Counseling and Neurofeedback
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Board-Certifed in Neurofeedback

What is Academic Coaching: A Guide for Parents

Academic coaching a guide for parents…

Academic coaching a guide for parents

The focus of academic coaching is to help students learn. With coaching, students typically do better on tests, improve their grades, reduce school-related stress, and learn valuable life skills.

Before taking a more in-depth look at what academic life coaching is, let’s take a look at what it is not:

  • Tutoring helps students with difficulties in a particular subject area. Tutors are usually experts in the subject, and help students catch up or increase their understanding.
  • Advising helps students choose the classes they need to graduate on time.
  • Test Preparation helps students prepare for a specific standardized test like the SAT, ACT, AP, MCAT, and so forth. Test prep usually includes a review of specific test-related content, test-taking strategies, and stress management.
  • College Advising helps students select and apply to colleges that are a good fit for that student.

Academic life coaching, on the other hand, helps students develop Skills for Academic Success.  In addition, as students learn to perform better in the classroom, they develop skills that will help them in college, in the workplace, and in every part of their life. Academic skills are also life skills.

First, let’s look at school performance.

Academic Coaching and School PerformanceAcademic Coaching A Guide for Parents

One study found that college students with academic coaches improve their performance by 2/3 of a letter grade. A larger study by the Stanford School of Education followed 13,500 students at 8 colleges and universities, and found that students with academic coaches were 10 to 15% more likely to graduated college. Other studies show significantly improved academic performance for college, high school and middle school students.

James, for example, started academic life coaching as a high school freshman. A few weeks into his fall semester, he got back an English paper with “D” grade, and the comment, “more.”

I encouraged him to ask his teacher for a bit more information (something that I’ve noticed is very hard for high school students). To his credit, he did it. Unfortunately, the feedback he got wasn’t very useful. “It’s not long enough,” the teacher explained.

Fortunately, I have a simple essay guide that I used to help students understand how to organize an essay and what kinds of information to include.. As we worked through it, James and I noticed how much easier it was for him to write “more” when he knew how to keep his thoughts organized. Because he better understood the structure of an essay, he no longer had to worry about it’s length. There was plenty to write. And…he got an A.

Here are some other things my clients have accomplished

  • Started turning in homework
  • Cut time spent on homework by 1/3 by being more efficient
  • Set up routines to get started on homework right away
  • Created plans to effectively review for math and science tests
  • Learned hundreds of Spanish words and had them “stick”
  • Learned to take useful, effective notes in class
  • Asked key teachers for help

Academic Coaching and Stress

A lot of smart students stress about school because they don’t know how to manage time. One of my 11th grade students, Angela, signed up for a couple of AP classes and ended up with a mountain of homework over the summer. When I first met with her, three weeks of the summer had already gone by. Like many of my clients, Angela managed stress by avoiding it…and procrastinating.

As Angela and I worked together summer, she learned to break her assignments down into small, do-able parts, and to schedule them on a calendar. The mountain of homework turned into many small, manageable piles, and by the end of the summer she was ready for her demanding classes.

Organization is a key executive functioning skill. Teenage brains are still developing, and they’re still learning these skills. With some scaffolding, students can be more effective learners.

Students learn them most effectively when they’re not in crisis…when they can practice and internalize new skills over the course of a semester or a year. When this happens, when students are able to generalize the skills beyond a particular subjects or a particular class, they become more effective learners.

Here are some of the other executive functioning skills students learn in the Skills for Academic Success Program:

  • How to set up simple, effective study routines tailored to each class and teacher
  • How to design a strategy to ace any test (hint: it starts with a few minutes on the first day of class)
  • Fun anti-procrastination strategies

The Karate Kid and Life Skills

In the 1984 movie The Karate Kid, Daniel asked Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate. Mr. Miryagi agreed, but instead of teaching him karate moves, Mr. Miyagi assigned Daniel one chore after another: paint the house, wax the car, sand the floor.

Daniel’s frustration grew because he was working hard, but didn’t think he was learning anything useful. In reality, though, he was learning all along. The chores helped him build physical strength and  “muscle memory,” so that when he needed the skills in a fight they were automatic.

The same is true for academic skills. In the Skills for Academic Success Program, academic skills are also life skills. Students learn personal leadership and self-motivation, because by practicing school skills, they also develop the ability to:

  • set and achieve goals
  • apply their signature strengths to school and life situations
  • turn stress into useful energy
  • assess their own performance and excel in any area
  • become a better self-advocate

James and Angela finished the school year strong. James ended the year with an A- in English, and Angela finished the fall term with As and Bs in some tough classes. But like the Karate Kid, they also learned life skills along the way.

They learned to manage stress, work with teachers, make tough choices, and advocate for themselves. But most of all, they learned to learn more effectively.


About Pat

Pat LaDouceur, Ph.D., helps students who are stressed out about school learn the skills, strategies, and mindset they need for academic success in high school, college, and beyond.  Her “Skills for Academic SuccessTM” program uses the principles of micro-change to help students study smarter, get better grades, and still have time for friends and fun. As a psychotherapist, Board Certified Neurofeedback practitioner, and former credentialed secondary school teacher, Pat knows a lot about learning and the brain. She has taught middle school math, high school chemistry, college social sciences, and has 30 years of her own schooling under her belt. She is the mother of college-age twins, and provides Academic Life Coaching in Berkeley, CA.