I work with University students as an Academic Development Specialist - I coach them toward improved academic performance using a variety of tools, techniques and assessments. In 2014 I underwent professional coach training to expand my toolkit, and one of the most powerful learnings in coach training, was the Observer-Action-Result (OAR) model, and the art of powerful questioning. In this article I take you through an explanation of this technique in a student scenario.
Disclaimer: The content, views and opinions expressed in this article are those of myself, the author, and do not reflect the official policies or position of the University of Calgary or International Coach Federation.
I am trained as an ontological coach. What does that mean?
My specialty lies in helping people see and access the unlimited potential that they have. We all are walking around in human bodies and to varying degrees, we have choice in what we decide to do with our lives. We are all making choices daily that lead to a desired future or outcome.
We are all capable of anything, but we all go different ways.
Why? We all have different ways of interpreting reality.
We are all different observers of life.
We can experience the same reality. For example, a group of students at a workshop are enjoying pepperoni pizza. Their senses pick up the reality of cheese, tomato, layers of pepperoni, the crunch of the crust.
But we experience different interpretations of that same reality.
One student may think "mmm this crust is delicious." Another may think "Ewww it's hurting my teeth!"
One student may think "holy sh*t this is delicious, what a treat!." Another may think "Ugh, I have no self control, there goes my entire week's nutrition. I am disgusting."
We view life through different lenses. What colours those lenses? Many things.
Our bodies, our minds, our personalities, our history, our culture, our families, the people in our lives, media, our mood or current levels of fatigue or hunger, all influence how we interpret things. There are many contributing factors to the way we tend to see things. Some of those factors may lead to an overarching story we have about the world, what we call a master assessment or a grand assessment. The student that ate the pizza and was caught in a cycle of self-loathing? There is something deeper there.
That is what is fun (and challenging) about coaching. Coaches work together with clients to uncover the way that the client sees and interprets their lives.
Armed with new awareness of the lenses that we view life through, and the stories that we carry around with us, we have greater choice in how we decide to interpret life. This opens up new possibilities, and greater motivation to take different actions.
There are many things to discover through conversation. Inner narratives, self-limiting beliefs, habitual thinking patterns and more. You don't need a coach to come to these realizations. When you experience a fundamental shift in the way you see things, you have undertaken this very process. There is no doubt Einstein had experienced a shift in his observer when he said the following:
"The way we see the problem, is the problem."
With this background, I'll jump into why this distinction is so important in working with University students, and how this model (expanded into what we call the Observer-Action-Result or OAR model) is so useful.
We all know that we want to create a great future, improve and do better, right?
We can google to our hearts' content and access all of the information we need to do this. Students are among the most adept at seeking information.
Yet, we don't, do we? We don't change our actions to get better results.
The key to powerful and lasting change lies in shifting the observer that we are.
Here's a great example of a common student scenario in academic performance coaching.
A student came n complaining of poor grades in all of their classes. They had already googled how to study better, what techniques to employ and what was missing in their habits. They explained that they had attended three different workshops on how to study better to improve grades, but complained that they already knew all of the advice ("same old advice") and found the powerpoint slides boring. The student was understandably frustrated.
If we look at the Observer-Action-Result model above, the student was definitely following the Action-Result part. Take different actions and get different results (better grades.)
The real results in this appointment came from a focus on a different part of the model. The Observer part. In the appointment, I spent the first thirty minutes asking open-ended, clarifying questions. My goal was to get an understanding of the way they saw their situation, and some of their perspectives on academic performance. During the 15 minute conversation that followed, we uncovered some interesting observer insights together.
How the student perceived the reality of their bad grades:
-The professors had a clear bias against them and were not willing to meet with them to discuss midterm results.
-Claimed they knew all of the right techniques (questioning uncovered inconsistent use and a lack of motivation.)
-Large amount of time spent on discussing other students; studies as much as other students but they were unfairly getting better grades with less work.(Dominated 20 minutes of the conversation.)
- The exam questions were poorly written and confusing – set up for a poor performance.
The student had a very strong story and through body language and amount of time spent discussing these issues above, I could see they were very attached to the belief that external forces were stacked against them. Their performance was mostly others’ fault.
With this type of world-view, do you think the student was motivated to take ownership over study habits? Even if they went to workshops and already knew the techniques?
We talk about motivation so much in studying, yet, how motivated would you be to study, if everything was someone else’s fault and out of your control? How would your actions be influenced? How would this student be in a meeting with their professor on a midterm, how empowered would this student feel going into final exams?
The conversation offered some opportunities to dig deeper, and herein lies the added value of one-on-one conversations outside of a workshop or lecture format.
There were a variety of contributing factors to the students' mindset – both ungrounded assessments but also legitimate life experiences. The student had repeatedly experienced bad events in their life that were unfair and legitimately out of their control. After years of believing it was their fault, they had developed a coping mechanism by flipping to the opposite, thinking "nothing bad is my fault, it's everyone else's fault."
They spent time focusing on the unfairness of everyone else’s performance and we talked about where this came from. They remembered developing this habit very early on in schooling, and it was deeply ingrained. The result of an unhealthily competitive primary schooling experience. Through conversation, a small window of awareness was opened for the student. They could see that their lens was shaped by a variety of experiences in life. They realied that some were influencing them in an unhelpful way and robbing them of the motivation to study properly and use the techniques they knew would help them.
The student also realized that this way of interpreting reality did not just occur in academics. It extended to other events in their life. They could see that this was a way of perceiving the situation, rather than the truth of the situation.
There were many long moments of silence towards the end of that conversation, where the student just sat with these new realizations and a shifting reality.
The student began to realize how these ways of seeing and interpreting their academic performance was disempowering, and would not contribute to better actions and better results.
To generate new ways of observing, and new possibilities would be for another meeting, but the progress for this student in one hour was profound. I simply asked questions, and the student did the rest of the work. We all have within us the tools to profoundly change our lives. The coach is simply there to be a catalyst.
In working with students, do not be afraid to explore, to dive, to ask open-ended and powerful questions to understand a person’s perspective. It is the human connection and deep conversations that students so desperately want in a time of massive lectures and group workshops.
You do not need a coaching certification to ask powerful questions and have the courage to engage in thought-provoking conversation. A student appreciates that you care, and want to understand them, and get to know them. Beyond a lasting impression and the human connection so many students are missing on large campuses, you may help them uncover a new level of awareness of themselves, which will complement the learning and study skills we teach and lead to lasting change in their lives.
Originally Posted on Linked IN by: Carina Huggins
Contact John Assunto for all of your Education Recruiting needs! Johna@worldbridgepartners.com or 860-387-0503
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