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Higher Education
Coaching Methodology
Student Support

Assessment lets you know where a learner is now — and where they’re headed

With any journey, it’s hard to get to where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. This is true of a mountain hike, a family vacation… and the journeys your learners are on each and every day. As someone who supports learners, it’s important to make sure they have everything they need in place for a strong start. In this blog, we explore the concept of assessment — where coaches work to understand where someone is, then help them move to where they want to be.

It all starts with an initial assessment

Assessment is where the coaching process and relationship begins. Whether the person you’re coaching is starting college, applying for a new job, returning to school or going through a transition, you can assess exactly where they are on their journey. Here are some sample questions from a typical assessment:

For learners starting school

  • What are you looking for in a school program?
  • Have you met with an advisor?
  • Do you have questions about financial aid?
  • What other commitments are you balancing while you’re in school?
  • Who’s the person or people in your life that support your decision to go to school?

For workers looking to advance in their career

  • What is your current role?
  • What is your goal for advancement?
  • Does your goal require a college degree? Certification? Special/additional training?
  • Do you report to someone who is aware of your goals?
  • What information do you need to feel confident about making a decision?

Go deeper by assessing for core values

As a coach or student support professional, when someone states their goals, it can be very insightful to pause and ask them about the core values that informed the creation of those goals. Using this list of questions when working with learners can shed light on the core values that guide them — and continue to inform their decisions into the future.

  • Why is that important to you?
  • How did you decide to go in this direction?
  • What motivated you to choose this major/career path?
  • What made you choose this class?
  • Who/what inspired you to pursue this role?

It’s not uncommon for a learner to pause before responding, saying something like “no one has ever asked me that before.” They can see the value in questions like these, and it bolsters their willingness to take their next steps or even reevaluate their overall goal.

According to long-time InsideTrack coach (and now project manager) Lisa Thompson, coaches often use a technique called the “Five Whys” as a way to encourage learners to get to the heart of their motivation. “The Five Whys is the idea that you’re digging deeper into someone’s answers. We’re getting to your core values, getting to the root of why you’re doing what you’re doing.” Lisa explained that learners who receive InsideTrack coaching “are always going to know why” — why they’re enrolled in a class, why they need to finish the assignment, why they’re pursuing their degree, why this means so much to them. Being able to connect back to their initial “why” is a huge motivating factor and reason to persevere, especially when the going gets rough. Here’s an example of the “Five Whys” in action during a multi-day text conversation with a learner.

To ensure your learner can see the value when you assess, you can use transparency by adding a statement like, “I’m asking you to confirm that this support is the best use of your time,” or, “To learn how this direction is aligned with your priorities — even though it may seem obvious — I’d like the opportunity to hear it from you.” By pausing to reflect on this, they may be surprised to learn something about themselves they didn’t realize.

Add KSBs to the mix

Knowledge, skills and beliefs — known at InsideTrack as KSBs — are an integral part of the coach/learner relationship. By assessing for KSBs, coupled with strengths-based coaching, you can encourage the learners you work with to recognize and lean into their own strengths, ultimately helping them advance toward their goals. Here are some examples of how you can assess for KSBs with your learners:

Assessing for Knowledge

Ask your college students:

  • What is your knowledge of the financial aid system?
  • Are you familiar with the program requirements for your major?
  • Do you know how to access available resources, like the career center and tutoring?
  • Have you looked into clubs and organizations on campus as a way to connect with other students?
  • Do you have any strategies for your success — like creating a calendar to keep track of important dates and deadlines?

Ask your workers or job-hopeful individuals:

  • What are the requirements for the position you’re interested in?
  • Are there any benefits or programs you can access to help pay for school or training?
  • Do you understand how to tap into networking?
  • Do you know the structure for highlighting your successes to be used in resumes, cover letters and networking, both in person and online?
  • Have you considered practicing or role playing a job interview to build your confidence?
  • Are there any gaps or negatives in your job past that you need to be prepared to explain?

Assessing for Skills

These skills can be assessed in any situation:

  • What do you do for self-care? What would you like to be doing more of?
  • Are you comfortable advocating for yourself?
  • How are you with time-management? What are some things you could do to improve?
  • Do you think you’re a good problem solver? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stuck?
  • What are your goals for school? Career? Life?
  • How is your academic fluency? Are you ready to go and feeling good or could you use some help and direction?

Assessing for Beliefs

This may be the most important assessment to make, as beliefs can be at the core of success. A learner may have everything in place, but if they believe that one of these statements is false, it’s hard to build on knowledge and skills alone. See how your learners respond to the belief that:

  • I deserve support
  • I am here for a reason
  • I belong here
  • I have the knowledge and skills I need to succeed
  • I can learn and grow
  • I am part of a community that supports my goals

Understand strengths to find the best way to advance

Assessing all of these different aspects does more than just point to gaps that need support — it also highlights each individual’s strengths, which guide them along their journey. Knowing the strengths of your learner gives you a path to help them advance. Leaning into what your learner already does well will give them confidence and a level of comfort as they take steps towards their goals. With that in mind, here are examples of three ways what you learn during an assessment can help learners prepare for both school and career success:

Networking: It’s not uncommon to perceive networking in a negative light. However, if you’ve learned that the person you’re working with values connections, you can reframe it as building relationships or exploring curiosity. If your learner feels awkward reaching out to people, you can reframe it using a project management approach. In both cases, brainstorming informational interview questions or an elevator pitch can support your learner in success. Use what you learned in the assessment to customize the way you frame things, supporting the mindset your learner uses in their approach.

Time Management: Have you ever worked with a procrastinator? What strengths have they shared that you can use to reframe their approach? When the script is flipped, procrastinators can be very productive without acknowledging it. One approach is to use assessment to break a large project into smaller next steps — making a project that seems large and overwhelming more manageable. You should also connect their dream to their next step. Once you know what their long term goal is, you can ask them how they will connect to that so that they can dive into the hard work.

Interview Preparation: For even the most seasoned worker, job interviews can be anxiety provoking and overwhelming. That’s why being prepared not only puts the interviewee more at ease, but it can also help them get the job. How can you provide support? Start by having them think about their personal journey. What obstacles and challenges have they overcome… and how? What skills that they’ve learned in school and in life are applicable in some way to the desired job? How does this job help them move toward their goals? And make sure they do their homework about the company and the type of position they hope to fill. As an additional way to state their case, help them hone their resume and create or update their LinkedIn profile so the prospective employer can learn more about them ahead of time.

A solid foundation starts things off right

Coaching really begins with relationship building and assessment. By asking assessment questions upfront, coaches get a better understanding of where their learner is on their journey — right now, at this place in time. In order for the coach to help learners connect their actions to their motivation, it’s important for coaches to ask them to articulate the “why” behind what they’re doing (earning a degree, changing careers, going back to school). This helps learners gain clarity about why they’re on the path they’re on, and connect their long-term goals with the short-term actions they need to move forward.

Assessing their KSBs helps learners feel confident that they are ready for the challenges they are embarking on. What’s more, it can be transformative for learners to be asked these questions because it’s very possible that no one has asked them these questions before. Not only will it give you as their supporter the insight as to how to best support them, but it also shows a mirror to the learner and gives them an opportunity to get to know themselves.

Looking for even more pro tips on the finer points of coaching? Learn how tapping into empathy can turn transactional encounters into transformational experiences. Explore actionable tips that can help you build more meaningful connections with your learners.

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