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Higher Education
Coaching Methodology
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Student Support
Strategic Initiatives

Taking a holistic approach to updating DEI practices

When you provide a coaching program to learners across the country, the populations you support are extremely diverse. Different backgrounds. Different cultures. Different ages, socio-economic situations, and life experiences. That’s why, as college and university student supporters, it’s critical to implement equitable support techniques that serve the needs of all types of students.

Four practices to advance equity in student support

As an organization that works with students and student support staff on a daily basis, we at InsideTrack are continuously challenging ourselves to think about support from an equitable perspective. In 2020, we partnered with consultant Asia Wong, Director of Counseling and Health Services at Loyola University New Orleans, to strengthen our equity practices in coaching. We worked with coaches to discover how their stories and backgrounds might impact the way they relate to students — and how students relate to them. From this work, we incorporated four key practices into our work to help coaches improve their ability to provide meaningful, tailored coaching. We encourage you to think about how the following practices apply to your role as a student supporter, and how incorporating them may impact the way your students feel supported.

  • Individualism means meeting each learner where they’re at. Understanding a student’s specific situation and systemic barriers they may be facing is crucial to making a connection.
  • Self- and situational awareness asks coaches to reflect on their own context. What does your background mean when working with students? What power dynamics exist in your coaching relationship? What biases do you need to address? Welcoming and understanding differences between coaches and learners allows for a truly supportive relationship.
  • Adaptability is inherent with the individualized work we do. Coaches are trained to hone their ability to take different approaches with different types of learners — flexing our communication and listening skills is essential when working with a broad range of students.
  • Cultural competence and humility is a balancing act. Cultural competence involves a commitment to continue to learn about cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives that are different from your own. Cultural humility requires us to avoid assumptions, hold an open mind, and acknowledge that each individual's journey is unique. When balanced, these practices help coaches demonstrate “appropriate curiosity” through a combination of research and asking questions. And you can ask better questions if you understand the context of where the student is coming from.

Five tips to help you see and correct any biases

Everyone has biases. Yet most people are not aware of those biases. That’s called unconscious, or implicit, bias. Having implicit biases is simply a way for our brain to shorthand stored information by sorting things into categories. One of those categories is the way a person thinks about certain social groups, based on things like race, ethnicity, gender, physical appearance or any number of other identifiers. These biases can get in the way of truly understanding your learner’s unique situation, so we do need to be aware of and sometimes fight against our biases. The good news is that knowing this, there are things you can do to address any implicit biases, which will help when working with all types of learners.

  • Know yourself! Spend some time identifying where you might bring assumptions to the table. Maybe you take an implicit bias test or reflect on your particular background and experiences, for example. Ask yourself where your biases might be getting in the way.
  • Work on noticing. Think about your work with students and see if you notice any particular trends — such as students who are less engaged with you. Based on those trends, repeat tip number one above. Look for trends around student engagement.
  • Actively listen — with cultural humility. Don’t just listen to what your student is telling you, but listen for things related to equity and inclusion. Are your students experiencing microaggressions? Are they facing issues caused by a policy or access issues? Are they describing challenges that might be helped by available resources that they might not know about… or might not exist yet? It’s important to understand your institution’s trends, too.
  • Understand context. Understand where the context of the institution might be impacting your students. What previous experiences have they had in educational settings?  What has their experience with your institution been like so far? How might a particular aspect of institutional culture impact different students differently?  
  • Don’t expect to arrive. We need to be actively learning throughout our careers. Remember, it’s a process — both for ourselves and the world around us. When you take it upon yourself to continue to grow alongside your learners, it’s not going to be perfect — and that’s okay!

Megan Breiseth leads the Learning and Development team at InsideTrack, where she’s been supporting learners since 2005. She is passionate about inclusive practices, individualized support, and the power of coaching. Her team teaches coaching skills to student supporters and educational leaders across the nation.

How can you better understand cultural competence and humility? Get actionable insights on the four C’s — curiosity, comfort, clarity and confidence — from DEI specialist Asia Wong.

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