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Month: September 2013

Success Coach Accountability

Success Coach Accountability

One of the many faces of a success coach is that of the “newspaper editor.” In my mind, the newspaper editor is one of those hard-boiled, almost mythical newsroom fixtures of old always seen walking around the bull pen, chomping on a cigar, calling out to the rookie reporter: “Masterson! You better have that scoop you’re writing on my desk by the end of the day or it’ll be the last time you see your name in print, ya hear?!” Though this model is not exactly the one to which I subscribe, the basic premise of this part of my job is this: it’s important for struggling college student to have someone to whom they must be accountable on a regular basis.

However, it’s not just students who need accountability in order to produce their best results; success coaches, too, must continue to check and re-check our status, progress, and methods. That’s why, at each of our bimonthly success coach meetings, all of the coaches in our program are required to submit a status report for each of our students. These reports contain three basic pieces of information:

1. Whether the student has been present for all scheduled meetings with their coaches. If there have been absences, how many and for what reason/s?

2. The number of documented study hours the student has accrued in the past two weeks. (We require all of our students in the success coach program to put in a certain number of hours of documented study time- they must sign in, sign out, and an authorized staff member must approve the validity of these signatures as well as the time accounted for- in either the library or the academic support center.)

3. A short, written summary about how the student is doing as well as a brief outline of the action plan the coach and student have developed to deal with any issues. These summaries can speak to academic issues we are dealing with, i.e.:  “student has expressed concern about math class, so we are looking for a tutor,” or more social ones:  “student continues to have trouble with his roommate, so we are setting up a meeting with his RA.”

Accountability is crucial in making sure that our program works effectively for our students. It also helps me, personally, keep track of the progress a student is or is not making. If I find myself writing the same short summary over and over again for the same student, I know that something’s not working. Likewise, nothing makes me happier than when I am able to write simply, “student is really on the ball now. She has gotten organized, is staying focused, and I expect good things.

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.

Organizational Skills Lead to Success

Organizational Skills Lead to Success

How do you keep your life organized? Your home? Your desk? If I looked into your closet, would I find it neatly organized by color and season, or would it initially look like chaos until you explained to me the method behind your madness? We all know that, in order to manage our lives successfully, we need to be organized. I, for example, live by my planner. (And as long as they sell ’em, I will always prefer a low-tech daily planner to a phone or tablet. There’s just something satisfying about writing things down on a physical piece of paper, and I won’t give it up no matter how shiny that iCal is!) If I don’t have it written in my planner, it’s not happening, which is why I’ve learned over the years to write things down immediately after scheduling. But organizational skills, like time management and a few other skills crucial for success in college are not necessarily intuitive for the average high school student turned college freshman.

One of the reasons that my students enter school or end up on academic probation in the first place is that their lack of organization is rendering moot all of the skills they do possess. For example, one of my new students this semester, a freshman named Jacob, is both intellectually curious and hardworking. I predict he would be producing competent and even above average work in all his classes…if he could ever find a syllabus in the black hole that is his backpack. Most of his papers are loose, and the two notebooks that he does use are not delineated by course. His notes are all over the place, and he is having a difficult time connecting the notes and thus the ideas of one week’s class to those of the next.

In addition to organizing one’s physical notes and papers, I help my students get organized digitally. It’s increasingly important that students keep up with their coursework through the online syllabus, check for changes to assignments or deadlines that a professor may only post online, and follow online discussion threads, even for classes that meet primarily in person. We too often assume that members of the millennial generation, who account for the majority of college students today, have such a natural facility with technology and the digital world that they just know how to do this stuff when that’s not always the case.

Despite decades working as a teacher as well as a success coach, I can still be surprised when a student takes the art of disorganization to a new level. However, I do have faith that time and a little coaching can help them turn it around. I’ve written a few times about a student with whom I worked last year who arrived on campus on academic probation, then climbed out of the hole only to fall back in. She’s with me again this fall, and it’s clear that last year’s roller coaster of an academic performance left her motion sick.  It’s also clear that she is intent on getting off the ride for good. She has her planner planned out way ahead, a folder for every subject, in the front, left pocket of which sits a copy of the syllabus like a trusted sidekick. She’s got her work cut out for her, but she is organized in a way that tells me she is really motivated to get it right this time.

Some of us can’t keep our clothes organized by color and season; I know I can’t. Everyone has his or her own system, but if someone doesn’t have a system at all, it’s not going to work. So I and my colleagues are in constant dialogue with our students, trying and erring and trying again to figure out what works for each 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.

5 Criteria for Effective Goal Management

5 Criteria for Effective Goal Management

So what are your goals? To own your own business? To make partner or simply move up in the company? To publish a novel? To finish writing said novel? To say yes to an opportunity you’ve previously declined out of fear? To get one actual page of this stupid novel on paper if it kills you?!

Goals come in all sizes. Some are big; some are small. Some are concrete; some are abstract. Some goals can be relatively easy to achieve- others only by figuratively moving mountains (unless your goal is to build a mountaintop removal mining empire, in which case you’re going to be literally moving mountains).

However, almost no goal, large or small, is achievable without a plan. When success coaches work with students, one of the first things we do is help them to set goals that are:

1. Actionable- Goals are always more frustrating and less likely to be achieved if there is no clear first step to achieving them. For example, it is a goal of mine to visit every National Park, but that goal means little if I never begin to figure out how I will get to Kobuk Valley, the country’s least visited and least accessible (feet, dogsleds, and snowmobiles only, please) National Park, located on the Arctic Circle. Similarly, it’s extremely important that my students and I talk about the first, second, third step, and so on, to accomplishing a goal (such as figuring out how your average success coach based in the Midwest can hitch a ride to the Arctic Circle.)

2. Manageable- One of my freshmen this year has an English teacher who has a particularly esoteric way of explaining things.  Her syllabus, even for someone like myself, reads a bit like a riddle. So it’s no surprise that Davin is nearly always at sea when it comes to knowing what exactly he is supposed to do in her class. In a situation like this, the most manageable first step is not to complete even a simple assignment- it’s to schedule 10 minutes to speak with his professor after class in order to get more clarity on the assignment itself.

3. Specific- Goals are always easier to achieve the more specific they are. With my students, we break down goals into small and large, as well as short, medium, and long-term.

4. Prioritized- Based on our assessment of goals as either short, medium, or long-term, I use an ABC system with my students. Any work that needs to be completed and turned in within the next 24 hours is labeled A; work that I want to see completed by our next meeting (even if it is not technically due for another day or two) receives a B, and anything that a student could do but is long-term enough that it doesn’t match the urgency of the As or Bs is labeled C.

5. Empiric- While on the road to goal achievement, it is crucial to be able to measure one’s progress. When I am working with students who have assignments that may span two weeks or an entire semester, this is especially important A) in understanding whether a student is truly on track and B) in keeping a student motivated by acknowledging (and celebrating) the smaller yet concrete results on the way to achieving something larger.

I’d like to mention one more thing, and that’s how technology has substantially improved my and my students’ abilities to document goals and assess progress. For example, I have a student this fall who is taking an art class, for which he had a project due on Monday before we met. So I called him last Friday to see how it was going. He said that he was halfway through, so I simply asked him to take a picture on his phone of what he had so far and text it to me. I knew that if he didn’t send me anything, his story was most likely untrue from the start, and if he did, he would know that I was holding him accountable to his word and for his work. Indeed, not five minutes later, I received an image of what certainly looked like a work in full progress.

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.

3 Essential Goals of the First Success Coach Meeting

3 Essential Goals of the First Success Coach Meeting

I’ve spoken before about the importance of the first meeting between a success coach and a new student. Pretty obviously, the success of these meetings is crucial because it’s when first impressions are made, and thus when students decide if attending coaching sessions is just another onerous obligation- another mandated box they must check in order to graduate- or if is something in which they see the value. There are many aspects to a first meeting with students, but all of these are in service of a specific goal: that when my student walks out of my office, he or she knows three things.

1. “I know that my success coach is here to do anything and everything in his or her power to help me achieve my goals.”

If nothing else, students should leave the first meeting with a success coach with the absolute certainty that their coach has their back. I want my students to understand, even in the first 30 minutes, that I really do care about them, and that I want them to succeed just as much as they do. I also want them to know that, in the area of success, we have a very good track record.

2. “I know that my success coach actually has a lot of connections and knows how to connect me with all available resources.”

Whether it’s knowing who to call when a student has a financial aid issue, connecting a student with a particular professor or tutoring group for extra help, or simply knowing about the myriad academic and social opportunities available on campus, it’s important that students know that I am a one-stop-liaison for any and all kinds of help on campus.

3. “I know that, at each meeting, my success coach and I are going to set concrete, achievable goals, and that she is going to FOLLOW UP in an effort to make sure I am on top of them.”

Number three is really a two-parter. I want students to feel the relief that comes with knowing that we are going to break this process down into manageable, bite-sized pieces. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will they be asked to fix everything all at once. However, I also want them to understand that, because these session-by-session goals will be small and concrete, there are concrete ways in which I can and WILL check to see if they are taking care of business. If they have any doubt, they can ask any of my former students, all of whom know that if I ever got a face tattoo of my philosophy in this arena, “trust but verify” would be forever etched across my forehead.

If, at the end of his or her first meeting with me, I’ve succeeded in imparting these three lessons to a student, there’s a good chance that student feels more empowered, confident, and supported than before he or she walked in the door. For example, just a few days ago I met for the first time with a freshman who barely squeaked through our admissions process (so close to the line that he didn’t get through the NCAA clearinghouse that would enable him to play his sport this year). At some point that afternoon, he struck up a conversation with a colleague of mine who works in the office of the Dean of Students. “A few days ago, I was really scared,” he admitted. “I didn’t know how people were going to be or if I’d make friends, but now I feel so much better! Everyone’s been really nice, I like all my professors, and,” he continued, “I have a success coach who’s going to make sure I get my stuff done!”

Over the course of our meeting, I had seen first-hand this young man’s expression change from one of deep anxiety to relief- the feeling of relief that can only come from realizing that he was not alone, that there were people here in this brave new world who really wanted him to succeed. It’s a good feeling.

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.