May 08, 2023 by Coach Training EDU
In Coaching to Flourish Season 3 Episode 18, guest host Britt Fulmer and CTEDU founder John Andrew Williams explore all things Academic Life Coaching. This conversation dives into the inspiring and empowering qualities of Academic Life Coaching, tips for advisors who become coaches, and coaching methods that facilitate deep transformation. You won’t want to miss this one!
[Britt Fulmer] I'm excited to jump in today and talk about all the things. Do we do an intro?
[John Andrew Williams] I guess we should - Coaching to Flourish. Usually Raj does the intros, she's out this week. We have Britt here instead.
I'm feeling fired up. I mean, in a good way. I feel thankful to have a passion, to be of service and to try to work towards social justice and good. I feel very strongly about this. And today I'm feeling especially fired up.
That's my intro. Welcome to Coaching to Flourish. And we have Britt here, she's amazing. She's been our editor of the books, head of the writing team, one of our trainers. Welcome, happy Tuesday.
[Britt Fulmer] Thanks. Happy Tuesday. Well, I'm especially excited to be here because one of the things that's been on my mind is, as you know, universities and colleges and institutions of higher learning are going on summer break. A lot of the professionals in those spaces are looking for professional development opportunities, and a lot of them are seeking out academic life coaching, which is awesome, and we're so excited to welcome those people into the fold.
But it does beg the question, what is academic life coaching? And how does that differ maybe from other forms of coaching? And I put together a couple of questions that I get asked a lot in classes, when people are sort of starting their journeys into academic life coaching, that I thought maybe we could tackle together today.
[John Andrew Williams] Sweet. Let's look at it.
[Britt Fulmer] So the first question is John, I know you are - not to toot your horn too much, but you're one of the geniuses and sort of the innovators when it comes to academic life coaching. And so from your perspective, when you think about coaching, the world of more general life coaching and then academic life coaching, do those two things overlap? And what are some of the things that make them different?
[John Andrew Williams] Right. So general life coaching starts in the mid ‘90’s, and it borrows a lot from sports psychology. A lot of what's happening in mentorship programs - you look at the ICF, it’s officially founded in 1995. And it represents a huge fundamental shift from a knowledge basis of delivering value, to an empowerment basis of delivering value.
And what that means is, with the advent of the internet and all these kinds of things, if you need knowledge, you can easily search that knowledge and find it relatively quickly. And so when you can do that, then you don't necessarily need to prize memory, knowledge, in the same way that we've done it for centuries. We’re talking centuries.
So there's a been a huge - the shift is so massive. It's almost hard to state how much the internet has changed the world. We're almost like, oh, of course. We're living our lives like it's somehow normal. It's not normal. That we're able to have a zoom conversation like this, that everyone from all over the world is able to just casually every Tuesday - like, Hey, let's just do our thoughts. And here we are, and we're all gonna do this thing. That's not normal.
But when that happens, when knowledge is so ubiquitous, then the thing that becomes a premium is space. It's listening. It's that inner world. It's, do you know your own perspective? Do you know your own empowerment perspective? And then you can take these perspectives. And once explored, then you can look at, how can I apply this to change the culture of the company that I want to create? To change the culture of this community that we find ourselves in?
You get empowered when you have that inner world. Coaching marks that inner empowerment. That's the shift, right? That's the huge shift.
Academic life coaching then takes that - so now we have this empowerment basis of dealing with someone, that's different from knowledge, but then you're going to try to take this empowerment basis and use it in institutions whose primary charge is to give knowledge. And now you're like, how do you do that?
So now we're going back to the knowledge giver, saying, Hey knowledge giver, this is lovely. However, if you want to add a whole other dimension on this, you're going to have to learn how to empower people. And yeah, you can empower people through knowledge. Great. But let's empower people with self-knowledge. Let's empower people with understanding what is their own inner landscape like.
And so that's the crux of academic life coaching, is taking that empowerment basis that comes from sports psychology, a lot of the mentorship programs, a lot of the different alternative therapies that were happening, some mainstream therapies that were happening. And now we're moving into empowerment basis. Now we're going back to these institutions and telling them, there's a whole other skill set that if you gain this skillset and work with students in this way, you're not only empowering their inner world, but they also retain knowledge better. That's amazing.
And so that's the high level view of what's happening. On a very granular level, it deals with the agenda setting of a coaching session. When you're working with adults, you can trust that adults know, they have enough self-awareness so they can set useful coaching agendas. When you're working with students, you have to have more of a starting point. And then there's a way to pass off the agenda to empower the student to take control of the agenda. That's the heart of the difference between working with an adult and working with a student.
[Britt Fulmer] You know, I love that you brought that up because it's actually one of my questions that I wanted to ask. And it comes up a lot in classes, especially from institutions, where our participants are asking, Okay, this is great, I love this empowerment side of things. I totally get it and I see the value in it. But how do I strike the balance between when I need to have that knowledge base still available to me, but I also want to be empowering my students? Where is sort of the balance point that happens in those sessions?
[John Andrew Williams] Right. A couple guidelines. And the first one is - in thinking about the whole scope of someone's training, let's say they're a college advisor. They've been in it and they do not have formal coach training. Advisors are usually very good listeners, they do it a lot. They are halfway there in terms of coaching skillsets.
The thing I find though is, they have been trained by necessity to give good advice in short periods of time, because they only maybe have 15, 20 minutes working with a student. So when you have that student after student, and you're giving advice, and you feel like you're saving the world. That is some pretty heavy, heavy lifting on a consistent basis.
So then, this person comes into a coaching class. And we're giving them all these tools to look at emotion, exploring perspectives, taking time, maybe pausing after a question for 10 seconds, giving the student all this space, holding back the advice that you have. It feels like it runs so counter to the day-to-day experience that every advisor has, where they have caseloads, it might be 250 students. I've heard of caseloads of 500 students.
So here we are, right? This is the context in which this is playing out. So what we tell advisors, how do you do this? There is an element when you're working with coaching that you can - the first step is to trust and train to be a hundred percent coach. To say, okay, I know that I can bring advice back into this equation, but I'm going to get the training done. So I know I can have a 50 minute session with somebody and I can be a coach a hundred percent of that 50 minutes, and then I know I have that tool set.
Once they have that tool set, then they can bring back in the advice giving. And the best way is to do that directly. So for instance, let's say I'm working with a student, a college student - and I've had these conversations too, working with college students. It's like, okay, you need to use your planner. You don't have a planner? That's best practice, you need to use a planner. Full stop. What are your thoughts? And then you go back to coach mode and explore.
There was a student I was working with - I think I've used this example before. It might be even be on a recording. I think I called it a planner, and she just was having the toughest time with it until I got curious about it. And apparently when they were introducing it to her - and this is a sixth grader, she was in either seventh grade or eighth grade when I was working with her. Her parents were going through a really hard time when they were introducing planners to her, and so she associated planners with this super hard personal time. No one would've known. She just didn't tell anybody.
Once we uncovered that, you can imagine all of the emotion around there. It was more around scheduling, so we called it a scheduler instead of a planner. We just changed the name for it, and that was the deal. But you just never know.
And a lot of advisors, they're not having trouble with giving the advice or telling them what they should do. That's the relatively easy part for them. It's the, how do I handle a student in crisis? How do I handle the emotion when that comes up? How do I handle emotion within a short timeframe of 15 to 20 minutes?
And the answer that coaching gives is empowerment. It's trusting the student that there's something for them to learn, there's something here. And the way to do that is by becoming curious as opposed to giving more advice. And give it directly. Say, I think you need to do this, and then shift back to curiosity as quickly as possible. That's the ‘too long didn't read’, what you gotta do.
[Britt Fulmer] I really love that. This is something that comes up in classes quite a bit, But my student needs advice, or, Oh, it's just so simple, they just needed help fixing this quick problem.
And we talk about exactly what you just said. There's an example that I use about a scheduler, and how a student comes to their coach and says, can you help me schedule out my week? And the coach is like, sure, no problem. You should move this here, and you should do this and you should do this. And then the next week, guess what? The student comes back and they need help, that same week with the same problem. And it isn't until the coach starts to lean into that curiosity and say, hold on a second, let's back up. What's preventing you from being able to do this yourself? What's getting in the way of being able to keep up with this, right?
And I love that you just said that. It's that genuine place of curiosity that helps students to learn more about themselves, ask themselves the questions they need to become those self-aware, empowered adults. And to get the results that they want.
And speaking of results, sometimes I hear in class, especially if it's an institution who has certain expectations of their advisors, or people who are working directly for students, whose parents are saying, Well I expect X, Y, and Z results. How do you refrain from being overly prescriptive in the pursuit of results, when you're also trying to maintain your professionalism as a coach in those situations?
[John Andrew Williams] What do you mean by overly prescriptive? Like telling them, this is what you need to do?
[Britt Fulmer] Right? Yeah. I think sometimes coaches come to class and they're like, the parents expect X, Y, and Z, so I have to make sure that they do this and they do this and they do this. And sometimes what I'm hearing is, that sounds like actually the process someone needs to follow to achieve something. But then some of it feels like operating from that fear basis of, this is the way I know for someone to be successful, and so therefore I'm going to tell them to do these things because the parent or the university is expecting results, and I'm not really operating from that coaching place anymore.
[John Andrew Williams] I'll tell you how I dealt with it and go from there. Sometimes we get, parents will come and they have their own ideas of what needs to happen. Or let's say that from a university standpoint, on academic probation or something, and there are very strict requirements of what needs to happen, and there's not a lot of wiggle room in that.
I was transparent with the student. And I told the parents - I was working with the parents and their high school student - I would let them know, this is what your parent.. this is the report. This is what they want you to do. You just don't sugarcoat it. You just say, this is what needs to happen in order for your parents to say, Cool. And the students will say, Okay. And a lot of it too, I mean - just be direct.
So what happens is in coaching, one of the biggest myths is, oh, okay, coaching is about giving advice. It's a myth. It's a myth. Coaching is not about giving advice, it's about asking questions. It's about becoming curious. It's about letting people find their own solution.
And so people get that and it's this huge revelation. Because in our worlds, if you've gone through a traditional school, from the age of 5 to 20-something if you've gone all the way through, you have been trained that every single adult asking you questions is asking questions that they probably know the answer to, and they're gonna judge your answer based on how correct it is.
So everyone learns to give advice, to speak in a way that they know is going to be judged. Coaching does the exact opposite. We're training people to listen, to become curious. And so when a young person is speaking, it's unusual to them to not feel judged. And they go, Oh wow, you're just listening to me? You're becoming curious? And it can feel disconcerting, because they just don't know what's happening. It's, Whoa okay, this is interesting.
And so you go into that space. And then you bring back the idea of, well, there are some things that we need to tell people. Like, use the planner or do this, schedule a week like that, or your parents have these requirements. So you add that back in. But the people who have just had this huge revelatory light bulb now say, wait, now I can give advice again? Like, isn't that just the opposite of what you just said?
And so you're dealing with these two huge streams of empowerment basis or knowledge basis. Like, how are you giving value? The very best way that I know is to make sure that you can be a coach a hundred percent of the time. And even if you have the very best advices that you know's going to change your life, maybe even save the world, you have this advice that's just going to solve everyone's problems all over the place, can you still not give it and be curious as a coach?
If you can check that box and say, yes, you got that, then you know at least baseline covered. And then you have that skillset, and then you have this advice that is going to change the world, that you think is gonna solve all these problems. You give that advice directly, and then you shift back to empowerment mode as quickly as possible. That's why these questions come up. That's my hypothesis on why this happens. I wouldn't yet call it a theory, but I think it's close to a theory. Right? It's not a law. It's in between hypothesis and theory stage. Put it like that.
[Britt Fulmer] I like it. It's funny that you say too about all of the things about advice, right? Because I do think that there's a lot of advice that people want to give. And I remember even myself going through my 1.0 program a long time ago. I was working with university students at that time, and I was a little bit of a skeptic myself, and I slowly bought into everything. And I was like, okay, this is magic. I even got to a point where I was like, giving advice, I can sort of let that go.
But where I really struggled, and where I still see some of the coaches in training struggling, especially coaches working with students, is, what if I have a life lesson? Or, I have something that happened in my life that is so relevant to my student, and I'd like to share that with that student. You know, the student shares with me, on like a surface level issue. Like, Oh, I'm going through this really rough breakup, and I can say, Oh, I went through a really rough breakup too, and you're gonna be fine because in five years from now you’re not even gonna think about it. Right? Like all the traditional things that you're told when you were a teenager.
What would you say to people who have this impulse still to share life lessons and memories? And the big thing I hear a lot, and even again I struggle with it still too, is, I want to relate to my students. I want them to know that I understand what they're going through. And that tends to be the justification. So I'm curious with your thoughts from a coaching perspective, how do you approach that?
[John Andrew Williams] I've listened to a lot of coaching. I've listened to so many hours of other people coach. And I can think of only two or three times has a coach shared a story with a client, that the energy afterwards feels higher or as good as it started.
When you're in a coaching session, it feels very different from when you're listening to it. And one of the best things you can do to become a better coach is listen to your coaching sessions. Easy. I mean, it's not easy to do, right? Emotionally it might be, you know, cringey. But I mean, it's easy just to press the play button and watch, right? If it's recorded. I would encourage you to do that.
And so try it. Try giving advice, try relating on that level. Try that and just watch, watch the recording, watch what happens. Because when a coach is in that process, working with a client, you want the client to be 100% in the client's world. The whole point of coaching is to ask a question that gets the client thinking on the edge of their own experience. And so if you add in this whole other world, like, Hey, I had the same thing happen to me just two years ago, this exact same thing or the exact same place. Like, oh my goodness. Even the exact same person.
Let's say all of the same - you’re still asking your client, their mental image is now going into your world. Even if it's just for a brief period of time. And I get it, you want to connect with your students. You wanna say, yeah, I've been there too. However, it's their story. It's not your story.
I think the best way to connect with students in that space is to ask really amazing, curious questions. Informed by your own experience too, but amazing curious questions. Let's say you're going through a breakup. Like - it's been a while for me.
[Britt Fulmer] But that's a good thing though, right?
[John Andrew Williams] I mean, like romantic breakups. But think, business breakups, right? That's a different kind, but you know what I mean? You go to a different world, it just takes you away. It's like you're now out of the room. You're just, you're away. Both of your mental images are away.
So, what you do then is after the coaching session, then you conclude the coaching session, curiosity completed. You've helped them have an insight, developed learning, all those good things. Then after the session, then you can share. And when you do that, it's amazing. Because there, your client will go, oh my goodness, that's so awesome.
And that's the right context, that's the right place for it. After both of you have taken off the coaching-client hats and are people, just people, who could then just share and relate as people, that's where you want to put it. You don't want to put on your people hat in a professional setting like that. It's just not the right look.
I was working with a coach, an executive coach, paying him lots of money per hour. And he spent two minutes telling a story about another client that had the similar kind of thing I had, and that was it. I thought to myself, we're done. Like, no. That was it. That was it, for me. And I'm the worst. I have a hard time finding a coach sometimes. Oh, I'm terrible, I'm such a weird client. I really think, just don't do it. Like really, don't do it during the session, afterwards is better.
[Britt Fulmer] Yeah, I would have to agree. I took your advice. You might have guest spoke in one of my classes when I was going through it, cause I remember this advice and I did it. And I was like, oh my gosh. It was so clear when I was watching it back, I'm telling the story and I'm lit up, and my client's like — and their energy. And here I am thinking… And then I tried it the opposite way, where I share after the session's over. ‘Hey, what you said, it made me think of something that happened in my life, and if it's okay with you, I would love to share that with you just to see if that helps with anything additional that we didn't touch on.’
And just like you said, it was such different energy, to then have that relational moment than it was during the session. Especially when you're like, question, question, question, question. They're like, I'm in it, I'm in my brain, I'm really thinking through this. And then you're like, boom, here's something about me. And the client's like, what?
[John Andrew Williams] Yeah. It's a showstopper.
[Britt Fulmer] Yeah. And I never realized how much it damaged the flow then of the rest of that session until after I watched it back.
[John Andrew Williams] You have to work really hard to get that trust back. Because one of the brilliances of the coaching model is that in all of our outside communication on this, like the non-coaching world, people have to fight for the mic. You have to fight to talk and hold space. And what's so cool about when you're clienting in a coaching session, is you don't have to fight for the mic. You can just sit there and think, and a good coach will sit there and think with you. And they will still attend to your sitting and thinking. That's amazing. And when you say, Oh, just kidding. Give that mic back, I gotta tell my story with you now.
[Britt Fulmer] Right.
[John Andrew Williams] What are you doing? You just took the mic again. You just did the thing that everyone else does. Don't do that.
[Britt Fulmer] I would agree. I think that a place where I see this often too is with people who do have really crazy, interesting, vibrant stories. Maybe they have something that happened to them that was either traumatic or incredible or whatever, and they have this thing that they want to share. And what I try to tell folks in classes who share this with me, like - Oh, my story's a little bit unique because it's this thing, it's not, I had a breakup too, it's something really profound. As gently as I possibly can, I say, You know what, that sounds like an amazing story and I would absolutely love to hear it, from you as a speaker. But I don't know that I would wanna hear that story if you're coaching me, right?
Because again, especially if a client is paying you for an hour session and you spend 10 minutes telling your story, what did the client get out of that 10 minutes? What exploration were they able to do, right? So that's something that I often think about too, especially when I get the tickle to be like, I relate to this. And then I'm like, nope, because this isn't my time that they're paying for. It's their time.
So I know we have only a couple minutes left. Oh sorry, go ahead.
[John Andrew Williams] I was gonna say, the one thing I do do with people, is when they ask me how am I doing, I will answer them succinctly at the beginning of coaching sessions. They say, Hey, how are you doing? Great. I will answer them directly, but try to be succinct with it. Because I feel like it does set the tone of sharing, genuine sharing. The beginning yes, end yes, middle no.
[Britt Fulmer] Right. I like that. That's the, ‘too long did not read.’
[John Andrew Williams] Yes,yeah.
[Britt Fulmer] So I know we only have a couple minutes, so to wrap up, my last question for you is, whether it be academic advisors, academic coaches, people hired by parents for their students, but folks who are in these roles that feel like they're wearing a lot of hats in a session, right? They have to be an advisor, a coach, maybe a consultant, maybe a mentor also. They're kind of trying to do all this. What advice do you have for people who feel like they're balancing a lot of different hats?
[John Andrew Williams] I think as long as people are asking themselves the question, what's gonna be most useful for my client, and feel completely comfortable going in any one of those directions, you're probably in solid territory. The most important thing is asking yourself what's going to be the most useful, and not taking a path because it feels most comfortable for you as the helper professional. The thing is, as long as you're asking the question you're probably good.
[Britt Fulmer] Yeah. One of the things I tell people is exactly that. What is most useful, what is the value that you're adding? And I love that what you just added there too, not going with what's most comfortable to you. Cause I think, like you were saying earlier, when you're trained to be an advisor or a consultant or a mentor, those are going to feel most comfortable to you.
But if a student comes to you and they say, Yeah, I'm doing really good, everything's fine. Are you going to just move along, or are you going to pick up on that energy and question that, and get curious about what's really happening? I love that sort of thought process, asking what you can add value to your students. How are you adding value?
[John Andrew Williams] Yeah, if you can record it and go back and listen, do that. It's so powerful. You hear, you see so much. And you go, Oh wow, okay. And then also, work with a coach. Be coached. Know what it feels like to be coached and listened to that way. It's so lovely. It's so lovely. And when you're in it, your advisors - and I've worked with so many of them, and their hearts are so oriented towards help, that it can be draining to feel like you're taking on the lifts and the troubles and the worries of all the people you meet with on a day-to-day basis. That is heavy.
And the coaching response to it is, okay, like what are you learning about yourself? Becoming curious about what it's like to carry the weight. My professional teaching-advising self says, okay, then look at some of the deepest principles of coaching, which is people are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. And when you hold that perspective as a coach, all of these challenges, all the pains, the things that are coming here become opportunities for insight. And when you hold them in that way, your presence as a coach - it doesn't mitigate it, this is not toxic positivity, this is not trying to palliate anything. It's sitting with it, together with someone, and allowing them to go through whatever natural process they need to go through. That's to me, it's such a sacred process. Because you're with someone in territory that they have not yet gone with another human being. And that's essentially what coaches are trained - other helping professions are also trained here too, but the coaching profession is specifically trained to be here, and not give a diagnosis or not give advice, or just sit here and let the client do what the client thinks they need to do best.
This works in tandem, this works in parallel towards therapy, towards other things. And other therapists and people who dog on coaching, I bless them too. You'll get there, you'll see someday the power of this approach. And it's okay. Blessings to those people as well.
[Britt Fulmer] Yeah. I know we're a little over time now, I think that's a really beautiful way to wrap up. So thanks for entertaining all of my questions surrounding academic life coaching. It's been coming up quite a bit. I'm happy to be here.
[John Andrew Williams] It's so fun. I love this stuff. I love talking about this. Thank you. Thanks for the questions, and for those listening, thanks. We'll see you next week.
[Britt Fulmer] See you soon.
[John Andrew Williams] Come back. See you everyone.
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