Coaching beyond the session

Kristin Olson-Huddle has been coaching at InsideTrack since 2010. She has worked with learners enrolled at community colleges and others applying to master’s programs. She has supported students at brick and mortar campuses, connected with learners at online schools and helped employees make the most of their education benefits from their employer. Her role is to support people in staying connected to their dreams.

Four ways coaching has taught me to challenge assumptions in my everyday life for deeper connections and clarity

Learning to coach holistically expands beyond 1:1 coaching interactions and into daily life. I’m a coach. Period. It’s not the kind of thing that goes away when I’m done with work, and I’m grateful for it. Coaching has allowed me to deepen my awareness of and connections with others. I think time will tell if I can say, once a coach, always a coach, but I am confident to say that I’m a coach in all ways. Here are four common ways coaching shows up in my everyday life.

#1: Practice active listening

When I get on a call with a learner for a coaching session, my goal is to check my assumptions at the door, and listen for clues that let me know what the learner finds valuable. Assessing in a conversation with a learner to prioritize next steps is a big part of the coach’s role. I have to be listening for general, possibly conversational statements that can be clues to the main topic that we focus on.

When I tune into active listening outside of my coaching call, I find that people tell you things without telling you things all the time. I used to gloss over comments like, “I’m so tired.” “We had a big weekend.” “School is school.” – and just accept it as a statement and then move on. Previously I would respond with something like, “Yeah, I know, me too” or “exactly,” without stopping to give any attention to the underlying meaning. As a coach, those are the comments that stand out to me. Because hearing a simple statement like “I’m so tired” as “I am facing challenges in my day that are preventing me from giving you my full energy” can help direct a more thorough and thoughtful conversation.

#2: Follow up with genuine curiosity

In a coaching call, asking the right question can lead to greater understanding of what the learner is trying to say or what their challenges may be. When I follow up active listening with intentional, genuine curiosity, I learn more about the underlying context of a conversation that otherwise would pass me by. At the least nuanced level, a question as simple as, “What do you mean?” or “Why?” can open up a deeper story.

I was at a party around the holidays and many were talking about the sweet expectations of their extended families, like visits or calls. One friend commented, “Family is family,” and when I asked her what she meant she shared her childhood experience of growing up with her grandparents and the complexity of the relationship she has with her mom. It took the connection of the group to a deeper level and we were all honored to have her share that with us.

#3: Catch and correct the harmful misuse of words

Working in a supportive, professional environment has been a key resource for me in learning to recognize the importance of every word I choose in my conversations. InsideTrack has taken this on as part of its culture. We have a streamlined way to report when language is being misused and make time to educate on the context of the word and alternatives. It’s a beautiful process that is free of judgment. I benefit from this process at the company culture level but also in the coaching calls I have with learners. I’m working to build trust and rapport with each person I talk with. Having the support to be educated on unintended harm of language is a real pillar in that effort.

For instance, it is very common to misuse the word “crazy”. Generally, we can understand the context of the word, but think about everything that word could mean: busy, surprising, chaotic, challenging – the list goes on. Instead of using a word that, in its roots, is a derogatory term for a state of mental health, why not ask to clarify? What do we actually mean when we say “crazy”? Even as listeners, if we ask ourselves these questions, we can be an influence on the way that language changes for the better.

#4: Wrap up casual conversations with next steps

In our methodology, if you haven’t clarified next steps, your job as a coach isn’t done. Moving a learner forward toward a goal is why coaching exists. You’ve probably heard the old saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” One doesn’t start school and then just wind up at graduation. There are endless small next steps for learners, both relating directly to class work and all of the other details, and working with them to define those steps is critical in my work as a coach to help them succeed in school.

Whether I’m talking with a friend, having a meeting at work, or talking with my child’s teacher, I want to know what the next steps are, and who will take that action. (Sorry, not sorry.) Even if I’m asking my husband to cover a meal that I would normally prepare, I need to know, “What do you need from me to make this happen? A grocery list? Calendar invite? Text?” Once the next steps are clarified, I know what is expected of me and how I can support the other person in doing what they need to do, that way everyone is confident that dinner will be on the table.

It doesn’t matter to me if I’m on the phone with a learner or if I’m at a party or just planning out a mundane dinner schedule with my partner: I’m a coach no matter what I’m doing. I’m grateful that I get the opportunity to have an impact through coaching at work but I’m also grateful for the impact that coaching has had on me.

To hear more from Kristin about how student supporters can incorporate coaching methodology into student conversations and beyond, read our blog on coaching frames — a technique that will transform the way you lead conversations with your students.

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