Academic Coaching A Case Study in Chemistry
May 9, 2017
I have worked with my Chemistry Girls now for just about a year and I would like to share some of my boots-on-the-ground observations in a quick Case Study of our time together.
My Last Post outlined the Essential Factors in preparing for the Mentoring experience and the Next will add to the list of Factors which are necessary for successful Coaching (Look for Assessment, Accessibility Adaptability here soon), but I’d first like to talk more about the human dimension of what I do.
Both Coaching and Tutoring begin with the Material
Both Coaching and Tutoring begin with the material. After arriving in any classroom, an instructor assigns a Textbook, references a Syllabus and as the year progresses suggests supplementary reading and resources. Tutoring focuses principally on assisting a student in understanding this material as presented.
Coaching goes a step further and helps the student understand how to handle ANY material presented at ANY time.
My Chemistry Students
At first glance, Chloe and Caitlin are standard issue 2017 High School Sophomores. They both love The Instachat and Snapgram and probably take more photos in a day than I do in a Year. Doc Martens are a must (some things NEVER change) and they snack like Wolverines. Each, however, is their own person. They are devoted to different sports (Hockey and Crew), they have different comfort foods (even with changed names, telling would be a breach of confidence) and they sit down to their schoolwork with VERY different needs and concerns.
Despite their surface nonchalance, they both want desperately to succeed. What they lack, to different degrees, is the confidence to trust in their own abilities and just go for it.
THIS is where I come in.
Like clockwork, we meet for an hour every other week. This is the baseline. We generally meet face-to-face, but Skype is always an option.
The first few minutes is a settling time.
We ALL live by our phones. Kids are no different. Both Chloe and Caitlin have grueling schedules. Between EVER shifting class time blocks, sports and extracurricular commitments, I don’t know how they survive, so, putting on the breaks to JUST sit for an hour is jarring.
I don’t force the issue. I begin with reviewing unit and chapter numbers, confirming exam dates and inquiring about any new business like worksheets, notes, labs and quizzes. If they reflexively check their phone, I let it go. Once the initial FOMO wave passes, we settle. It helps that we use isolated spaces for privacy, one the family dining room, the other one of the study rooms at the local Public Library. At the beginning of the year, our settling time could be as much as 10 minutes, but now it is only a matter of moments. I never made a big deal of it and it never became a big deal. I trusted them and they were able to let go on their own.
No matter the subject, grades FOLLOW growth and maturity.
The material is the material. Chemistry can be particularly difficult because of the abstract conceptualization that is required. THIS, however, is my bread and butter.
I am a VERY visual, non-linear thinker (more on this in the next post).
In our time together, we discuss concerns and confusion while I sketch out the concepts. I usually follow-up with a slide show of the Unit for review.
Download (PDF, 1.33MB)
This is where, as a coach, I build the core trust of our relationship. NONE of us is born with the knowledge of ANY subject. Somewhere along the way, however, it is communicated, and not only to these girls, that we should be able grasp Chemistry, Geometry, and French on the first go round.
What folks are looking for and what I provide is the permission to fail, the reassurance that I’VE failed, the reassurance that everyone fails.
How you Move Forward from Failure is the Mark of Success
My first suggestion is ALWAYS use your voice, become the agent of your own process. When something doesn’t make sense in class, ASK. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t even sure what you don’t understand, get in there and hash it out.
I recently went into meet with one of my girls teachers and he commented on the fact that Chloe DOES speak up more and more in class and conversely, she recently commented to me that the material seems to be getting easier. Actually, the material is getting more difficult (don’t get me started on equilibrium constants and redox reactions), she has GROWN into the process of identifying what she does and doesn’t understand and addresses it with her teacher and me.
She got a 100 on the Keq quiz and really felt good for the Unit test. That is ALL her. I’m just the cheerleader.
The Big Picture
A look at The Big Picture of how my coaching works is a Series of Posts in and of themselves.
I just wanted to give you a taste of our success this past year.
What I’ve tried to help my students develop is a Holistic View of School Work. We now discuss the Why of their Education. We discuss issues in ALL their subjects and how they relate to them, their lives and the world as a whole.
I Coach because I care. I want my girls and EVERY student to find their inner scholar-warrior and come to realize their full potential in school and in life.