Who do you know yourself to be?

I have coached hundreds of students. I have also listened to countless hours of other coaches, coaching college students. Some of it has inspired me to my core. Seriously. I have actually heard moments within coaching that were so sublimely executed - with the authentic expression of empathy, followed by the clarity and elegance of a thoughtfully placed question, supported by the poignancy of silence…From this silence, thoughts evolve into words, words transform into insight, and insight leads to action.

These are the insights that serve as the beginning of a rare process through which students start seeing things differently and yes, start knowing themselves differently in relationship to ongoing obstacles. Situational obstacles that for most, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

But often, this doesn’t happen.

Often, coaching meetings are kind of boring. And, sometimes that’s perfectly appropriate. Often they’re check-ins, reminders of best habits and practices, the dispensing of knowledge and sharing of resources. Sometimes it’s the championing of students’ motivation as they brace themselves to endure a challenging night, perhaps week, eventual semester, or even life?

It sounds something like this; “I know how hard this is, but I believe in you and know how much this means to you. You’ve got your plan, so make sure to stick to it, and if you need anything, remember, I am here and believe in you!.”

It is so well intentioned.  And, yet it’s not enough.

Having listened to these recorded coaching meetings for the past decade, I am left wringing my hands having heard so many opportunities that were painfully missed. And knowing that a sheer force of will may be enough to get a student through the night, but often not the week, let alone the semester. A student can only “white knuckle it” for so long as the encouraging words of a coach grow increasingly faint when left alone with gnawing self-doubt and overwhelm. The paradox here is that it is precisely a life of obstacles that draw students to enroll in the first place. And it is assumed that it is exactly because of these obstacles that many face unrealized dreams.

What if the culprit however was not always the obstacle, but instead the student’s self-concept or personal narrative when grappling with the obstacle?

The solution is not to rush to a plan, and the solution is not to more deeply connect to a student’s ‘why’. Even the most well laid out plans and the most beautifully articulated personal ‘why’ are vulnerable when students are not operating from an empowered personal sense of “who they know themselves to be”.  It is a coach’s job to know how to navigate that conversation confidently and with agility.

Stay with me here…. You may have heard of the importance of non-cognitive development for students -yeah?  If not, it’s safe to assume you’re becoming more familiar with the concepts of grit and growth mindset? Thank goodness for Angela Duckwork and Carol Dweck who have introduced such fundamental concepts critical to student success. But, who the heck knows how to coach grit and growth mindset?  Who the heck knows how to coach students to develop resilience, self-advocacy, self-efficacy, adaptability and hope?

I do.

Let’s examine this more...Most coaches approach their work with students through the lens of;

  1. Where are you now?

  2. Where do you want to be?

  3. How are you going to get there?

  4. Why do you want this?

Don’t stop asking these questions. They matter. But, they are not even close to being enough.

What if your coaches asked questions designed to inquire into ‘who students know themselves to be, or who they see themselves becoming’?  Here’s what this might sound like:

  1. Share a time when something was really hard, but you somehow saw your way through?

  2. What qualities did you rely on to persevere?

  3. Who in your life also knows this about you, and what more would they add?

  4. How does this match up with who you know yourself to be, when you’re at your best?

  5. When things get hard, how will knowing this about yourself make a difference?

This is just a small sample, but it demonstrates that knowing how to engage in coaching conversations includes knowing what to ask and why. It starts with giving space for students to update personal narratives that are no longer serving them and developing the non-cognitive skills that not surprisingly are huge predictors of success for your college students.

Currently, most coaches are not equipped to do this - yet. Does this feel like a heavy lift?  I love being able to tell you that in fact, it is not.