Effective one to one tutorials and using coaching

One to one tutorials with Advisees

John Crace talks about the one to one tutorial as:

"a forum where both teachers and students can discuss progress and set targets - and there is a great deal of evidence to indicate that it has played a key role in raising standards and student retention".

(Crace, 2002, online)

Having effective one to one conversations with Advisees

Some general principles for effective one to ones are that the Adviser should use:

  • a structure for the conversation, for example, see the coaching frameworks below (whilst appreciating that conversations do not follow a linear pattern);
  • active listening;
  • open questioning;
  • constructive challenging;
  • reflecting back, paraphrasing and summarising.

Deciding on the style of the conversation (and agreeing this with the Advisee) can be useful. For example, the agreed style could be one of the following:

  • Teaching - where specific teaching goals are the focus
  • Mentoring - where skills, knowledge and experience are shared/passed on
  • Coaching - a non-directive conversation between thinking equals

As with teaching and session planning, there isn’t a secret formula for a perfect one to one. In the EXPLORE sessions on Academic Advising, we look at case study examples and undertake role play to discuss this further. Carrying out effective one to ones with students is a skill which can be learned through practice and reflection and as you get better so will the impact on your students’ progress and outcomes. Some useful guidelines for effective one to ones are as follows. 

The Academic Adviser should:

  • prepare for them, for example by reading notes from previous one- to- ones, and speaking to other tutors and support staff about progress. Institutional data on student attendance and performance can inform your discussion. Most areas use Moodle for this information;
  • appear pleased to see the students and have a sincere and calm approach (even if you are busy and have competing priorities;
  • explain at the start of the meeting what things you would like to cover, but ensure you are clear that students can discuss anything that they have on their own agenda;
  • use more open questions to allow students and yourself to explore their thoughts and feelings;
  • record details of the conversation using the dashboard system for future reference. Many areas use 'virtual office' on Moodle (a site listing all advisees) to record notes from meetings in one location (and also to book meetings);
  • display active listening;
  • challenge,reframe, reflect back and summarise where appropriate;
  • start with and praise the positive things that students have, or feel they have, tried or achieved;
  • be honest about any areas that students need to improve;
  • be clear about the consequences of not improving;
  • encourage the students to reflect and have a clear, open and honest discussion about progress against previous SMART targets (these may be academic, engagement or personal);
  • allow the discussion to develop SMART targets that are stretching but are agreed between you and the students;
  • use scaling and solution-focused coaching techniques where appropriate (see below);
  • make clear your desire to help resolve any problems where it is possible;
  • finish on a positive and ask the student to summarise the agreed targets before the end of the meeting;
  • ensure dates for the review of these targets are agreed before the meeting finishes.

Adapted from Lochtie et al, 2018, pp. 112-3

Using coaching in Academic Advising

Increasingly, coaching is considered a useful approach for Academic Advising.

There are many definitions of coaching. One of the most widely recognised is "coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them" (Whitmore, 2002).

As an Academic Adviser, it is important to try to keep the focus very much on the advisee, and the development of their understanding and insights into their own behaviours and attitudes. By adopting a coaching style, you are able to support your advisees to become more independent learners. This means aiming to be ‘non-directive’ and using the associated skills, as shown in the below figure. Of course, where you are on this spectrum may depend on the individual student and how ‘coach-ready’ they may be. The approach could even be agreed with them. 


Solution focused coaching 

Solution-focused coaching (Jackson & McKergow, 2007) grew out of techniques from the world of therapy in the 1980s. 

It is about trying to make greater progress with a student by focusing on where they want to get to and understanding what skills and knowledge they need to get there, rather than spending excessive amounts of time exploring the problem or issue they may be facing.

Solution talk questionsProblem talk questions
What are you aiming to achieve?What's wrong with what you're doing?
How will you know you've achieved it?What's the main cause of your difficulty?
How did you know how to do that?Why did you do that?
What might you do differently?What should you have done?
What have you done before that worked?Have you done that before?
What did you do to contribute to the outcome?Is there anything you did that helped?
What could you do to ensure this happens?What are the obstacles to you achieving this?
How can you make sure that this happens again?Why can't you do that more often?
What was the best you have ever done at this?What's the main cause of your difficulty?
What else?Anything else?


Adapted from Lincoln (2004) with permission and Jackson and McKergow (2004) and cited in Lochtie et al (2015), p. 144


Ways to structure one to one conversations - coaching frameworks

One to one tutorials can sometimes feel loose and vague. The following frameworks can be useful ways to structure your one to one Advising interactions.


Jackson and McKergow (2007)