Browsed by
Author: Susan Marion

Overcoming Setbacks

Overcoming Setbacks

For all of us, setbacks are a natural, unavoidable part the process of achievement and success. For most of us, this fact is as difficult to remember as it is true. When we find ourselves smack in the middle of a failure, disappointment, or delay, we fear that this is it. All of our hard work and all of our best efforts have led us here- and “here” is exactly where we did not want to be. Of course, that’s because in these moments when we feel the most demoralized, the most like giving up, these brains of ours that studies have shown are naturally more hard-wired towards negative thinking than positive don’t call the events we are experiencing “setbacks” but “failures.” While a setback is temporary- a boulder in the road- a failure feels permanent, a dead end.

The first thing, then, that we must do in order to help students overcome setbacks is to change the language. To remind them that this disappointing “here” is a temporary place. With my students, I often use the examples of athletes or other famous people they know and respect who overcame serious setbacks only to go on to achieve great things. We talk about Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team. We talk about Thomas Edison who once said of inventing the light bulb, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Sure, some setbacks are larger than others, and here I am reminded of the classic board game Chutes and Ladders. Remember how there were chutes and ladders of varying sizes, but there was one really big ladder and one really big chute? We can think of that big ladder as akin to something like the young actor who, on his third day in Hollywood, nails the lead in a blockbuster franchise that catapults him to overnight success. The big chute, on the other hand, is like the entrepreneur who scrapes and saves, invests carefully through the years in the growth of her business until one day, due to a crash in the market or perhaps a natural disaster, she loses everything she’s built over decades in the course of a day. But just as that actor’s meteoric rise is never the whole story, neither is it the end game for the entrepreneur.

Next, I remind them that setbacks are normal. They are an unfortunate but inescapable part of the deal, I tell my students, so the fact that you are experiencing one means that you are just in that part of the process right now. Once students see that what they are experiencing is normal, even when the particular circumstances in which they find themselves could have been prevented, they begin to let go of the guilt-induced stress of past mistakes and are therefore better able to give all necessary focus and energy to the present challenge.

Finally, I make sure my students know that my door is always open even after they leave the Success Coaching program. I frequently get drop-ins, calls, and emails from former students who find themselves experiencing a momentary setback. Sometimes they ask for information that will connect them to resources that can help, sometimes we talk through a particular problem and map out a plan together, and sometimes they just need a pep talk. In any case, they know that if and when the going gets tough again (and it will, over and over, until the end of this miraculous thing we call life), I’ll always have their back.

Last night I attended a men’s basketball game on campus, and on the bench was a student I had at least a year ago. The fall semester of Eddie’s freshman year had been an utter disaster (much like the player in Chutes and Ladders who lands on a chute on the first roll), and when he came to me he was defensive, his mask of bravado seemingly impenetrable despite (yet obviously due to) his dire situation. Quickly, I noticed that, although his math grades were the weakest of the bunch, he was registered as a business major. After going over the data with him I asked, “are you sure you want to be in this field?” He told me that he didn’t really know what he wanted to do and that he had decided to major in business largely because some of his friends were doing so. “Well, would you be interested in changing your major to one that better suits your strengths?” His eyes widened. “I can do that?” he asked. We got up and walked to the office of the advising specialist right then and there. After the game last night, Eddie came up to me brimming with pride. “I made a 3.0 in the fall!” he exclaimed. Now majoring in criminal justice, Eddie has only two semesters left until he graduates, and in the midst of all of this academic striving has managed to become nationally ranked by the NCAA in track and field.

Game. Setback. Match.

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.

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.

3 Work Habits of Productive Students

3 Work Habits of Productive Students

It’s not easy to buckle down and get things done- just ask Congress! But seriously folks, even after years in the professional world, we all still have days where we sit in front of the computer, the internal monologue of our brains sounding like a car that won’t turn over. We are trying our best to knock out that grant proposal, or powerpoint presentation, or poem- but we just can’t focus. And then, of course, it really does feel like time for a muffin…

Not surprisingly, students also run into problems with focus when trying to complete assignments, study, or write papers- problems that can be compounded when combined with issues like a lack of motivation or comprehension of the material, as is often the case with students who end up on academic probation or warning.

Right now, I have two students in particular who have been having trouble. For Jenna, the issue is both motivation and comprehension. Fernando, on the other hand, is genuinely motivated. He’s also a social butterfly, so for him, it’s about distractions. He will start his work in my office or a solitary corner of the library, but by the time he’s gotten back to the dorm to finish up, he’s encountered four or five better offers than another two hours trying to hammer out the next paragraph on the economics of social migration in ancient Mesoamerica.

Working with these two students has rekindled my interest in studying the ways in which students can optimize their ability to focus and be productive. Here are 3 “musts” for getting things done:

1. Make Space and Time

It was a recent interview (

with the youngest daughter of author Roald Dahl that reminded me of the importance of both creating a physical space conducive to work as well as mandating (and keeping to) a regular time commitment in order to do it. According to Lucy Dahl, “His hut was a sacred place…he sat in his mother’s old armchair and then put his feet up on an old leather trunk. His work sessions were very strict — he worked from 10 until 12 every day and then again from 3 until 5 every day. Even if there was nothing to write he would still, as he would say, ‘put his bottom on the chair.’ ”

2. Optimize your space for “Closed” and “Open” Modes

A few weeks ago, I watched a lecture on creativity by comedy icon John Cleese ( In it, he espouses the idea of two “modes” of operating- open, where we take a step back, brainstorm, look at the task at hand as a whole- and closed, where we hone in on specific decisions and implement them. This made me think of the different ways in which my students must approach something like a paper in its initial stages- choosing a topic, research, coming up with a thesis- versus the “closed mode” task of putting words on the page. Some of my students excel in the open mode and can tell me verbatim exactly what they want to do and how they plan to do it but have difficulty executing the work. Others have the capacity to write a really good paper in very little time…if they could only figure out what they want to write about. Consequently, I am continuing to look for ways in which students can create the kind of space and time optimal for each of these modes. (For example, another radio interview I heard recently

discussed a study that found that a neat work area was more conducive to structured tasks, while a messy one inspired more creativity.)

3. Remove Distractions

According to the American Psychological Association, multiple studies have shown not only that the idea of “multitasking” is a myth (we are merely switching back and forth between tasks) but also that our distracted, “multitasking” culture is actually making us less efficient, not more. It may be especially difficult to convince students who have grown up doing their homework amidst checking texts and updating their facebook status’ that they will be well served by trying their best to remove distractions, but…hold on, I just got a notice that it’s my turn on Words With Friends…ok, now what was I saying?

We’ve all had those times when we’re riding the wave. These are the spans of work time when thoughts and words flow easily, and when we consume page after page of reading with both speed and comprehension. Because we are focused and “in the moment”, hours can go by in what seems like minutes. Suddenly we’ve finished that insurmountable project without entirely remembering what seemed so daunting in the first place. We’ve also felt that terrifying sensation of, “my brain has gone inexplicably blank! This thing is due by tomorrow morning and I’ve got absolutely nothing!” These are the same feelings my students go through, and because they have less experience than many of us do, they’re doing it all like Ginger Rogers…backwards and in heels.

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.

Guiding Students Through the Registration Process

Guiding Students Through the Registration Process

College, like life, is all about the balance between the macro and the micro- between long term planning and what’s at the very top of the to do list. Nowhere in the university setting can that interplay be seen more clearly than during registration. As a success coach, part of my job is to help students, especially freshmen and sophomores, choose a course load that will set them up for success both during the semester for which they are registering as well as in terms of their long-term college goals.

When thinking about the semester itself, I help students try to achieve balance in the amount and type of coursework a given set of classes will likely require (considering his or her academic strengths/weaknesses as well as other factors that may influence the amount of time a student will likely have to study). Knowing the student well means a lot in this regard. For example, last week I met with a student whose freshman seminar advisor had recommended to him a certain course load that included four reading and writing intensive courses and one higher level math course. However, because I get to spend much more one-one-one time with each of my students than a freshman advisor does, I know that, in addition to writing not being his strong suit, this particular student plays a Spring sport. We reworked the plan to include fewer writing intensive courses, and we organized his week so he would not be overloaded on any given day with the demands of both athletics and academics. Especially for students who are struggling to climb out of an academic hole, it is important to create a short-term registration plan that will give them the greatest possible chances for success.

We also, of course, have to strategize and plan based on a student’s long term goals. For my students who come to school (or quickly realize) what they want to major in, this is about making sure they are completing core requirements while also taking at least one or two classes that fulfill the requirements of their major. Many students don’t realize, for example, that some courses are only offered in the fall, or only once every two years, or may be offered every semester but fill up quickly. These conversations help them map out a 4-year plan, even as they are focused primarily on registering for the semester ahead.

For students who do not yet know what they want to major in, I remind them that it’s perfectly okay not to know. I let them know that exploration is not just okay- it’s encouraged! Many first and second year students are primarily fulfilling core requirements anyway, so they will still be able to register for a full load of classes. Then, I say, “find room to take at least one course each semester in an area in which you think you might be interested, just to try it out.” I remind them that a broad, general education makes you, well, an educated person! And isn’t that just as important (or, in my opinion, even more so) than exclusively honing in, at the age of 19 or 20, on a particular, specialized skill set?

In the end, helping students through the registration process is about showing them how to look at big and small simultaneously, and that is a skill they can take with them throughout their lives.

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.

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.


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.