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Coaching Methodology
Student Support

Understanding frames can help you fully connect with students

They can hold a photograph, enclose a window, make your eyeglasses look pretty and provide the structure to hold a car, couch or person together. Frames. In direct student coaching, a frame is a phrase used intentionally to guide or direct the conversation with a student. Using a frame during a coaching conversation will organize the call, keep you and the learner on the same page, and optimize your impact.

An expert’s perspective

To learn more about the simple yet effective coaching technique of framing, we spoke with long-time InsideTrack Success Coach Kristin Olson-Huddle. “Imagine,” she explains, “that the coach and the student are standing in a long hallway filled with doors. Each door is a potential topic to discuss and work on during their one-on-one coaching session. An upcoming test. Challenges at home. Issues with financial aid. The number of doors is infinite. The frame provides a guideline for the call. It makes sure both parties open the door to the same room.”

Check your frames for the new term

For student support staff, the beginning of the new school year is a great time to evaluate your coaching conversations. Think about how you can incorporate frames into your conversations with students, helping with clarity, efficiency and optimized impact. Starting any student support conversation with a strong frame can save time, help you focus on what’s most important, and lead to giving the learner clear value by the time the call is finished.

Using frames to start the conversation with clarity

Frames can help set the agenda for the conversation and establish your role as a key supporter in their journey. Putting the fame in the form of a question — preferably an open-ended question — gives the learner the opportunity to drive the call and make sure it will be the best use of their time, making them feel heard and creating value in the conversation from the get-go. Here are a few examples of common agenda-setting frames:

  • “As your Success Coach, I’m here to make sure you have everything you need to get through the enrollment process as smoothly as possible. Where are you in that process now?”
  • “As your Success Coach, I’m here to collaborate with you on getting the most out of your educational experience. What would you like to prioritize today?”
  • “Given that ________ (you are enrolling in school, have a test next week, are working towards becoming a teacher), what is the most important thing for us to focus on in our call today?”

Letting a frame kick off the call can be the best way to organize a conversation, helping to clarify a conversation and align collaboration between coach and learner. Framing doesn’t set the path of the conversation in stone, but rather gives it a jumping-off point so the journey can flow and develop from there.

Building relationships with thoughtful, trust-building frames

Building trust with the students you work with is a key aspect of coaching. It gives you the opportunity to lean into your agility in your support role. There are several ways that frames can provide structure for that relationship.For example, you may start with a casual connection as a warm-up, then move to a more specific frame. Some learners may need to get directly to the point. Others will start with their biggest stressor, and a frame will open the door to assess in such a way that nothing is overlooked in the conversation.

Let’s say the conversation begins with a simple “How are you?” During the initial pleasantries, the learner you’re talking to brings up their biggest concern — a low grade in English class. It may seem obvious that discussing a strategy for a better grade in English is the clear priority for the conversation. But an ideal frame will slow the conversation down in order to give the coach room to do a thorough assessment, confirming the most important topic to address. For example, “As your Success Coach, I always want to focus on what’s most important to you. I’d like to spend two or three minutes checking in on everything else, and then we can circle back and figure out a plan.”Here are some examples of frames in this situation:

  • (Informal)  “How’s your day going so far?” Then follow up with natural questions to topics/issues that come up.
  • (Formal)  “I want to introduce myself. Then before we start to talk about the program, I want to hear what got you interested in this program and learn a bit more about you.”
  • “Thanks for taking a few minutes to connect. As your coach, I want to make sure we are focusing on what’s most important to you. So I want to shift the conversation. What’s on your plate this week?”

Reframing the student’s thoughts to show you’re actively listening

Reframes throughout the call can be used to make sure nothing is being missed. Even though a student answers the initial frame question, their answer may not take into account the struggle or behind-the-scenes challenge that recently came up. A coach can use active listening to pick up on an important topic being overlooked, then use a reframe to check in on that topic.

Checking in with the person on the phone is a key element of clear communication. We are not here just to support learners in their next steps, but to connect with them to make sure they are feeling valued in the conversation and know that what they are bringing to the table matters. Doing so helps motivate them to take the next steps defined in the conversation.Here are some examples of reframing:

  • “So what I hear you saying is...”
  • “Tell me more about that...”
  • “Would you say it’s accurate to say...?”

Reframing can also be a great opportunity to understand roadblocks preventing students from taking action or moving to the next step. If you pause to let the learner know what you heard from them, it gives them the chance to correct you or add more input to make sure they’re providing a true picture of the issue at hand. When they do that, you can focus the collaboration on the most important aspects of the student’s journey.

Structuring the conversation to get to the heart of the matter

As you can see, frames provide structure for the whole conversation. It gives you a strong start, a midway touchpoint, and a summary that circles back to make sure you’ve covered everything you intended to. Here’s what that might look like:

  • “Let’s focus on what’s most important...”
  • “Now that we know chemistry is the most important course for you, we can discuss options...”
  • “Now that we’ve created a plan for the most challenging aspect of your week, how does that connect to graduation?”

As you prepare learners for a great start to the school year, lean into frames when you meet as a way to support you in supporting your learner in the most effective way. How will you use frames in your meetings?

Looking for other ways to connect with your students and set them up for success this school year? Check out this Back to School blog that offers three tips to do just that.

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