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Academic Coaching & Writing

II. Design and Cultivate the Coaching Relationship

Jan 21, 2016 by Kathryn Kleypas

Your coaching role will start before you officially begin meeting with the person you are coaching, or your “coachee.” It might begin before you even meet in person. It can be quite helpful to prepare some short written materials to email to your new coachee before your first meeting to help you gather information about what your coachee is seeking from the experience, to help set the agenda for the coaching. Knowing what your coachee wants before you begin can help you guide the first meetings and will provide a touchstone throughout the relationship. For example, your coachee might have an active research agenda already but may need coaching in how to clearly articulate the agenda. Alternatively, your coachee may have layers of writer’s block and need a different kind of coaching. Or, she may be an excellent researcher but struggles with making her research come to life for her students, you may want to offer coaching on her teaching. She may be suffering from burnout from teaching and need to develop strategies for work/life balance. These are all areas that academics often perceive as obstacles that a coach can help them face directly and overcome.

Below are possible questions for your new coachee to answer before you begin coaching. You might email these questions in advance or ask them during your first meeting.

  • What do you hope to accomplish by the end of our time working together?
  • What areas in your professional life where you see things going well?
  • What are areas in your professional life where you believe you could be doing better?
  • What gives you the most joy in your professional life?
  • What do you like doing the least?

Coaching alliances are very important because they create a container around the relationship, giving it shape and keeping it safe. Goals and outcomes are an important part of this conversation. It is also very important to create mutually agreed upon ground rules. These rules will vary with each coachee, but must always include the mutual understanding that confidentiality is an integral part of the alliance. Both coach and coachee must believe that what is said in the privacy of the coaching relationship will stay there. Trust at that level will open up a space for the kind of honesty that will allow the work to really take off. There might be other things that both partners would like to agree upon as part of their alliance. How much of a challenge are both partners comfortable with? Some people appreciate a dramatic challenge (“I challenge you to complete your article during spring break” or “I challenge you to go up to three different people during new faculty orientation and introduce yourself.”). Others may respond better to a lighter touch. There is no one right way, and each “designed alliance” will be different.

In a later blog in this series, I will speak more about challenges and accountability. Accountability is a very important part of the designed alliance. When you eventually begin challenging your coachee to take action, you will want to have a mutually agreed upon method to communicate that an action was completed. The nature of accountability will be unique to each coaching relationship.

Discussion Questions:

What kind of mentoring relationship has worked best for you in the past?

What was at the heart of that relationship that made it effective?

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