The ‘other’ AACC’s journey to embracing coaching

Starting in 2012, I spent a year working one-on-one with a life coach. An old friend was training to be one and after getting over the initial bewilderment — What does a life coach do?  Is that even a real job? — I saw such drastic improvements in my own life that decided I, too, needed to train as a life coach.

Why? Because after teaching full-time at Maryland’s Anne Arundel Community College (the “other” AACC) for 12 years, I realized the skills of a life coach are the exact same skills a community college professor needs to work with students. The role of a life coach is to support another human as they move from Point A to Point B and beyond. Isn’t that what we do at community colleges? We are in the business of supporting humans — students, ourselves, our colleagues and community organizations — move from Point A to Point B and beyond.

My college supported my training to become a certified life coach through the International Coach Federation (ICF). A handful of other colleagues also began training to become life coaches when they noticed the impact the skills were having on my students and my work at the college.

For me, I noticed I was more present with my students and colleagues, less rushed, and more brave (which translated to more confidence in the classroom and on college committees). Whereas in the past, I felt stressed to get everything done, now I started slowing down and savoring my interactions with others, which in turn broadened my perspective. I started showing up as coach and not as a know-it-all professor.

There is something magical when you slow down to really listen to others, ask powerful questions, trust your intuition as a guide and self-manage, so you do not fall into the trap of problem solving for others. As a coach, I do not give advice, solve problems or mentor. Instead, I use my vast array of coaching skills that I learned in my training to evoke transformation and support others move from Point A to Point B and beyond.

Before I describe more, I wanted to share this with you: I have three degrees from reputable institutions — Michigan State University, University of Colorado and Johns Hopkins University. Two of those degrees are in education. I would trade in all three degrees just to have my life coaching skills; that is how impactful that set of skills is to the work that we do at community colleges.

Special bonus, I can use my coaching skills outside of work with my family, friends and strangers. One time, I coached a fellow passenger on an airplane at 30,000 feet!

We need more coaches on campus

If you look at the research ICF collects or the studies Harvard Medical School’s Institute of Coaching supports, you would think the same thing: Coaching have a positive impact on productivity, engagement and mindset. Imagine a student body, workforce and campus culture that has those attributes. A student body, workforce and culture that is productive, engaged and growth minded.

The message was clear to me and to the leadership team at the other AACC: We need more coaches on campus.

Sending more colleagues to external coach training courses just is not sustainable. Coach training programs are on average $5,000/per person just for the core curriculum and classes. Plus, most training programs require significant time away from campus.

Since my college — like yours — is in the business of teaching and learning, we did what we do well. We created our own coach training program. We call our version of coaching “Engagement Coaching,” and I am proud to share, according to ICF as of this publishing date, we are the only general, accredited coach training program at a community college in the nation. I say “general” because some community colleges have wellness and health coaching programs that are accredited by non-ICF organizations who specialize in wellness and health coaching only. Graduates of my college’s Engagement Coach Training Program coach — as we like to say — the entire person — a person’s health, wellness, academics, relationships, success, failures, dreams, goals, you name it!

Since my college’s Engagement Coach Training Program is now accredited, our graduates can seamlessly move towards becoming a certified ICF coach with ease though the pathway is rigorous and requires 100+ hours of coaching in addition to the core curriculum and classes.

At AACC, we do not differentiate which of our colleagues need to be trained as a coach; we believe all employees and students benefit from having more coaches on campus. With that in mind, our coach training program is open to all full-time and part-time employees — faculty (including all adjuncts), staff and administrators. Some of graduates from our last coaching “tribe” — which is what we call our cohorts — include our executive director of human resources, assistant director of financial aid, executive director of public relations and marketing, our psychology department chair, an adjunct biology professor, our professor of criminal justice and police academy coordinator, a nursing professor — I could go on.

With such diverse employees on campus being coach trained, we can now infuse coaching and show up “coach like” all over campus and in all three college divisions. We are smashing down silos with each coaching tribe.

Impact, please, and next steps

Our coach-graduates unanimously agree that being trained as a coach was 100 percent worth their time. In an era where time is often seen as more valuable than money, we believe that time metric speaks volumes to this unique professional development experience for our employees.

Our coach-graduates are using their coaching skills in different ways and impacting different groups of people on campus. For example, two of our coaches this year collaborated with our Student Achievement and Success Program (SASP) which serves first-generation college students and have paired our coaches with SASP students. Select SASP students now meet one-on-one with a coach bi-monthly.

Another coach who oversees our internal leadership program has infused coaching in that program. Now, all new leadership program participants receive monthly coaching with one of our coaches to support their emerging leadership skills and expanding mindset.

Another coach-graduate of ours teaches in the education department and infuses coaching into her lessons with students. Imagine the skill set our education majors are experiencing? They will leave our college with not only a transfer degree in education, but that degree is laced in coaching skills.

For those of you who want more hardcore numbers, a plan is in place. Working with an external researcher, as I clearly cannot tone down my enthusiasm for all things coaching, we are collecting data on the impact coaching is making on a number of possible metrics at our college: productivity, self-efficacy, engagement and completion — to name a few.

At AACC, we are continuing to train more internal tribes of coaches. The next tribe begins in early January and will meet for nine days of training over a five month period with robust homework and coaching practice in between those face-to-face learning sessions.

Since our Engagement Coach Training Program is now accredited, we are also offering our program to external students and organizations through our Corporate Training Group, non-credit offerings and soon-to-be credit course offering, as well.  The K-12 educators in our state involved in Learning Forward Maryland have specifically requested a credit course version of our Engagement Coach Training Program, so those educators can apply the coursework seamlessly to their teacher licensure renewal in our state.

Though my college does not expect every person who completes the Engagement Coach Training Program to want to become a certified coach, we do expect and want as many of our colleagues, students and community organizations to experience the impact coaching makes on productivity, engagement and mindset and their journey from Point A to Point B and beyond.

About the Author

Jen Lara
is director of the Center for Faculty and Staff Development, a professor of education and coach at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. She is also a self-proclaimed coaching evangelist. In addition, Lara served on the American Association of Community Colleges’ 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges.