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Coaching Methodology
Student Support

Discover how InsideTrack coaches use transparency to truly connect with learners

When you’re in a position to support learners, trust is essential for every conversation you have. When a learner is able to trust the person they’re working with — whether it’s a coach, an advisor or anyone else in student support — it opens the door to vulnerability, giving them space to share their dreams and be honest about their challenges. An effective tool for building trust quickly is transparency.


A quick take on transparency

Everyone knows what transparency means in a personal context — being open and honest. But how does this translate to a conversation with a learner?Let’s start with a metaphor. Imagine yourself in the dentist’s chair. Feet up, bib around your neck, bright light in your face. Before starting, the dentist will let you know what your job is and what their job is. You can expect to hear instructions, such as:

“Open your mouth as wide as possible.”
“Turn towards me.”
"Bite down.”

The dentist may also say things like:

“I’m going to have you lay you all the way back.”
“I’m going to use the drill now, so you’ll hear a high-pitched buzzing sound.”
“I’ll pause for a moment to give you a chance to rinse.”

This is what transparency looks like in a typical dental appointment. You’re told what’s expected of you, you’re told what you can expect from the dentist. When you’re nervous and in a vulnerable position, it’s reassuring to know what to expect. Throughout the appointment, the dentist tells you exactly what is happening to help put you at ease and build trust.

Transparency in action during a coaching session

Now that we’ve defined transparency, let’s see how it works in coaching. Here, vulnerability doesn’t show up the same way it does at the dentist. Yet learners can feel every bit as vulnerable when you’re asking them to open up and share their dreams, their goals, their challenges and their story. Transparency in the coaching setting can work in the same way. By using phrases that narrate and explain the process, a coach can take a learner through a coaching conversation with ease. Let’s explore four techniques that InsideTrack coaches use to provide transparency with their learners.

#1: Role Statements

When coaches meet a learner for the first time, it’s critical that they explain what their role is — and isn’t. Role statements use transparency to set clear expectations of what sorts of things can be covered during a coaching meeting and over the span of the coaching relationship. Here are three examples of role statements that coaches have used in their first meetings with learners to provide transparency regarding what to expect from their conversations.

“As your success coach, I’m here to support your ongoing success during your first two years at (school name). At first, I often serve as more of a guide — you can think of me as your go-to for any questions you have as you navigate this new experience. That’s one part. But the coaching piece is exactly what it sounds like: I provide individualized coaching around your specific goals and what’s important to you as a student to support you in earning your degree.” — Coach JoAnna Holt
“Within my role as your enrollment coach, I’m here to support you throughout the research and admissions process. I want to ensure that you are connected with the information and resources you need. The goal at the end of each time we connect is to make sure that you’re walking away with some next steps to move you forward.” — Coach Jessica Adams
“As your enrollment coach, I’m here as a guide through the research and admissions process. My goal is to help you gather information so you can determine if we are a good fit for you. Since today is our first conversation, I want to spend some time getting to know you and your goals, answer any questions you have, and discuss next steps that make sense for you.” — Coach Kimberly Adkins

Framing the conversation with a strong role statement lets the learner know that you can be an excellent resource for them when they need information about the school. It also lets them know that supporting them as they work towards their goals is part of your job.

How you start the student support conversation matters. Learn how you can use frames in coaching conversations to help you build trust and show the learner that you are actively listening.

#2: “So that…”

These two little words — “so that” — can bring a lot of transparency to a conversation. They provide the context of the question you’re about to ask, and they can also legitimize the direction you’re taking the conversation. Here are three examples of “so that” in a coaching conversation:

I appreciate you sharing that. I’d like to come back to that, but first, I want to ask you about what else you have going on outside of school so that I have a clear picture of all your priorities and I don’t miss what’s most important to you.

Before we go, I’d like to hear what your biggest takeaway is from our conversation today,
so that when it’s time for you to register for classes, you’ll be ready and feeling good about your choices.I’m not a financial advisor, but I’d like to ask you about your plans to pay for school so that when you meet with someone in the Financial Aid office, you’ll feel prepared.

In each of these examples, coaches use “so that” as a way to clarify why they are asking the learner to share information that could feel personal or sensitive. By providing this transparency, learners are more likely to open up to their coach, making their work together more impactful.

#3: Setting boundaries and priorities

Do you ever get the sense that learners are overwhelmed with their priorities? As someone who supports learners, you have a variety of helpful tools up your sleeve, but you don’t want to give the learner the impression that you’re inviting a conversation that’s outside of your role. Transparency can help.

In this first example, the conversation started with the coach checking in over text, with someone who successfully re-enrolled after taking a break from school right after she registered for classes. The learner expressed that she was overwhelmed — not only with school, but with all of the other things she was balancing in her life. The coach responds by recommending an exercise that can help the newly enrolled student establish priorities while creating an appropriate means for sharing openly. Transparency makes it easier for a learner to engage in coaching exercises that may be new or challenging. The coach uses transparency to introduce the exercise while she explains the benefits, how long it will take, and what the outcome will look like. Here is the coach’s text:

“Would it help if I led you through a quick little “brain dump” activity to help you see what you’re balancing right now?”

“This brain dump is to help you put all of the things you’re balancing in your mind down on paper (or text message if you’d like to use this space). This way, you can see all the things. Take only 1-2 minutes to write down or type all the things on your mind.”

“After you’ve dumped out all the things on your mind, circle three things that you would like to address/handle/take care of. Then narrow it down to just one and start there.”— Coach Daphne Jenkins

Transparency can also help set boundaries, as well as redirect the conversation in a more productive direction, and it can be used whenever the learner is managing more support than a coach can provide — especially when those issues are outside the role of the coach. Here are three examples to show you how that might work:

I’d like to restate my role so that we can determine if the support I have to offer will be helpful for this situation, or if we should connect you with other resources.

I’m going to jump in here because I want to be sure we are focusing on your priorities for school and the things you can control, so that you can get some clear next steps by the end of this meeting.

I’m going to ask you a very direct question before we continue. What kind of support do you have for the challenges you just shared with me?

Texting has become the go-to for many coaching sessions. Learn how you can use targeted texting to dig deep and keep the conversation going.

#4: Guideposts

For coaches and student support professionals, a phrase used as a guidepost can serve as a roadmap to the meeting or the coaching relationship. Calling out the order of the meeting, as well as noting what stage of the meeting you are in, highlights the progress of coaching and can highlight the impact of what’s taking place. In a series of meetings, simply stating how many meetings you have completed and how many are left can quickly bring context to the priorities being covered. For example, during an initial meeting, adding transparency when asking a “getting to know you” question shows the learner that their answer has value for the long-term relationship.

Since this is our first meeting, I’d like to understand why starting school is important to you, and why now is the best time for you to be doing so. Knowing this will give us something to connect to as I continue to support you through challenges along the way.

In subsequent meetings, transparency can be used by making an intro statement that puts the ball in the learner’s court by emphasizing what they should focus on to respond.

I’d like to start with an update from you so that we can discuss what will be the most important direction for our meeting today.

This is our third meeting and you have a few weeks until the semester is over. What is going to be the most valuable thing for us to discuss in this meeting?

While a meeting is in session, it’s possible to move the meeting forward to the next step through transparency. These examples show mid-meeting shifts that highlight what’s been covered in the meeting and what is next:

Now that I know what your biggest challenge is, let’s take some time to brainstorm possible solutions.

You have a plan for a clear next step. Let’s pause to imagine what possible roadblocks could get in your way.  

I’d like to summarize our conversation by recapping what we covered in today’s conversation, then review what we will cover next time we talk.

Adding transparency to your student support toolkit

Transparency is not only a tool for your learner, it can also be helpful for you as a student supporter. When you can set clear expectations, pull back the curtain on why you’re saying what you’re saying, and outline a road map for the conversation, your meetings will be stronger because you have communicated the purpose of what you are saying. Doing so will keep your meetings organized, build trust with the learners you are working with, and emphasize the impact you’re delivering.

Looking for even more pro tips on coaching? Learn how curiosity can help you better connect with your students as seven different InsideTrack coaches share their best tips on how curiosity adds to any learner conversation.

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