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Month: December 2013

Success Coaching- 4 Traits of a Second Semester Freshman

Success Coaching- 4 Traits of a Second Semester Freshman

As 2013 comes to a close, many of us are thinking about the New Year: our goals, our resolutions, the ways in which we plan do better this time around.  Whether we want to finally lose those 20lbs., follow through on career ambitions, or simply take the time to enjoy more of life and those we love- this is the moment when we take a moment, ask ourselves what we really want in life, and re-commit to doing our best to achieve it. The students who will walk into my office this January are almost guaranteed to be in this same mindset, for they will be those who, for one reason or another (or for multiple reasons) had a bad fall semester and are looking to turn it around.

Over my years as a success coach, I have learned to expect 5 things from this crop of second semester students:

1. Most of them will be freshmen:

The vast majority of my new, spring semester students are freshmen who were not a part of the success coach program during the fall. This is partially good news, since it means that most of our students who struggle to GET their acts together during freshman year subsequently KEEP said acts together. However, I hate to see any of our students begin college with the kind of high school transcript which precludes mandatory participation in the success coach program only to falter on the first few miles of the marathon.

2. These freshmen will be surprised that college has not turned out to be like high school:

Of all the facial expressions I see when students come in for their first meeting with me, one of the most common is bewildered. “I don’t get it! What did I do?” is a common sentiment. These students used their high school experience to set expectations for college-level work and life, and then were genuinely surprised and confused when expectations did not match reality. Many of these students did quite well in high schools which turned out to be less rigorous than these students had any reason to think they were. Others simply did not foresee that there would be a significant jump in the level of time and effort that the average college course takes in relation to its high school counterpart.

3. They will have procrastinated because they could:

Last January, I began to work with a student who had failed two classes his fall semester, one because he didn’t turn in a single assignment on time and the other because he hadn’t turned in any assignments at all by the time that final exams rolled around. That’s an extreme example, of course, but it is indicative of a larger problem with first semester freshmen: they procrastinate because for the first time in their lives…they can. “That paper isn’t due for three weeks, but this hangout in the room of some people I’d like to get to know better is happening RIGHT NOW!” “I know I need to take an all-important final in a month, but this nap is really calling my name right now.” We can all relate, but for college freshmen, it’s a learning curve that is steeper for some than for others.

4. They will be stressed out and terrified when they walk in the door:

The easiest part about coaching second semester freshmen is that they’ve already been scared straight. For those who come to me the first time in the fall, everything is hypothetical- this could happen to you. For those who come to me in January, it has happened. They have “failed” almost immediately, and they’re freaking out about it. Thankfully, I often find these students more energized than demoralized by the struggles of their first semester. They can’t believe they are in the hole they are in, but instead of resigning themselves to an underground existence, they want desperately to climb out of the hole.

I believe that one of the most important things you can do as a success coach dealing with a student who has faltered is to impress upon him or her the truth that one setback does not a failure make. With my students, I ask them to think of or research five successful people who experienced major setbacks on their path to success. The discovery? Nearly EVERY successful person has experienced a setback on his or her way to success! Edison had hundreds of failed experiments on his way to inventing the light bulb. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company. Athletes overcome months-long injuries and authors overcome years-long writer’s block. The take away, therefore, is that each student’s current trials can be overcome. For a student looking toward the New Year with a sense of renewed determination mixed with trepidation, it’s a very important message.

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 Path to Self-Sufficiency

The Path to Self-Sufficiency

“My mom used to take care of everything, and now it’s just me.” – Kiera

A lot has been made as of late about this generation of college students’ lack of self-sufficiency. We talk of over-structured childhoods and helicopter parents, and we lament that we have seemingly produced an entire generation of young adults who have never had to structure their time or take care of their responsibilities on their own. I think this cultural phenomenon is far from universal, but I do think there is some truth to it. I do see how students who are used to parents or other adults swooping in to “fix,” to “organize,” to “schedule” become existentially confused when the game suddenly changes. (I could also write a book about universities’ struggles to deal with parents who continue to try to exert this kind of control even after the child has left home for college.) I see students whose every waking moment has been scheduled by someone else from birth to the age of 18 struggle trying to handle a weekly schedule in which planned time for studying will go largely or completely unmonitored. But this is not completely new. I remember feeling some of these same things when I went to college, and that was in the ’60s! I distinctly remember realizing during my first semester that no one was going to wake me up and drag me out of bed to class. In large classes, in fact, my professors would probably never even know whether I was in the room! It was up to me and me alone to make sure I got myself to class, the library, or the practice room every day, which not infrequently involved trudging through snow while wearing a mini-skirt (again, it was the ’60s, and being self-sufficient doesn’t mean all your choices will be smart ones).

Then there’s the conversation regarding whether success coaching itself is just a continuation of this tradition of “coddling” students instead of throwing them into the pool until they learn to swim. Those who think it is decry success coaching as doing for students what they should be doing themselves, but if that were the case, the rate at which students in the success coaching program went from academic probation to a four-year degree would be 100%. I know from experience that that is, unfortunately, not at all the case.

Success coaching, in fact, can work wonders for students who come to school lacking the kind of self-sufficiency to excel in an academic environment (and subsequently, the working world) because we can be that lifeguard on the side of the pool. We aren’t doing the swimming for anybody, but we can try to save people from drowning. We provide the support and encouragement students need to feel safe enough to change their behavior, take risks, fall and get back up again- while also helping them build the tools to become truly self-sufficient (as much as any of us can be as social beings in an interconnected world).

With my students, it all starts with a conversation about what they’ve experienced thus far. When Kiera said to me, “My mom used to take care of everything, and now it’s just me,” I paused before asking, “why do you think she did that?” It was a question that Kiera had never considered. “Well,” she began, “I think she probably just wanted me to do well.” I nodded. “And she still does, but maybe it’s not such a good thing that she took care of everything for you.” This is always a tricky sentence because I need to convey that their parents are human beings while simultaneously making it clear that in no way am I knocking anybody’s mama. From that realization, my students can begin to figure out how they can do it on their own, reminding them that big changes like this don’t happen overnight. They’ve got to build up the skills of mindfulness and will power (I would love to hit up that room party, but I’ve got to get some reading done). They have recognize bad habits before they can change them (I guess I do procrastinate more when I’m not crazy about the class, even though I know the grade is going to matter just as much). They have to create a system of organization and planning that works for them (I need to schedule an exact time slot for going to the library, since every time I tell myself I’ll go “sometime today” I never seem to make it).

As success coaches, we can talk about these concepts with our students both practically and abstractly. We can help students both zoom out and see the patterns and holes in experience that cause them to stubble, and zoom in in order to get the next day’s work 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.

Facilitating The Relationship Between Students and Professors

Facilitating The Relationship Between Students and Professors

Maintaining a good relationship with a professor can have a huge impact on a student’s level of comprehension, performance, and eventual grade in a particular course. This can be especially true in large classes, where a professor may not have the ability to notice when one student out of a hundred is struggling, but in general, maintaining good communication with a professor is one of the best and easiest ways for students to guarantee positive results. Unfortunately, not all students are naturally assertive or confident enough to seek out and build these relationships. Many of the students who walk through my door are intimidated by these gate-keepers, these makers and breakers of their collegiate success. Others simply do not realize that a student/professor relationship can be a two-way street in the first place; they don’t know that going to a professor for help or clarification is even an option, so they don’t go.

When helping to facilitate relationships between my students and their professors, I emphasize three simple tips:

1. Smile, pay attention, and ask questions in class.

The sooner a professor knows your name, the sooner he or she will start to pay attention to you. And the more you make your own presence felt in class, the more likely it is that he or she will remember you the next time. You’ll be “on the radar” so to speak, which will make it easier when you want to speak one-on-one or come to office hours. In addition, I remind students that professors love those who show an active interest in the subject they have spent a lifetime mastering. And who do you think a professor is more likely to grant that elusive favor- an extension on a paper after you had to go home for a family emergency or extra credit after a disappointing return on your midterm exam- someone who has been a vocal participant in the last six weeks of class, or someone who has tried to hide in the back unnoticed?

2. Find an excuse to go visit your professors at the beginning of the semester.

This is another way to get on a professor’s “radar” early on and can be especially helpful if a student is having trouble understanding either the material/concepts involved in the course or the criteria/standards on which the professor is grading work. It’s not always easy to read a professor’s mind- some are extremely clear about what they expect of students and the particulars regarding how they want work done/submitted, but others are less so. Fortunately, there is no better way to discern what a professor really wants than to meet with him or her in person. This can be so daunting that I sometimes role play with my students so that they can walk themselves through a meeting beforehand; I will also walk students all the way to their professors’ office doors for their initial meeting. Often, the long walk from my office to the professor’s is tense and silent; however, the walk back is almost always the exact opposite. Students emerge from initial meetings with professors with huge smiles on their faces. “That wasn’t scary at all!” they exclaim. “He/She was so nice, and now I really feel like now I know what to do!”

Which brings me to…

3. Understand that professors are people too.

Remember when you were in elementary school and you saw your teacher at the grocery store, and it blew your mind? “Wait,” you thought, “Ms. Hyatt gets groceries? That must mean that when I leave school, she leaves too?!” At first, the idea made no sense at all. Then, slowly, you got it. “Ohhhhhhhh, my teacher is also a person in the world who lives somewhere and goes to the grocery store and maybe even…the movies.” (No, that’s too crazy. She can’t go to the movies.) The disconnect is perhaps less extreme once students get to college, but most college students, especially in their first year, still see their professors in two dimensions. They may be mean, nice, good, bad, (or mediocre), boring, inspiring, approachable, intimidating…but they’re certainly not vast and containing multitudes. They’re certainly not fully 3-dimensional human beings with blind-spots, soft-spots, prejudices, senses of humor, and deep wisdom. They don’t get tired or hungry or come to class five minutes after being told really bad news. Of course not!

I try to help my students see that professors are people and, as such, each one different from the next. In order to understand how to excel in a certain professor’s class, it’s imperative that you try to understand the professor. Once a student figures out that his or her professors are humans too, it can become much easier to forge a relationship.

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.