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Academic Coaching & Writing

I. Coaching as a Model for Mentoring Faculty

Jan 14, 2016 by Kathryn Kleypas

You hear quite a bit about coaching in academia these days, but my experience is that people often use the terms “coaching” and “mentoring” interchangeably. In this blog series, I will help you understand that distinction clearly and will argue that coaching can be an extremely effective model of mentoring faculty (or anyone else for that matter!). I’m going to introduce you to the fundamentals of coaching and provide you with a number of basic and easy-to-implement coaching techniques that I have tailored for use in academic contexts and you can integrate into the mentoring models used on your campus.

In addition to the traditional model of an experienced senior faculty member working one-on-one with a junior hire, you also now see on many college and university campuses both casual and structured peer mentoring circles. Campuses also are investing resources in centers designed for faculty research and teaching development with designated staff available for one-on-one and group mentoring. Research shows that, as a whole, these models are effective and can provide these desired outcomes:

  • Faculty more smoothly socialized into their institutional structures
  • Higher faculty retention and promotion rates
  • Increased academic activity such as publishing books and articles in peer-reviewed journals
  • Increased confidence in and self-perception of a mastery of academic skills
  • Increased support of institutional change

What is coaching and how can it improve upon the mentoring already provided on your campus? The goal of coaching is not to teach or infuse wisdom but to bring forth the skills, strengths, goals, and passions already present in the person being coached, the coachee, but of which he or she is unaware. When you mentor from the position of authority, leaning on the traditional mentoring model, you may not even try to “bring forth” the potential of the person with whom you’ve been assigned to work. As you can imagine then, coaching skills are very different from traditional mentoring skills. The move to a coaching model echoes the shift in the last few decades in pedagogical models that emphasize de-centering authority. The traditional model of the all-knowing professor standing behind a podium lecturing for the duration of class and assessing students by tests has been replaced with models of collaborative learning activities, peer review and evaluation, and classroom discussion and debate. In this same way, the coaching model is inherently collaborative, creative, curious, and emphatically not hierarchical.

Coaching is an extremely powerful intervention with a growing body of research that testifies to its successes. Corporations have long used executive coaching to great effect and with high reported rates of return on investment. Institutions of higher education are following with a growing number of universities and colleges employing executive, writing, and instructional coaches to support their faculty and administrators in developing their strengths in leadership, teaching, academic writing, and career planning. You do not have to be an extensively trained or certified coach to be able to make great use of powerful tools in the coach’s toolkit. In the weeks to follow, I invite you to “show up” as a coach in your meetings with people you are charged to “mentor.” Experiment with the techniques I describe and share your experiences in the discussions each week so we can all learn from one another. I believe you will be happily surprised at how easy it is to implement these practices and how powerful this work can be!

Discussion Questions:

What are some of the biggest wins you’ve had working with someone you’ve mentored? What made these wins so successful?

What are some important moments you remember about people who have mentored you? What is it about those experiences that were important for you?

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