One of the many faces of a success coach is that of the “newspaper editor”. Sure, I create both short and long-term deadlines with all of my students, but there are certain students for whom this becomes my primary role. These are the students who may be academically capable with stable support networks from family and friends. They may not have to deal with the financial stresses that plague some students. They may even have good time management and study skills, yet for some reason they falter when they lack a point person to whom they know they must be accountable. In other words, they need a cigar-chomping, old-school newspaper editor yelling, “Wilson! That article about rampant corruption in the alderman’s office better be on my desk by the time we go to print or your sorry keister’ll be pushin’ paper down in the mail room for the next six months!”
This idea of accountability is not limited to education. It’s why some people diet or try to quit smoking in pairs or teams. It is, in part, why some people see personal trainers and therapists. The older we get, the more we realize that there are some things in life we simply won’t work as hard at or stick to the program as faithfully when left to our own devices, so we seek out and gratefully embrace others to whom we must be accountable. We seek out newspaper editors of our own.
For my students who have trouble completing work or turning things in on time, I often “invite” them to work on assignments in the library, which also happens to be near my office. At first, many invariably balk. Not only are beginning college students tempted by the idea of studying in their pajamas in the comfort of their own rooms, but also many are simply unused to studying in a place like a library. Many figure: “I studied in my room in high school, and I did fine! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” However, studying in one’s room in high school rarely mirrors the distractions and temptations that can hamper one’s ability to study in a room in a college dorm. (Everybody take a second to fully remember the most distracting and/or tempting moments in your own college dorm… and we’re back.) For those who are reluctant to start working in a more focused space, I simply say, “Just take a test drive.” You’re free at this particular time on this particular day, and I’ll be near by working with other students, so give it a shot.”
Once there, we set a goal as to how much work needs to be completed before they leave, and I require that they show me the finished product before taking off. Almost immediately, they see results. They discover that they have a private place to work with fewer distractions. And most importantly, they realize that because they know they have to show me their work by the time they leave, they actually (gasp!) get it done! Often, this trial run creates true believers out of skeptics. I find that students leave feeling proud and excited about what they have been able to accomplish- from there, it becomes easier to invite them to work in the library again because they have learned the value of it. One of my former students, a young woman who returned this fall after an internship at a government agency in Washington, D.C., was one of these students. Recently, she knocked on my door and said, “I would not be standing here right now if it weren’t for you.” I asked her what she meant by that. In the midst of a hug she replied, “You taught me how to just get it done.”
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.