Life Coaching in Student Life
Eagle Hill students learn life skills beyond the classroom.
You are probably aware that Eagle Hill has a unique model when it comes to how we think about student life. While many of our boarding school counterparts use a traditional ‘triple threat’ model—where faculty teach classes, live in the dorms, and coach sports—EHS splits teaching responsibilities and dorm responsibilities. In fact, EHS employs ten full-time Dorm Counselors who are positioned strictly for the purpose of being teachers in informal settings. Our Dorm Counselors work with students on everything from time management and organization to completing homework. They plan bonding activities, teach our student life curriculum, and champion community building. They are the last adult our students see in the evening and the first ones in the morning, waking them up with a friendly smile. They ensure students are in dress code, remind them to grab a towel before going to the pool, and act as referees in both roommate debacles and thumb wars. There is really no end to what they do for students.
You may also have heard that in addition to being remarkable in their work with our students, our Dorm Counselors are also trained life coaches. Perhaps the pinnacle of our student life program, life coaching is a platform for the way in which we approach our work with students. It is essentially a toolkit that informs not only the way we work with kids but also the lens through which we view potential, problem solving, and self-actualization.
Perhaps the pinnacle of our student life program, life coaching is a platform for the way in which we approach our work with students. It is essentially a toolkit that informs not only the way we work with kids but also the lens through which we view potential, problem solving, and self-actualization.
Life coaching was born at EHS out of a desire to have a commonality in language surrounding working with adolescents. The student life department knew there was a growing need to concretely help students with their routine life challenges and to give them systems to help with organization, time management, and other executive function skills. As professional development has always been a core competency at Eagle Hill, ensuring Dorm Counselors had the tools they needed to do this important work became paramount.
Eagle Hill uses the Life Coaching model created by John Andrew Williams. This model specifically focuses on academic settings where students are the recipient of life coaching and many of their quandaries deal with life in school settings. Williams describes Life Coaching as “the practice of helping others clarify desired outcomes and design systems and habits to achieve them. Academic Life Coaching adds additional tools to this field to help students identify styles of learning and thinking, cultivate talents and passions, and gain skills and experience to thrive in the future as fulfilled, effective adults.”
Life coaches operate with three major mindsets. First, in conversations with students, life coaches are curious. Conversations surrounding life coaching start with curiosity. They focus on open-mindedness and work without judgment. Instead of typical parenting which may focus on problem-solving surrounding the family’s code of morals and ethics, life coaching relies on the coach to separate from the problem at hand and delve into the person’s larger life and experience. Curiosity allows life coaching conversations to take the direction that the student needs instead of trying to fix a problem. Steve Stanley, a fifth-year dorm counselor comments, “A successful life coach is genuinely interested in the students’ point of view to help the students through the process of self-thought and reflection. Less important than the answer is the process that the student goes through to answer it and what they learn about themselves from that process.”
The second mindset in life coaching is the idea that the student is resourceful and that they really hold many if not all of the answers they are looking for. Instead of a consulting type of relationship where the adult or coach guides the student to answers and gives explicit direction, life coaching works off of the idea that the student has the ability and autonomy to make the decisions surrounding systems that support them best. For instance, if a student presents with time management concerns, a life coaching approach focuses on what other strategies work for the student and why instead of telling the student the steps they should take to make improvements. In addition, seeing the student as resourceful means that a life coach can focus on coaching the person and not the problem—a central idea to successful coaching. Life coaching operates under the premise that the goal is to empower the student—to give them direction and tools that make them feel capable, strong, and competent. Instead of looking at and solving temporary problems, coaching the whole person will have the most lasting benefit.  “Nobody knows the student better than themselves, and my goal when life coaching is to lead students to their own answers by giving them prompts to assist in their self-discovery as opposed to using phrases like ‘you should…’ or ‘I think…’,” Stanley states.
The third coaching mindset is that there is a co-creation of meaning, action, and understanding between the student and the coach. The coach does not presume to be an expert, relying conversely on the experiences, understandings, and insights of the student. Instead of acting as an arbiter of habits, processes, and problems, the coach and the student take away new understandings together in an attempt to put new theories into place. Velvet Chestnut, a fourth-year Dorm Counselor and alumni of Eagle Hill describes, “[In a typical model] we tend to help the students' problem solve and work it out with them but in life coaching, we’re actually encouraged to let them work it out on their own and let them go through the steps by themselves rather than us interjecting and helping them through it. It’s more of [the student] setting a plan and now it’s [their] job to follow through with it and my job to hold [them] accountable rather than me going through the plan with [them] step by step and telling [them] what to do.”
So we know the purpose and function of life coaching. You may be asking yourself “How is this work done?” The majority of life coaching is done by letting the student determine what they would like to talk about and then asking them a series of powerful questions to have them think more broadly about not only how to solve the problem but also why the problem is coming up, how it presents in their life and who they are being or need to be to accomplish their goals.
The majority of life coaching is done by letting the student determine what they would like to talk about and then asking them a series of powerful questions to have them think more broadly about not only how to solve the problem but also why the problem is coming up, how it presents in their life and who they are being or need to be to accomplish their goals.
According to Williams, “Powerful questions are short, direct, open-ended questions that are designed to elicit information from the client and provide insight and learning, as well as motivation, to follow through with action.” The following are just a few examples of powerful questions:
- What is most important to you?
- If you could change just one thing, what would it be?
- How do you know it will be successful?
- What if you knew you could not fail?
- After you accomplish this, what is the next step?
- What causes you the most fear?
- Who do you want to become?
- Who do you most admire?
- What is holding you back?
- Why do you want to move forward?
- Who do you want to become?
- What do you need more of in order to achieve your goals?
What Life Coaching Affords Us
Life coaching is different than typical parenting or teaching. It’s a way to key into someone’s awareness of themselves and their experiences in ways that they may be unwilling or unable to key into by themselves. For our students, it’s also a way in which they can learn to think about themselves as problem solvers and thinkers in life after college. EHS provides an exceptional education model that focuses on the growth and preparedness of all students. Extending that type of experience to areas outside the classroom ensures that students leave high school ready to succeed in college and beyond. Life coaching lets them create a new awareness of making meaning out of experiences. It’s far more powerful to face a problem when the question is “Who do I need to be to reach the next level?” as opposed to “Can I figure out an easy way to solve this problem?”
When asked about how the life coaching class has changed her work, Velvet said it helped her more proactively approach the roller coaster of adolescence. She said, “Active listening. Last year with the girls, I let them vent a lot. But now I use more active listening and then do not try to solve the issue for them. I let them take more responsibility and asking them what are the steps that they want to go through to reach this goal. I try to let them talk it out and work it out on their own.” Doing that kind of thinking with caring adults has real-life benefits. Stanley notes that for him, life coaching allows him to help students better understand what motivates them. He articulates, “Motivation is the essence of why people do what they do. Understanding why you want to do certain things and not others is key to student success. Many times, students are motivated to do work because they want to avoid getting bad grades. But the life coaching model allows for conversations that key into deeper reasons for doing things, such as studying a subject because you have a passion for it. For me, that’s pivotal in student growth as they finish high school and go into the world.”
Affording students the opportunity to reflect on patterns and habits gives them the opportunity to be more self-aware and to acknowledge that problems are often woven into the fabric of larger life patterns and habits. What systems work for you? What systems hinder you? What do you really want out of your educational experience and who or what is holding you back? Questions such as these (and more importantly their often nefarious answers) are the determiners of human growth and development in adolescence. Ken Leyva, a veteran Dorm Counselor, and long-time life coach say “Life coaching allows students to succeed. You have to find out what’s going to unlock their potential—whether it’s five locks or thirty locks—you work with the student to help them figure out how to unlock the barriers to their potential.” Empowering students to grapple at such depths makes them that much more equipped to deal with the realities of life and to continue on the path toward more healthy, rational adults.
 Williams, J. A. (2018). Academic Life Coaching: 1.0 Training Guide. Hood River, OR: Academic Life Coaching Inc.
 Williams, J. A. (2018). Academic Life Coaching: 1.0 Training Guide. Hood River, OR: Academic Life Coaching Inc. p. 9
 Chapter 3: Coach the Client, Not the Problem. Williams, J. A. (2018). Academic Life Coaching: 1.0 Training Guide. Hood River, OR: Academic Life Coaching Inc. .P. 50
 Williams, J. A. (2018). Academic Life Coaching: 1.0 Training Guide. Hood River, OR: Academic Life Coaching Inc. .P. 24