Introducing Academic Coach, Sarah Olsen

Sarah Olsen is the latest person to join my team of Academic Coaches. Sarah has lots of expertise to share with your teen when it comes to their studies and she brings to the team her experience in helping students with goal setting, careers, mindset and more.

In this interview, I talked to Sarah about her own experience of education, her career and her experience coaching and tutoring. 

You can listen to the podcast using the player above or read the summary of the interview below. 

What did you do before you became an Academic Coach?

I got a first-class degree in German, Italian and Business Studies and then I became a chartered accountant. I worked in finance, risk, actuarial and life assurance, so it was quite a technical career choice. 

All that time, even though I really, really enjoyed the companies and the people, I had a real love for coaching and training, so I did a coaching qualification. 

For the last 19 years, I've been coaching and running my own business. I’ve done lots of career coaching, interview coaching, life coaching and executive coaching. And I've been an entrepreneur since then. 

I also have a TEFL teaching qualification and I've been tutoring German and Italian for about 19 years too.

I've had lots of experience working with young people, both tutoring and also with mindset change as well. People have come to me with all kinds of things, like lack of confidence, or worries, or being unable to organise themselves; lots of the kind of issues that our young people tend to face typically.

What brought you to academic coaching?

It wasn't intentional as a career plan that I would become an Academic Coach. What swung it for me was the quality and the professionalism of Life More Extraordinary, and also the talent and the friendliness of the team. 

Academic coaching means I can use lots of my skills around mindset, coaching, organisation and goal achievement. I really love working with young people and I know I can make a difference. 

What was the biggest struggle in your education? 

I think the biggest struggle was when I was doing my chartered accountancy exams. 

There was a mixup with my accountancy exams, and my enrollment didn't happen. So, instead of doing one set of exams every year, I did one set late and the next one early. It was an intensive six-week course with the exams right at the end of the course and no gaps in between. I was under a lot of pressure. 

I didn't overcome it perfectly. I struggled through it and I really felt the pressure. But I did work through everything really systematically and as calmly as I could. I didn't do all the late nights socialising like all of my coursemates seemed to be doing. I passed all my exams and it taught me that I'm resilient as well.

In circumstances like that, we learn a lot. I always say that there's more learning in a mistake than there is from just doing it right. This comes back to having the mindset that looks for opportunities and looks to learn and to develop ourselves.

What have you learnt from coaching students?

Firstly, something I’ve seen from coaching students into graduate schemes in top companies is that companies still look at and demand a certain level of GCSE and A-Level results. Even after university, they still ask you for this information. So that’s an added incentive to think right, I'm going to do those and kind of get them under my belt. It helps set you up for life and your future career.

Secondly, as a language teacher and tutor, I've seen so many times how big a role confidence plays in getting good results. It's quite an enormous element. What I've seen is that every single student has a huge innate ability, even if they sometimes can't see this for themselves. I’ve seen as someone's confidence grows, their performance grows. Their belief in themselves seems to be correlated to their achievement. 

Coaching, tutoring and parenting a teen

As a parent myself, I've been close to the journey through school to GCSE and beyond. And what I can see is that all of the hard work and the focus and cultivating your natural ability pays off and is really worth it. My son's 18 and he's just got one university offer that's a firm written offer. And I can see that his future career is starting to open up based on what he's done in the past. 

That makes me think of all of our students and what they're doing now. If they can just go steadily and calmly and consistently or even have a wobble, have a day off but come back the next day, it’s really worth it. In order to succeed, I think our students have got a lot to look forward to. Every minute they spend concentrating and everything they do that just helps them to gain knowledge and insight and perform better is really, really worth it.

Helping students with breakthroughs 

I love the look on somebody's face when they get their grade or their university place, or they just feel better about themselves. And I love the fact that students are set for life to a certain extent when they can get their academic results and nothing ever changes that. I also really love it when students I'm working with open up gradually. We can build a trusting relationship and resolve things together and then come up with solutions. 

A few specific examples of this come to mind. 

One example is about self-belief and confidence

I had one student who was told that he couldn’t do German GCSE, but he was determined. He had a certain amount of self-belief, but we needed to work on his confidence. 

We worked together and broke the material down into bite-sized chunks. We worked out the areas that he had a clear understanding of and the areas that he didn't. As we went through, he developed such a strong determination and he just kept going.

Needless to say, he could and did do his GCSE German. He was a real inspiration and he was wonderful to work with. He was just focused and pretty determined. It just shows, doesn't it, that even though his teacher had said that he couldn’t do it and that he didn’t have the required level, he was still able to do it. So whatever results or feedback you've got, that's not the end of the road, it's just a stepping stone on the way that makes you think ‘Okay, so what am I going to do now about the situation?’ and you can absolutely succeed.

Another example is a really quick but really effective change

A student just changed the order of activities from Xbox first and homework second, to doing homework first and then Xbox. This change just worked really well for them and made a huge, huge difference.

The third example is a stressed A-Level student I worked with

She was quite nervous, stressed, frustrated, worried and uncomfortable. There were a few things that we did that helped her. One is that we worked out what she was really stressed about, and we addressed it. It turned out that it was what she wasn't doing, rather than what she was doing, that was stressing her, and all the things that she thought she should be doing and didn't have time to do.

The second thing we did, we got everything in order and organised and planned. That meant that she could take time off knowing that things were under control. And one tip that I gave was actually something my dad told me. He said if you're thinking about your schoolwork, you may as well be doing it. In other words, either do it or just have a complete break and don't even think about it.

Her stress levels came down, she was more present and better able to cope because she was able to take a break. She felt as if she had more free time. She had a clearer head when she wasn't working and she knew what she was doing when she was doing it. And because she had a timetable, she knew everything was going to get done, so she could take 100% guilt-free breaks with a clear head. 

Quick fire questions

What book has had the biggest impact on your life?

It's Be Your Own Life Coach by Fiona Harold. I was reading this book and I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great if I could meet her and ask her some questions? Then, the very next day, I was walking home from work and there was a little poster in Waterstones bookshop saying that Fiona Harold was doing a talk there that evening. I went along and I asked her the questions I wanted to ask her and it's just one of those funny synchronicities.

Who was your favourite teacher? And why?

My German teacher. I ended up doing a first-class degree in languages and Business Studies, and I still teach languages. We saw eye to eye and we had some really good rapport. And she gave out Mars bars for good work!

What's your favourite holiday destination?

It's Asia. Before the pandemic, we went to China and it was just amazing. And Nara in Japan as well. You can sit down with the deer there; they're very tame. You can hand feed them during the day, and in the evening you could just sit down amongst them at sunset when they settle down. It's lovely.

What’s your favourite takeaway or food?

I love Thai food. I love the spicy savoury intensity of it. 

What’s your most used app on your phone?

I would say it's WhatsApp messages, my Zumba friends are on it and I use it for video calls if I'm away from home. Definitely WhatsApp.

Would you like Sarah to be your teen’s Academic Coach?

If you would like to work with Sarah to help your teen through their studies and improve their mindset, revision and study skills, click here to find out about our academic coaching packages

You can book a call with Helen Chaplain, our head Academic Coach, to talk through why you're looking for help. Helen will assess if we're a good fit for you and pair you with the best coach for your teen. If you want to work specifically with Sarah, just let us know.

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