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May 2014

Does coaching make a difference to university students?

By | Coaching in Education

Lancer Coaching is delighted to welcome Paul Ramsay’s guest contribution to our blog. Natalie Lancer, founder of and Lancer Coaching, is currently researching how coaching affects undergraduate university students’ ideas of personal growth and Paul has undertaken research on a related topic. Below are the fascinating results of his study. We welcome other reserachers in this field to share their results with us here.

Paul Ramsay, a senior lecturer in academic skills at the University of Portsmouth and an EMCC (EQA) qualified coach practitioner, gives us an outline of an approach to ‘understanding the difference’ in a small-scale student coaching pilot at the University of Portsmouth.

In any setting a legitimate concern is to know if and in what way coaching has made a difference. Within higher education where coaching is an emerging practice, this is no exception. General consensus is that outcome measurement is problematic or requires extensive means and methods. This is probably the case, but I have found that core coaching practices can be called on to serve the purpose of mapping outcomes. This is important as this can be done without interference to the ‘softer’ skills and practices that bring authenticity to the coaching experience. At the heart of this are the generative questions that we all use to catalyse the coaching conversation.

Like me you will have spent time in supervision exploring how to leverage your coaching process outcomes to be greater than the sum of the content parts. And the questions you bring to achieve authenticity in your practice are likely to have featured in that conversation too. As coaches/tutors we all have our own lexicon of such questions and we frequently invite coachee reflection on these using the self-rating “1-10” approach. This is the oxygen of good coaching. So what if there is a subset of the questions that we use naturally which we can also use to map growth in a coachee’s awareness of their potential and resourcefulness across a coaching engagement?

With this in mind, I identified 5 self-rating questions that I now invite student coachees to consider as part of our opening conversation. These same questions are revisited at the end of the coaching engagement. They address the following:

  • The impact the coachee perceives their concern to be having on them
  • The belief in the ability to autonomously change to tackle this concern
  • The level of confidence to work on the challenge associated with this concern
  • The current commitment to work on this challenge
  • The perception of progress towards achieving their challenge goal

I see the first and last of these questions (Impact, Progress) as key. Attached to each is the proposition that coaching will result in a reduction in self-rating for the first and an increase in self-rating for the second.  The proposition for the remaining, subsidiary questions is an increase in self-rating in each case.

To get at the narrative behind these self-ratings, the following invitations are also made at the beginning and ending respectively:

  • Thinking ahead, what key word or phrase would best describe what success will look like?
  • Taking stock, what key quality(ies) do you now appreciate about yourself?

I have found that coachees respond enthusiastically to the self-rating map they produce and invariably they want to explore for themselves the narratives they have initiated. At outset this is exploratory for the sense of meaning and purpose revealed and at conclusion this is to embrace the challenge as to what will make for a sustainable gain.

With the two key questions, every coachee has rated consistent, individual positive shifts attributable to the coaching effect. The subsidiary questions have shown smaller positive advantage. What has impressed me most are the qualities coachees identified in themselves at the end of the process. For example: “I have had a great boost in confidence.”; “I appreciate I am now able to breakdown the problem, look at it objectively and figure out the best way to move forward.”; “I can be resourceful.”; “Determination, curiosity.”.

I have also observed that the focus on these question sets enhances coachee clarity about the mind-set of independent learning and growth. In a higher education context this is a priceless quality!

The pilot achieved its purpose to add value to the student experience for the coachees concerned. It has also begun to help understand how to map the difference such coaching has made. For my own practice, I better appreciate the professional developmental challenges to gain coaching traction with students.