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Month: August 2013

Success Coaching – The Semester Begins

Success Coaching – The Semester Begins

And now… it’s time for the hit, new game show that’s sweeping the nation: Get off of Academic Probation and GET! THAT! DEGREE!

The name of the show might be a mouthful, folks, but it’s making the American Dream possible for millions every year. Let’s meet some of our contestants…

Noah: Noah is a freshman entering college on a basketball scholarship (the good news) and academic probation (the bad news). Noah attended four high schools in four years, and the lack of stability obviously played a toll, for while his jump shot epitomizes follow-through and focus, his high school grades are all over the court.

Dante: While Dante’s composite test scores and GPA were all in range, I flagged his file as potentially at-risk because his English and math grades were particularly low, as were some of his ACT subscores. In addition, he made the ACT score that got him accepted by our university on his fourth attempt, and the other three score results would not have met our target composite.

Dan: Dan is arriving on campus seemingly carrying the weight of the world on his back. Six months ago, he lost his mother to cancer. Over the summer, his father was diagnosed with the same disease. An aunt is also battling a likely fatal illness. And yet here he is, excited and ready to jump in with both feet, according to the admissions counselor who has been his primary university contact up to now.

Tracy: Say it isn’t so, Tracy! Tracy is a returning sophomore with whom I worked last fall. She came to school desperately homesick and unable, due to her probationary status, to do the one thing that made her the happiest: run track. By the end of the semester, however, Tracy was one of my success stories. She had gotten her grades up enough both to get off academic probation and to run in the spring. That’s why I was so disappointed to discover, only days ago, that she had not been able to maintain the academic momentum she’d developed while working with me. But that’s okay, Tracy! We’ll dig in this fall and find a way to turn it around again. Sometimes you’ve got to learn lessons a few times before they really stick.

The stories of Dan and Tracy bring up two important points. The first is the invaluable role that our admissions counselors play regarding the students with whom they’ve been in contact, sometimes for upwards of a year. I can’t tell you how helpful it was to have these counselors attend part of our first success coach meeting. They were able to fill in the gaps- to give us information that even careful “transcript sleuthing” cannot provide, from insight into family dynamics to experiences which may have greatly influenced a student’s success in high school.

Secondly, Tracy’s fall and rise and fall again (going for rise #2 starting next week!) played a big role in the substance of the remarks I made to the entire freshman class earlier this week. Often, the problem with freshmen is that they don’t realize how difficult it can be to pull oneself out of an academic hole once one has dug it. So I spoke frankly with them about how hard it can be to come back from a bad first semester, but I also let them know that, luckily, the way to avoid waking up in a ditch of one’s own making is simple: speak up. Ask for help. Let someone know you’re struggling. Chances are, we have the resources you need to turn it around, but they only help those who take advantage of them.

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.

The New School Year – Part 3

The New School Year – Part 3

Well, the first official success coach meeting for the 2013 fall semester is now mere days away, and I’d like to talk a little more in-depth about the agenda. This will be our first meeting of the year but also the last before we meet our students, so it is imperative that we use this meeting to ensure that, come the first day of school, the program is running like a well-oiled machine.

First, the swimsuit competition! Oops, never mind, that’s just what happens in my anxiety dream version of this meeting. In reality, we will begin by listening to two Ted Talks given by educators Angela Lee Duckworth and Rita F. Pierson as well as discussing a Stanford University study (previously discussed on this blog) on the benefits of college success coaching programs.  I think it’s fitting that we begin our discussion of coaching students by becoming students ourselves, and hopefully the lessons provided by these educators and researchers will give us new and inspiring insights into our work.

Next, we are going to give each coach his or her student assignments along with the corresponding folder containing each student’s high school and college (unless they are freshmen) transcripts, standardized test scores, application, and class schedule. Then we are going to meet with freshman seminar instructors as well as as with the admissions counselors who have been in contact with our incoming freshmen for the past few months. Counselors will share what they have learned about this or that student over the course of their communication, so coaches will have some idea as to their personalities and backgrounds.

Then we are going to go through the folders and talk about specific students. For example, I will need to inform one of our coaches, who I paired with this particular student because he has a background in hospice work, that she recently lost her mother. I will inform another one of our coaches, who has experience working with students with disabilities, that one of her incoming freshmen has been diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. Sometimes, while going through these folders, we will swap certain student assignments due to scheduling or other issues.

Finally, we will close the meeting by talking about goals. I have asked each coach to come prepared to share one personal goal for the year as well as one goal for the program as a whole. I can say for certain that each year of our success coaching program has been better and more effective than the last, and I believe that’s partially because, as demonstrated by the way in which we will begin the meeting, many people who become educators do so primarily because they are students at heart. Simply put: we love learning. Thus, our program, like education at its best, is dynamic- ever-changing in order to better itself.

Here’s to doing it even better in the fall of 2013.

Please check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the ‘The New School Year’ series if you missed the earlier posts.

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.

The New School Year – Part 2

The New School Year – Part 2

It’s just over two weeks until the start of classes for the 2013 fall semester, which means my colleagues and I are hard at work making sure we are ready to go on Day 1. Right now, I am primarily working on making a final list of students with which we will either definitely be working (as in the case of new or returning students on academic probation or warning) as well as those “borderline” students who we will be offering an optional but highly recommended opportunity to participate in the program.

This semester, our roster includes 18 incoming freshmen who were admitted on probationary status, 25 students I culled from a freshman class of over 400 students who fall into the “borderline” category, and 25 returning students whose spring semester grades put them on either academic probation or warning. I am especially pleased with this last number, as it represents a huge drop from that of previous years. It’s a good feeling to have the personal knowledge that our program is effective (and only becoming more so) corroborated by data; after all, numbers do not lie.

I am also excited about the prospect of bringing these “borderline” students into the program. In order to make my final list, I went through the transcripts of every single freshman who will be walking onto our campus in two weeks, and looked for potential issues. Did a student do well overall but consistently struggled in a particular, core area? Were a student’s ACT or SAT scores significantly higher or lower than his or her classroom grades? Did a student have a chronic problem with tardiness or absenteeism? One girl on my list of 25, for example, missed nearly 20 days of school (and in one year she missed 24) every year of high school. This pattern could potentially speak to a lack of motivation, a chaotic home environment or one in which education was undervalued or simple immaturity, all of which could have a deleterious effect on her ability to succeed in college. As I went through these transcripts, I ranked students (1-3) according to how much or little they seemed at risk.

The 25 in my final list will be receiving a letter from our admissions director informing them that we would like to pair them up with a success coach for the fall semester. Participation in the program will not be required; however, we strongly recommend that they do participate. I am also going to talk to the athletic coaches to see if any of these students are on their teams. Our coaches are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of success coaching, and for those students who are on athletic teams; their coaches are going to personally request that they join the program.

Now that I have a complete list of the students who will (or who we hope will) be joining us, it’s time to assign students to specific coaches. Most of the time, this process is either random (as in the case of incoming freshmen about whom we know very little) or a continuation of the status quo. Most students who return to the program, and who have therefore worked with a certain coach before, choose to remain with the same coach. There are, however, cases in which we do match students with coaches based on perceived compatibility.

For example, sometimes a coach will recommend that a student receive a different coach for a second semester in the program. This decision can be based on the gender, age, or temperament of a particular coach or it can be based on the precept that a student may simply bond more naturally with someone else. For example, we had a female student last semester who did alright but who is still on academic probation this fall. In conversations with her coach, it became apparent that this young woman was in need of a strong, male role model in her life. Her coach and I both agreed that she might do better, therefore, with a male coach, and so this year we are pairing her with our very best.

Similarly, another student who struggled last year largely because she was dealing with a double dose of social isolation and homesickness, so this fall I have matched her with a coach who spent more than 20 years as a counselor in public schools. Yet another student, a football player whose coach left to take another job at the end of last year, is going to be working with a colleague of mine whose life has revolved around football for decades. Her husband and both of her sons played football, and her husband (as well as one of her sons) coaches professionally. I’m sure this student would do fine with anyone on our very capable team, but why not match him with someone with whom he has something in common?

There is still much work to be done before classes start for this brand new school year, but day by day my colleagues and I are doing our best to ensure that we will be ready.

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.

The New School Year – Part 1

The New School Year – Part 1

The beginning of a new school year has a distinct (and for those of us in education, an exhilarating) smell. Even as a little girl, I loved the aroma of new books and pencils, and, of course, that delightfully chalky smell of a blackboard- because these smells were all harbingers that a new term was beginning. Even these days, when chalkboards have largely been replaced by whiteboards, pencils by pens, and books by visually entrancing yet odorless tablets and laptops, I find that I can smell the onset of another fall semester. And these past few days, after two months of summer vacation has bestowed upon me its myriad gifts, I’ve started to smell it.

On August 21st, my colleagues and I will meet for the first time to discuss the upcoming school year, and I am looking forward to discussing the changes at the university as well as the ways in which we can improve the Success Coaching program specifically. In this first installment of a three-part blog, I would like to give an overview of what we are looking to accomplish in this first meeting.

First of all, there are a few changes going on university-wide that we will need to discuss. The one about which I’m the most excited is the complete revamp of our student instructor (which we call PAL: Peer Assisted Learning) program. I’m always an advocate of students learning from their peers, and I hope that this new model will be even more successful in helping those who are struggling in core areas like English and math.

In terms of the success coaching program in particular, I am very excited that we are currently in the process of hiring one to three new coaches. All three applicants are experienced former teachers- two are younger women who have been out of the workforce for a few years to stay home with small children, and one is a retired teacher with 32 years of experience in the public, K-12 school system. In general, our best recruits have almost always come from the “helping” professions- people who have previously worked in human resources or as counselors, social workers, and especially teachers- so I have high hopes that all three of these potential, new success coaches will be joining us on August 21.

I have asked all of our success coaches to come to the meeting with a few things. First is a list of their own personal goals for the semester. While we all think about what we can do better, I’ve found that it’s always more effective when we A) write these things down, and B) discuss them aloud in front of others. In addition to a list of personal goals, I’ve asked each coach to make a list of ideas as to how we can improve the program as a whole. I’d like a significant portion of the meeting to be a discussion of the question: how do we, as a group, better meet the needs of students? For example, last year we had a coach who began working with her students once a week via Skype. The experiment was a huge success, and we plan on doing more of this kind of coaching this coming year. We are also doing more to connect our students with one another as well as to attempt to catch at-risk freshmen before they fall through the cracks. We have tweaked our program every year since its inception, and positive gains have followed. This coming fall, I am proud to report, we have the lowest number of students on academic probation or warning than we’ve ever had. While there is an interconnected web of reasons and realities that have contributed to this exciting statistic, the success coaching program has certainly been a big part of the solution.

Next week, I will detail more specifically how my fellow coaches and I plan to improve our program for the coming year, but for now…I’m just enjoying the smell of anticipation.

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.