On 15 October, 2013, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gretchen Wegner and Wyatt Nevins. Gretchen is an academic life coach and Wyatt is one of her clients.They started working together at the end of Wyatt’s 7th grade year when his grades weren’t where he wanted them to be. They’ve now been working together for over three years, sometimes in person, but mostly remotely.

Here are the highlights:

  • There are two kinds of students who really benefit from coaching: one are the students who have trouble motivating themselves and the other are the overachievers who do way too much.
  • Being coached remotely is more convenient.
  • With virtual sessions, the student is responsible and more independent about the coaching relationship.

What is academic life coaching?

Gretchen: Academic life coaching is a way of supporting students with time management skills, organization, study skills and advocacy. It differs from tutoring. Whereas tutors help teach a particular subject, I help students figure out why they’re having trouble with a particular subject and what systems they need to put in place to be self sufficient learners.

How does an academic life coach help?

Wyatt: It’s nice to come to someone who’s not breathing down your neck about your grades. Gretchen is very understanding and gives me methods that improve my grades. She’s consistent and she’s always got something new to try.

One of my favorite techniques was the “calm down pillow fights” that we used to have when we met in person. But something really useful was her telling me to just take notes all the time, even if it’s not something that seems noteworthy at the time.

What is the difference between being coached remotely versus in person?

Wyatt: Being coached remotely is more convenient. Gretchen can still give the same help and support as she did in person, I just can’t hit her with a pillow. 🙂 During our in person sessions, I would be kind of lethargic after a long school day and having to drive somewhere to be coached. It’s more relaxing to be at home.

I also like the fact that when the session is over, it’s over. And I can shut down my computer and continue with whatever I was doing before.

The downsides can be the technical challenges we run into: the webcam isn’t working or the internet is down. Also, sometimes I just forget that I have a session and that wouldn’t have happened if I had to drive to meet Gretchen.

Gretchen: There are different gifts to both methods. Clearly there is something valuable about being physically present together and being able to interact. It’s also helpful to actually be able to see the backpack and to see what’s in it, and see what the work is.

With in person sessions, it’s the parents who are generally responsible for getting the student to the session. Whereas with virtual sessions, the student is responsible and more independent about the coaching relationship. In order for remote coaching to be successful the student has to be bought into the process. When this happens, it’s also more pleasurable for me because it’s more of a collaboration.

One of the disadvantage to remote coaching is not being able to see how kids are organizing themselves. And I only get to see the work that students choose to show me. Also, on Skype, my students are all the same size. So when I see them in person after a long time, it’s a surprise to see how much they’ve grown!

What does a remote coaching session look like?

Wyatt: We start the call by talking about what’s going on in our lives and then we dive into work. We have a couple of things we always do: we have a grade graph where we keep up with test scores and current grades. And then we have a habits graph where I reflect on the past week and decide what score I get in each category on the habits graph. After we’re done with that we move onto what’s going on in the upcoming week, like if there are any tests to prepare for. It’s not a rigid process. We try to keep it fluid so we can roll with the punches.

Before the school year started, Gretchen and I worked out an action plan where we outlined what the best study methods were for me and we figured out where my weaknesses were. It wasn’t easy trying to determine where my strengths and weaknesses were, but it definitely helps to look at how I need to study and what work I need to prioritize.

Gretchen: Before school was in session, we outlined some personal goals and some school related goals, and typed it all up on a sheet of paper. We did all of that during the summer before school was in session so we didn’t constantly have to react to the schoolwork. We did part of this in person and part of it remote.

A few things that Wyatt and I track are the number of zeros that are recorded in his school’s online grading system, how well he’s getting work in on time, how well he’s focusing in his classes, and how well is he following through on commitments made to me. We assign numbers to each of these things, turn it into a line graph, and then we can see whether the numbers are going up or down.

For most students, the habits graph will reveal some sort of problem area and we will spend some time developing a new system for that area.

What are some of the tools you use for remote coaching?

Wyatt: At my school, we use School Loop, which is like an online progress report that teachers update. Occasionally, I will work with another student over Skype.

Gretchen: Virtually we work with a Google Doc in between us. And there’s something about the Google Doc that can keep us focused and on task. Wyatt is busier typing more during the virtual sessions than the in-person sessions. The nice thing about a Google Doc is that we can simply open a new tab when we need to dive deeper into something like creating a study plan for a test or if I’m going to give a mini lecture where I want the client to take notes.

I will sometimes ask Wyatt to send pictures of his work. With other clients of mine, we look at online text books.

Do you have advice for others wanting remote coaching?

Wyatt: Remote coaching is a great resource if you’re having trouble getting motivated or if your grades aren’t where you want them to be. For anything you have to do that isn’t limited to one subject, coaches like Gretchen are very useful. And online coaching is a more efficient and easy alternative to driving out somewhere.

Gretchen: The biggest difference between using an in person coach versus a remote coach is how much pain you are experiencing as a student. For example, when I first started coaching Wyatt, his parents were concerned and his grades weren’t looking that good, but he himself was not experiencing a great deal of pain. So in that situation, an in person coach is a great choice because there is a lot of relationship building that is needed.

For remote coaching, it’s necessary for the student to be tuned-in to their pain point and feel like they just can’t do it alone anymore and they want help. So when a student is feeling disorganized and not being able to keep up with the mountains of school work, and just not knowing how to study, and they’ve recognized that this is a problem, then remote coaching is an ideal option for them.

Wyatt: It’s helpful to have someone check-in on your school work that isn’t yelling at you about your grades and it’s nice to have someone who cares about what’s going on in your life. Anyone would benefit from remote coaching, but especially students who are having a hard time with school.

Gretchen: I think that for a student, just knowing that there is someone to check in with every week that is not a parent, makes a big difference in terms of follow-through. There are two kinds of students who really benefit from coaching: one are the students who have trouble motivating themselves and the other are the overachievers who do way too much.


Learn more about Gretchen Wegner at www.GretchenWegner.com