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Month: October 2013

Success Coach: After the Midterm

Success Coach: After the Midterm

I have written in more than a few previous blogs about how the job of a success coach varies over the course of a given semester. What is most important at the beginning of a semester is not necessarily what’s most important a week from finals and vice versa. Currently, my students have just passed the midterm, which is an incredibly important time both to assess a student’s academic (and general) progress as well as to tinker with or, at times, reformulate the plan going forward.

Right now my colleagues and I have received our students’ grades up to this point, and we are also wading through the numerous (thankfully!) progress reports filled out by professors. Interestingly, it’s not my students’ grades that are the most important at this time, as the majority of important assignments are neither graded nor even due until the final seven weeks. Therefore, what I really want to know is are they: 1) going to class, 2) completing assignments on time, and 3) turning in assignments that are adequate or better?

As far as my current students go it is, as always, a mixed bag. Some of them have already started to get the help they need, get with the program, or simply recognize that they’re no longer in high school; others continue to find ways to maintain a counterproductive status quo. Luckily, with the knowledge I now have about where each student finds him or herself this midterm, I can prescribe new ways to turn his or her ship around. Already, I have had three students of mine meet with professors in whose classes they are failing. One has missed three classes. Another has not missed class but continually turns things in late.

I am working with another student whose IEP gives him extensions on assignment deadlines, but he never communicated with the professor as to how late would be late.

And yet there are victories, both large and small, every day. An international student with whom I have been working has been telling me all semester that she had made an appointment to meet with her English professor, but I knew she hadn’t as surely as I knew why: she was terrified to fail. So, when she arrived for our last meeting, I announced that I had already made an appointment for her with her English professor and that we had better start walking now if we were to make it on time. The walk to her professor’s office was like trudging through molasses, but the walk back was pure cotton candy. Nikita had clearly overcome the thought that talking to her professor meant admitting failure, and she had even agreed to twice weekly private tutoring sessions.

It’s still early, which is both the blessing and the curse of midterms. One the one hand, students still have ample opportunity to figure it out before their semester grades are irredeemable; on the other, there is a long way to go and pitfalls aplenty. Hopefully, it is the relationship between success coaches and their students that will enable the world of higher education’s pits to stay fall-free.

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.

Week 5 Progress Reports

Week 5 Progress Reports

As we get closer and closer to the 5th week of the semester, we come closer to the first time of this school year that we will be receiving student progress reports. We have had professors fill out these 5-week reports for a few years now, and each year the process only gains more and more of their support. When we first decided to implement this idea, I went to the deans of each of our schools as well as the heads of each department with a sample report that we felt would both give us the best possible information on a student’s progress and be simple enough that an instructor could fill it out without it being a burdensome time commitment. In the end, we whittled the form down to five multiple choice questions:

1. Is the student completing the assignments?

yes  no  some


yes  no

2. Has the student missed classes?

yes  no

If so, how many?

3. How are the student’s writing skills?

good  average  poor

4. Do you think the student understands the material?

yes  no  somewhat  unsure

5. Does this student participate in class?

yes  no  somewhat

After these basic questions, professors can choose (or decline) to fill out two more, optional questions.

1. What is the student’s approximate grade so far in your class?

2. Do you have any other concerns about the student’s well-being, academic or otherwise?

Completing these progress reports is always optional, and early on, many saw it as just another thing that they had to do. (And as a former teacher not unfamiliar with the trials and tribulations of bureaucratic paperwork, I can relate.) But over the years, we have found the percentage of professors who complete and return these reports to us is steadily increasing. Not only that, but more and more professors are willing not just to fill it out but to be specific with their comments and concerns. We now are more apt to know, for example, when a student comes to class bleary-eyed, or is always falling asleep. This feedback has contributed enormously to the success of our program because the minute we know what a student is doing, we can get on it. The minute we know that a student doesn’t understand the material, or has missed class, or is not turning in assignments, we can begin to remedy the problem. Once, I had a student who had been telling me for weeks that math was her strongest subject.  “Don’t worry about math!” she would say, “it’s my best.” Well, week 5 came along and I learned from the progress report her math professor sent me that, well, it turned out that she had not been to class…at all. Nope. Nada. Not once.

Success coaches wear a lot of hats, but our job is always most effective when we are a part of a team of people invested in a student’s success. These progress reports now play a crucial role in increasing our ability to catch (and begin to solve) problems as they occur.

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.