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September 1, 2022

The Power of Partnerships: North Central Texas College stands out for living — not just learning — our coaching methodology

Texas community college takes coaching beyond their campus and into the community

North Central Texas College (NCTC) is the oldest continuously operating two-year college in Texas. With six campuses across north central Texas, NCTC serves nearly 8,000 students each year. Their long and fruitful relationship with InsideTrack began with a chance encounter in 2012. After a session-packed Friday at a conference in Washington, D.C., Donna Uptergrove, Director of Grants at North Central Texas College, was not expecting inspiration to strike during the last session of the day. But it did. Inspiration—and the beginning of a beautiful partnership.

Coaching as a vehicle for change and empowerment

What was it in that fateful session that struck a chord with Donna? It was the testimony of coached students that InsideTrack brought with them to the conference. One student in particular, a mother with two young children she needed to provide for, really touched Donna. “They (the student and her InsideTrack coach) developed a relationship that empowered her… She found her voice and her ability to be decisive.” Donna was impressed that the InsideTrack coaches weren’t making the decisions for her, which ultimately showed the student that she had the knowledge and the capacity to make her own decisions. Donna recalled thinking, “This may be exactly what NCTC needs.”

During this time – and indefinitely at NCTC – Donna and other support staff were asking: “What more can we do to support our students?” Through grant funding, they were implementing new departments with coaching support staff with plans for designing and adding even more coaching positions. Attending that conference session was the beginning of the journey for NCTC to partner with InsideTrack to connect these newly titled positions of ‘coach’ at the college with the skills to truly transform their students’ lives. As Donna put it, “That literally launched me into picking up the phone and calling InsideTrack when I got back to campus.”

Funding the partnership

It took two years to solidify the partnership. Donna kicked things off by working diligently to share with her colleagues what she had learned about InsideTrack – and to share the notion of transitioning the way they work with student communities from a transactional, registration-first model to a model that centered on truly understanding students’ education and career goals. And to partner with InsideTrack to shift thinking at an institution-wide level, NCTC needed to secure funding.

Through a set of “braided funding sources” — from institution funds and Department of Education Title III funds to key Department of Labor grants that really made the partnership possible — NCTC was eventually able to become the first community college in the nation to partner with InsideTrack on a “train-the-trainer” model. InsideTrack coaches typically work with students one-on-one, focusing on each individual learner’s specific situation and needs. By training internal student support staff at NCTC on InsideTrack’s research-proven methodology, coaching can be delivered to even more learners, magnifying the overall impact. At NCTC, the results from such training have been impressive.

Coaching as culture

By expanding the focus of their student support and going wide with the training, NCTC was able to create a culture of coaching at the school. Bekah Sanchez, Student Services Grant Manager at NCTC, provided more insight into the process. “Our initial intention as a college was, ‘Let’s do more than advise and register students: Let’s engage and develop them and truly coach them toward meeting their goals.’ So that was our primary goal in the first few years. Since then, our goal has evolved into, ‘Let’s create a coaching culture throughout the institution. How do we do that? What does that look like? And how do we take what we’ve learned from InsideTrack and adapt it to all the different roles?’” Different roles for whom the coaching was successfully adapted included advisors, success coaches, career coaches, enrollment guides and athletic coaches who advise student-athletes on their academics. Next, half-day training was developed for departments like admissions, financial aid, the business office and others that, though student-facing, were by nature more transactional. Then, most recently, the internal coaching structure expanded to include those in leadership roles.

In going through the training themselves, not only have these staff and faculty leaders gained a better understanding of how coaches and advisors support the students, they have also learned how to apply coaching to their roles within the institution. Wanting to turn that opportunity into something bigger, NCTC created monthly training sessions specific to leadership roles — even for folks who weren’t student-facing. This brought InsideTrack’s coaching methodology to areas of the college that weren’t initially incorporated in the early years of the partnership, allowing NCTC to further develop the overall coaching culture that translates into a better student experience.

By creating an institution-wide coaching culture, NCTC has become a place where “any student or employee who interacts with anyone in the institution will get the same type of support,” Bekah said. “And it’s all about growth and development throughout that process — whether it’s someone who’s at the top, in the middle, in an entry-level position, or a student. It doesn’t matter what level they’re at. We should all be growing and learning together, and this allows us to do that.”

Institutional impact

NCTC’s coaching culture has impacted not only the students receiving coaching but also anyone at NCTC who goes through the training. Bekah has observed that the trainees go through a “transition period” that begins with thinking they’ve heard it before and ends with an “aha” moment once they really start debriefing with their mentors and applying the methodology.

“Everyone tells this same story: ‘Yeah, I thought I knew what it was – until I really got into it, and really embraced it, and it’s different.’ Because it is different. We do what we do because we want to support other people. And for a lot of us, for years that meant advising them. Telling them what they should do. Giving them the best answers. And with coaching, the best thing we can do to support them is to help them develop these skills so they can chart their own path and have a support team along the way. InsideTrack equipped us with a new skill set to serve our students at a whole new level.

”This has been liberating for many advisors, because they don’t have to have all the answers. Instead, they guide students through the process of gathering information, comparing options, and making their own decisions. Through coaching, the student develops the problem-solving skills and linear processing to determine next steps. Through coaching, the student finds their own answers for questions they were likely never asked before, like “Why are you pursuing this degree? What will it do for you? What’s your dream job? How will your life be different after you have graduated and are working there?” Questions along those lines not only provide them space to think about what they are doing on a deeper level, but it also helps support staff to know how to motivate them when barriers arise, or on those days when they wonder if it’s all worth it.

As Bekah explained, getting students to think about their path in terms of what their heart wants “really gets them attached, it keeps them here longer, it helps them to complete, it helps them move into a job. Then they get that career they were looking for, AND they get those skills to carry with them. We always say we want to coach them out of coaching, because we don’t know if they’re going to have a coach in their next position, their next university, wherever they go from here. They may not have a coach, so we need to work with them on those skills while they’re here.”

The positive impact of NCTC’s coaching culture on students has been affirmed through countless remarks, anecdotes, and success stories, but perhaps direct student survey results talk most loudly. When NCTC students were asked about the services that supported them the most prior to their graduation— anything from help paying tuition or course materials to gas, groceries, or childcare — Bekah said that their preference was clear. “Almost always, they said the key thing that benefited them the most was the coaching. Above the money, above all the other services that we could provide for them, they said ‘Yeah, that was nice, but it was the coaching that got me through.’”

Community impact

Beyond the important work they’re doing on their own campus, NCTC puts their coaching skills to work in their community. In Texas, students have to choose a pathway – between STEM, business and industry, public services, arts and humanities, or multidisciplinary studies – in the 8th grade. By the time they’re in high school, they’re moving along that pathway. NCTC has a ‘Rural Promise in a Box’ program designed to promote a college-going culture among the students in 14 of their rural area high schools. To assist students in this transition, NCTC has staff trained as coaches who are specifically dedicated to these high school students – staff who work alongside the college’s Advising Department and Completion Center to coach these students in navigating college.

NCTC saw success with this proactive approach in their Department of Labor TechHire Grant, where they worked with incoming students on career coaching before they declared a major. Noticing a pattern of students changing their majors after their first semester, Bekah explained, the coaches changed up their work with the grant participants. “A lot of what we saw was that people would come into college, and two months in they’re like, ‘This isn’t what I want to do.’ So we started doing this exploration before they started in the grant, before they picked their major.” Coaches had students look into the specifics of their intended path. They researched a day in the life of someone in the occupation they were pursuing and also looked at current job postings to see education and experience requirements. Coaches then met with the students to discuss their findings and see how that aligned with their goals.

Gearing up for what’s next

So what’s next for this dynamic college that’s successfully expanding training to advance their goal of an institution-wide coaching culture? According to Bekah, “Now, we’re expanding coaching into our work with business partners and asking, ‘How do we have coaching conversations with businesses rather than going to companies and giving them a list of what we can offer them?’ A coaching approach will provide both of us with a better understanding of the roles and goals of one another. It’s one thing to work on a project or two with a business…what we are looking for are long-term partnerships that are meaningful for both of us, because that’s when our students win.”

Speaking of successful long-term relationships, the partnership between NCTC and InsideTrack remains a shining example. One could say that NCTC has even taken the InsideTrack coaching methodology to the next level. “It’s making a difference in us as individuals also,” Bekah said. “As any of us will tell you, we carry it home. We do it with our family. We do it with each other... It makes a difference in how we as people respond and think about the person we’re talking to and think about goal setting in general. How to break that down, how to move it forward, and how to really continue to develop these skills, knowledge and beliefs.”

As you can see, the staff at North Central Texas College has really taken InsideTrack training to heart. Learn more about our training and development services and how you could incorporate coaching at your institution to further student support.

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