Academic Coaching is a specialty in the field of private practice education.

How has academic coaching evolved? What's the difference between ordinary tutoring and professional academic coaching? When is it wise to hire an expert, despite the higher cost?

The purpose of this article is to clarify the distinction between ordinary tutoring and academic coaching and help answer these salient questions.

How has academic coaching evolved?

Historically, private tutoring was the way most education happened, the primary means by which critical knowledge and skills were passed from one generation to the next.

Whether the subject matter is hunting mammoths, learning Latin, sewing a dress, playing piano, passing the bar exam, or mastering basic algebra, nothing beats one-on-one private instruction with an engaging, expert private teacher. Indeed, it's been said that the best possible educational setting is "yourself, Aristotle, and a log."

In the 1990's, the tremendous expansion in the private practice education industry was followed by a stratification of private teachers into two main levels: average tutors, and "super-tutors" or "coaches."

Gradually, the best private tutors were distinguished for their greater ability to produce desired results and for succeeding with students whose situations were too difficult or complex for others to handle. Some private teachers began to provide value and benefits extending well beyond simple help with basic skills and home work, including training in thinking, learning, and productivity skills, coping strategies for students with learning differences, personal mentoring, and other elements of support critical to enduring, broad-based academic and personal fulfillment.

What's the difference between ordinary tutoring and professional academic coaching?

In general, a tutor is someone who meets privately with students to answer questions about particular academic subjects with which they're struggling.

Most tutors are qualified to address deficiencies in students’ understanding of course content, concepts, and basic skills, and to help remediate these deficiencies. Tutors are often part-timer teachers, college students, or others who maintain a small private teaching practice to make extra money but have another primary source of income to depend on.

An professional academic coach does these things also, but goes well beyond simply giving direct instruction on basic skills and course content.

Unlike tutors, coaches also address contextual factors that play a key role in scholastic success and achievement and may be critically impacting a given student's academic experience. Just as an athletic coach directs, instructs, tracks, and focuses each player's performance on the sports field, an academic coach provides leadership, specialized training, accountability, and regular, individualized feedback and support to make the most of each student's learning potential and optimize performance in the classroom.

In addition to teaching or reviewing specific course content with students, an academic coach works comprehensively with parents, teachers, and other professionals to address the entire constellation of issues affecting the student and the challenges he or she is facing in school.

Academic coaches inspire and encourage students to reach for their own personal best, provide additional instruction in organization, coursework management, and study skills, and foster students' self-confidence, self-discipline, integrity, efficiency, and productivity. They also prepare students to better manage their time, tasks, and goals, introduce and reinforce broader learning and thinking skills, give personal support, and help students enjoy the process of learning and take pride in their work.

Whereas a tutor merely teaches, an academic coach is part teacher, manager, mentor, organizer, cheerleader, taskmaster, counselor, resource expert, learning specialist, educational consultant, and motivational speaker. Academic coaches have greater expertise and better training in their specialty, possess superior communication skills, have more teaching experience, and are devoted, full-time private educators who have chosen academic coaching as their professional career.

While tutors focus on the little picture, work on short-term issues, and offer simple fixes, academic coaches focus on the big picture, work on both short and long term problems and solutions, and utilize comprehensive, multi-dimensional approaches to provide extensive, long-lasting benefits and catalyze maximum success in the lives of their students.

All coaches are tutors – but not all tutors are coaches!

When is it wise to hire an expert, despite the higher cost?

To clarify the distinction between tutoring and academic coaching, consider the following analogy.

A motor scooter is fine for short trips around town, when you won't have much to carry, or anything demanding or wide-ranging to accomplish. But when the trip involves carrying cargo or traveling longer distances, or when greater comfort, speed, or safety is desired, a car or truck is a better choice.

Likewise, the services of a skilled academic coach are not always required. If insufficient understanding of course content is the only real predicament, the problem is not severe or complex, and deadlines are not a pressing issue, private tutoring may be all that's needed.

But when a student's troubles are complicated by other factors such as a lack of organization, discipline, confidence, or motivation, when learning differences or disabilities, past history, or emotional or family issues play an important role, when the student is well behind or ahead of grade level, or whenever needs or goals are more extensive or specialized or must be addressed or accomplished with greater speed, it’s best to hire a professional academic coach.

Since academic coaches have better training, more experience, and more advanced skills than ordinary tutors, and since coaches offer a broad array of additional educational support services that the average tutor is not able to provide, fees for academic coaching are often significantly higher than rates typically charged by ordinary tutors.

The scooter/automobile analogy aptly applies here, as well. Although it may be possible to carry a heavy load over great distances on a scooter, it isn't advisable to do so. You'd be wise to spend the extra money and rent a truck. Similarly, whenever a learning challenge is of sufficient importance, difficulty, seriousness, or complexity, the extra cost involved in hiring a professional academic coach is usually justified.

In fact, considering the positive effect professional academic coaching can have on future earning power by opening doors to a better education at high quality schools and colleges, it can be one of the smartest investments parents can make.

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