostly what he garnered was negative comments since his skills were so prodigiously directed towards peer affirmation). But, a couple of his wise friends probably knew he didn't get scolded. After all, I'd pulled his friends out, too. But I still had this sense he was hiding his gift, even from his friends.
Asher needed people in his corner, and he'd done a lot to distance his teachers, and even some of his peers. Asher genuinely needed some hard lines and maybe some stricter accountability - so that he could rise to a place where his writing gift began to shine more brightly than his social gifts.
In short, Asher also could also have used a coach. Someone to challenge him. Someone to help him run academic plays more efficiently. Someone to give him accountability. But more than that, Asher needed his parents. I knew. His classmates knew. He knew. Something was broken at home.
Parents Need Coaches, too
No judgment, though. Let's be honest. There is no harder job than parenting. Whether your child is burdened with physical ailments or anxiety that make school tough (like John), or your child needs extra help with literacy skills and someone to come alongside them to provide much needed review (like Susi), or your child needs a firmer hand and some accountability (like Asher).
Sometimes it isn't just John, Susi, and Asher who need a coach, it's Mom and Dad, too. We all need someone in our corner. Someone who gets our struggle, and empathizes, and walks with us. As coaches at Nelson Notes, we see our parents just as much as partners as our kids.
Even parents can be effective coaches, but there are some times when parents need advocates and this is especially true when kids are sick, or have special needs, or they're struggling with behavior issues. So, coaching in this sense is for the whole family.
We hope to explore each of these tips with more detail in further blog entries, but these three tips are key in understanding why coaching matters, and why coaching can be integrated into educational solutions for your child.
Three Specific Coaching Tips:
Remember One Size Fits One. Students are unique. Students have different strengths and weaknesses. Students have different personalities. Celebrate your child’s unique strengths and personality.
Listen to Learn Students need a voice. Sometimes families need help to get out of a rut. It's easy to repeat the same things with little effect, and become Charlie Brown's Mother. Coaches help both parent and student jump out of communication ruts by providing both parents and students a safe space to discuss challenges. Families need a safe space to talk about failure, be encouraged about successes (no matter how small) and get tips on how to build the skills and habits that will help them long term.
Learn to ask great questions, Socratic Questions You have probably heard of Socrates since he is one of the most influential philosophers of modern philosophy. You may have even heard of "Socratic Questions" or "Socratic Reasoning." But what you may not know is that this is a skill that you can learn, improve and grow. Our coaches seek to do just that. Socratic questioning is the skillful use of questions to help students think more deeply, and more critically about what they are learning, saying, and doing.