One reason Northwest Educational Services is unique in the world of academic support is that we don’t call ourselves “tutors.” Instead, we call ourselves “coaches.” This is not because we don’t offer tutoring. We do, but we also offer much more than that. Our motto isn’t “Get an A,” it’s “Learn how to learn.” Our focus is not on fixing, but on growing.
Tutoring vs. Coaching
At first glance, the distinction between a tutor and an academic coach seems minimal, but if we look deeper, we’ll see just how significant it is.
Many students feel embarrassed or even ashamed about using academic support. They believe that if they’re working with a tutor, then that means there’s something wrong with them. If they need help, the thinking goes, that means something about their cognitive abilities is deficient or broken, which is an uncomfortable thought to say the least. Thus, many students resist tutoring by insisting that they don’t need it. I’m just fine, thank you very much! And, more often than not, they’re actually right.
What we offer is rarely about need, and it’s never about fixing something that’s broken. What we offer is an opportunity to grow. Anyone can pursue growth. Anyone can work on becoming better. And to receive help in doing so says nothing about your current ability level. There’s no shame in it. Coaching is for everyone. The best athletes in the world have coaches who help them improve. There is still room for advancement, even if you’re at the top.
And there is still work to do, even when all your homework is done. Some of the most important work we do with students happens when there isn’t any homework or urgent test prep. Those are times when we get to reflect on what has been working and what could use improvement. Those are also times when we get to zoom out from the day-to-day and consider the big picture. Those are times when we get to put more thought and effort toward long-term goals.
This is also why our work continues through the summer. For many students, summer is a time to get caught up on last year’s content, filling any knowledge gaps incurred during this or any previous school year. For others, it is a time to preview next year’s content and get ahead of the game. And for any student, summer is an opportunity to practice learning.
But when a student is behind his peers, the typical and totally understandable parent reaction is to seek a quick fix. As much as I love a quick fix (read: duct tape), it rarely addresses the underlying causes of an issue. Growth takes time, usually more time than we want, but growth will get you much further. If you have enough patience, a child can do far more than catch up with his peers.
When a machine is broken, you fix it. If it can’t be fixed, you discard it. A student is a human being, not a machine. So you should never seek to fix a student, and you would never discard one. A machine’s potential is limited by its design, but a student’s potential is essentially unlimited.
Our job then is to facilitate the blossoming of that potential, to water the garden of knowledge, and cultivate a love of learning. Our job is not to fix students, but to grow their abilities in such a way that allows for even more growth in the future.
We don’t want students or parents to see working with us as a necessity. We want people to see working with us as an opportunity.
If you want to improve, we’ll help you grow. We firmly believe that you can simultaneously be good enough and work on becoming better. You can humbly give yourself permission to be human and strive to unleash your incredible human potential.
About the Author
Chris Loper has been an academic coach for Northwest Educational Services since 2014. He also writes the popular self-improvement blog Becoming Better, so if you liked this article, head on over to becomingbetter.org and check out his other work. Chris also offers behavioral change coaching, helping busy adults with habit formation and productivity. He lives in Seattle, WA.
Title Image: Creative Commons Public Domain. Courtesy of Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/en/car-repair-car-workshop-repair-shop-362150/, https://pixabay.com/en/green-grow-grow-up-plant-rain-2551467/. Images cropped and combined. Text added.
Gymnast w/ Coach: Creative Commons Public Domain. Courtesy of Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/en/gymnast-athlete-gym-gymnastics-2441554/
Graph: Loper, Chris.
Watering Plants: Creative Commons Public Domain. Courtesy of Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/en/drop-of-water-water-the-plants-plug-2342870/