Executive Function Strategies Blog

An Academic Coach is Always Learning

I was recently matched with a student, but my excitement about getting started with a new client was tempered Rachel_Kalinsky1with a bit of confusion and, frankly, frustration. There were multiple delays as I tried to schedule our first coaching session; either I received messages cancelling at the last minute or my emails and voicemails languished unanswered for days.

After several weeks of trying to get off the starting blocks with my new student, I finally scheduled the first session and showed up at the family's house right on time. Guess what happened? Her father answered the door and had completely forgotten about our session. His daughter was at a friend’s house. The father was mortified and could not look me in the eye. I started to wonder if we would ever get coaching started. From the notes I had from our Client Services Specialist, it certainly seemed important that this student get support to manage her academic demands, and soon.

It took about two weeks to schedule the next session. I arrived at the house with a smile on my face, prepared with materials and an ambitious coaching agenda to make up for lost time. I rang the doorbell. When no one answered the door after a minute or two, I rang the bell again. I called and emailed the father while I waited. At that point, I felt frustrated and was unsure how I should handle this puzzling situation. My thoughts turned to my prospective student as I drove back home. I knew this student needed coaching support. According to my notes, she is very bright and innately good at writing, but she has perfectionistic tendencies. It takes her a very long time to write essays and she often chooses inefficient strategies when she gets stuck, such as starting over several times. Task initiation, planning, and organization of writing were her greatest priorities for Executive Function skill building.

Two days later, her father left me a message and sent an email. I set aside time to speak with him at length. What I found out as I listened both surprised and saddened me. There was a good reason for all the confusion with setting up our appointment. This dad is undergoing treatment for a serious illness which has terrible side effects, causing his thinking and memory to be erratic. He cannot sleep at night and is often too ill to manage everyday tasks. To add to the household stress, the mother frequently travels for work. He was so open and honest with me, it brought tears to my eyes. Further complicating matters, both of his children have significant emotional struggles because of past experiences in their lives. The burdens for this family don’t stop there, however. The student I am coaching has health concerns as well. In fact, she missed about 40 days of school last year. It was as clear as crystal that this student needed an academic coach to provide her with tools and strategies as well as support and encouragement. Finally, by the end of our conversation, the father made it a priority to schedule our first coaching session. He apologized and said that he felt terrible about all of the delays. I made it clear that I empathized with his situation. We ended on a hopeful note as I shared my firm belief that academic coaching is a transformative experience for students.

Life is our most precious, albeit temporary, possession.  Unfortunately, illnesses can cause hardships that can be unimaginable to those of us blessed with health.  We do not always know why people behave the way they do, but I’ve learned not to make assumptions before I know the full story. While I am undoubtedly serving the needs of the student in this family, it turns out this family is teaching me, too.

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