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Answering Questions From Professors About Success Coaching – Part 3

Answering Questions From Professors About Success Coaching – Part 3

Question #3:  What’s the difference between a student having a success coach and working with professors during office hours?

A success coach’s job is not to help students with their classwork (though we’ve been known to read a chapter or two with a student or spend a session digging into some material with which he or she is particularly struggling), but to make sure they can successfully access the resources on campus that provide help. This includes seeing professors during office hours which, of course, has tremendous value, but it can also mean connecting a student with a tutor or group session. To some, this can seem like unnecessary “middle-manning.” Why can’t students just find those resources themselves? Why don’t they just make an appointment with a professor or walk into the tutoring center and ask for a tutor? Well, some students can. Some students arrive on campus with the maturity and self-assurance to walk right up to a professor after class and announce that they need a little one-on-one time, but many don’t. Some are savvy enough to seek out resources like tutoring or a study group, but some don’t even know where to begin. And for those students, it can be harder than you think to get them to actually follow through.

Success coaches have a broader, more holistic view of a student’s workload and life in general than a professor or a faculty advisor may be able to have. Because I am looking at the big picture, I may know that registering for two writing-intensive courses might be perfectly okay for Student A but potentially disastrous for Student B. I know that, because Student C is involved in a sport during a particular semester, it’s even more important that he manage his time well and stay healthy.

I have also found that, because our relationship with students exists solely in a student/coach capacity (we have no power to influence a student’s GPA, for example), students often open up to us earlier and more fully than they might a professor or even faculty advisor. As part of a recent effort to redevelop our first year experience program, we sent a questionnaire to our current upperclassmen regarding the ways in which they thought we could improve students’ experiences as freshmen. Many of these juniors and seniors noted that, despite the ways in which we tried to foster relationships between students and their freshman seminar instructors, many students were reluctant to do so. Students reported not wanting to tell these instructors- who are all professors at the university- about their personal lives or academic struggles because they felt like that information might work against them if in the future they took a course with that professor.

Professors, faculty advisors, counselors, athletic coaches, and success coaches are all part of the same team, though each team member has a different primary function and focus when it comes to helping students succeed. With everyone working together, we can increase retention and graduation rates in our universities and colleges. 

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.

Answering Questions From Professors About Success Coaching – Part 2

Answering Questions From Professors About Success Coaching – Part 2

Question #2:  What are the main reasons so many first year students do poorly and end up on academic warning or probation after the fall semester?

From the perspective of the success coaches who end up with these students, there are two issues that we see most often:

1. A student misses a class, then misses another one and then before they know it, they find themselves in trouble in the course.  Why do they decide not to go to class?  Answers from my students: “I can just choose not to go. No one is making me go”.  “Someone told me you can miss a class, it won’t matter”. “I am so tired that I just had to take a nap”.  “My friends were going to ________  and I wanted to go”.  Answers are many and varied.  Most of these reasons fall under the category of “no one is making me go”.  We have to be able to motivate students to see beyond this semester, this week, today, this hour.  Many students have difficulty with motivating themselves to get up, go to class, turn in assignments and stay focused.  This is decidedly NOT high school and there is no principal to call a truant officer when a student misses a class.  One of our success coaches is a former high school principal who laughs when she recalls how easy it was to just hand attendance issues over to a truant officer.  She could also use detention and calling parents as motivators. None of these are available to us at the college level. We had better have great motivating stories to tell as well as tricks up our sleeves to help students change directions.

2.  Assignments are to be done well and turned in ON TIME!  Problems arise when students get behind in just one course not to mention two or three.  I have had students working in my office to make sure they are finishing a paper or an assignment or just reading the material.  They often leave thanking me for making them do their work.  Somehow we both overlook the fact that I can’t MAKE them do anything.  At the end of each semester, students in the success coach program turn in evaluations for the coaches who guided them through the fourteen weeks.  Many times we see: “It was great to have someone who held me accountable”.

Weight Watchers found this out years ago when they started group meetings for weight loss. People do better when they are held accountable by peers, parents, professors, program evaluators, etc.  Being held accountable is exactly what students will encounter in the “real world” when they are working and reporting to someone above their pay grade. We hope that all future doctors, accountants, intelligence officers, plumbers, etc. had someone hold them accountable for learning the knowledge and skills they will need.

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.

Answering Questions From Professors About Success Coaching

Answering Questions From Professors About Success Coaching

Question 1: (Actual question from a real professor)

What do you success coaches do anyway? Your student is failing my English 152 class.

Answer: When we know a student is failing a class, we first try to see if it because the student is A) not attending class, B) not taking notes or reading the material, C) not turning in assignments on time (or not turning in assignments period), or D) unprepared for this level of class. To find out this information, we check SAT/ACT scores, high school grades, and talk with the student about previous experiences in this subject.

When a student is failing, we first want the student to see the professor to ask for help and, in the worst case scenario, to see if there are enough points left to gain in the semester to allow the student to pass the course with at least a C. We also want him or her to discuss with the professor whether it would be more advantageous to drop the course and take the same or a lower level course next semester. Some students are intimidated on visits to professors and don’t readily give out information about their past academic challenges. If students trust their success coaches (and we have found this to be true in the vast majority of cases), they will open up to disclose the real issues with their academics. And the real issues sometimes don’t have anything to do with their ability to do the work. They may be have a substance abuse problem, physical or mental health issues, issues concerning relationships with family or a significant other, financial stress, or any of a host or other stresses. Then there are the most common problems: procrastination and time management.

As success coaches, we are very up front and straight with the students. We show them what kind of grades they must make on papers, exams, and assignments in order to pass a certain class.  We discuss all options, and together come up with a game plan. Some students come to college missing skills and knowledge in one of more subject areas, so we (as well as most institutions) have remedial level courses to address these deficiencies. But if the student is missing a few skills, then perhaps tutoring or workshops offered by the academic success center would be best. If the student, the professor, and the coach believe the best option is to drop the class, however, then that is what we do. If it happens that the subject is in their major, we have a serious discussion about their interest and/or ability to complete the courses necessary for the major.

In the end, it is the responsibility of the student to do the work necessary to not only pass the class but genuinely retain the information. Because the ultimate goal, of course, is not to simply pass classes but to develop the skills and knowledge for students to be successful at the college level so that they can graduate and go on to bigger and better things in their field. As I tell my students, “when you get out of college- you’re supposed to actually know something.”

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.

Boys to Men – Success Coaching Young Men

Boys to Men – Success Coaching Young Men

It has been well documented in recent years that women’s college graduation rates have started to outpace those of their male counterparts. In addition, more women than men are now going on to earn masters and post-doctoral degrees. There is a lot of debate about why this is and what we can do to close the disparity, but part of the solution certainly involves giving extra aid to struggling male undergraduates, especially in their first years of college.

Of the 80 students in our success coaching program this semester, more than 60 are male. Perhaps it’s that some of these students are a little less mature when they arrive, perhaps it takes male students a little longer to settle in socially than females, or perhaps, as can be the case of some of the student athletes I’ve worked with, it takes them awhile to see a college degree as a pathway to success rather than a burdensome prerequisite to NCAA eligibility. (While our female athletes can also get stuck in this mindset, most of them realize that, due to the reduced number of opportunities in professional women’s sports, they can’t necessarily count on “going pro” as Plan A.)

So how do we most effectively serve male students who are struggling? The good news is that, of all demographics, male students have been found to respond particularly well to success coaching. A study published in 2011 by Rachel Baker and Dr. Eric Bettinger of Stanford University found that while success coaching can benefit both male and female students, there is evidence to suggest that its effect is even larger for males.

One thing that has been interesting in our own program is that, while most of our students are male, most of our success coaches are female. We have and have had male coaches, but in general, it seems the job itself as well as its part-time employment status attracts a primarily female pool of former teachers and social workers. This, of course, is not the only model of a great success coach, but we find that most of our male students relate very well to our largely female staff. Who knows to what extent, but it also seems that age may be a factor, as many of our success coaches are the age of the mothers and/or grandmothers of our students. I always smile when I see a student burst into his success coach’s office to announce that he’s gotten an A on an exam with the “walls down” exuberance reserved only for certain people in his life.

I have noticed that my male students respond particularly well to a mix of maternal care and hard-nosed pushing. You’ve got to prove to a student that you care about him as a person before you can lay down the law, but once you have established mutual trust and respect, male students seem to really rise to the occasion the tougher you are on them. In fact, I’ve had a number of former students stop in my office or contact me to thank for me for “not letting them get away with anything.” It may seem cliché, but male students really do seem to excel when you outline what’s expected of them in clear terms and then push them hard to get it done.

Recently, a group of Navy Seals did a team-building workshop with our football team. One of my students, a defensive lineman who has a particularly difficult course load this semester, told me beforehand that the training was likely to be brutal. “You’re alive!” I exclaimed when he walked into my office for our next meeting. “Barely,” he replied smiling. I asked him what he had learned that might apply to his academic work. “I learned that I have the ability to ‘gut out’ just about anything,” he said. “There will be an end to this semester; until then, I just have to access that ability to be strong, keep going, and get it done.”

Yes Grasshopper, I thought, now you are catching on.

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 – Willpower

Success Coaching – Willpower

All of us have, at one time or another, struggled with that unfortunate necessity: willpower. At times we have succeeded in avoiding temptation (I ordered the side salad instead of the fries!) or doing the thing we hate the most (Hello, TurboTax!). At other times, however, we have fallen short (I’m just going to open up TurboTax here and…wait…did my sister just post new, adorable pics of my nephew on facebook? I’m gonna check those out for just a sec…)

For college students, especially those who find themselves on academic probation or warning, a lack of will power and self-control is often a major if not the primary cause of their struggles in school. Academically, my students often have difficulty sticking to a study schedule, starting long term assignments early, turning in assignments on time, and even going to class. But as anyone who has been to college can attest, students need willpower outside the classroom too; after all, pizzerias don’t flock within delivery distance of every university in America because of the astronomically high earning power of college students. Many of my students have difficulty eating healthfully and exercising, which can negatively affect not just their physical and mental health but also their ability to focus and perform well academically.

So how do you teach willpower? How can a success coach help create an environment in which students can more easily build up their ability to resist temptation and accomplish difficult or undesirable tasks?

1. HOW DO YOU GET TO CARNEGIE HALL?

Practice Practice Practice! Willpower, like any other skill from mental math to shooting a free throw to meditation, takes practice. And the good news is: practicing willpower in any situation can help you be better at it when it when it really counts! Studies have shown that regularly making small decisions that require self-control (taking the stairs instead of the elevator, making one’s bed every morning, forswearing swearing when someone cuts you off in traffic) grows one’s capacity for self-control in all situations. Anything that causes you to override an impulse to either indulge (that second piece of pie) or avoid (that looming email inbox) can be good practice for when you are confronted with the situations that are really hard.

2. TARGET YOUR TRIGGERS

I always ask my students to list the things they find it most difficult to either do or avoid, and I think it’s important to make the distinction between the two. It may be difficult for me to avoid turning on the TV when I really should be studying, but succeeding in not turning on the TV doesn’t necessarily mean I have opened a textbook. There are some things we really really want to do but shouldn’t, and others we should do but really really don’t want to. Therefore, I ask my students to write down both types of trigger situations as well as to note any overlap or interrelation between the two. If I always seem to avoid working on a paper by futzing around on the internet, then perhaps I should work on the paper somewhere that doesn’t have Wifi (if I can find one in 2014) or at least turn off all notifications during the set period I have allotted for work.

3. MEASURE YOURSELF FOR A CAP AND GOWN

Many of my students are the first in their families to go to college, and so one of the things I ask them to do in situations in which they need to use a little willpower is to literally visualize the end goal: graduation day. Who is there watching you walk across the stage? Those people who are in your corner- maybe your mom or dad or grandma or that little brother who will see your success and realize that his dreams might just be achievable too- are they there? How do they look? How do you feel in your cap and gown as you wave to them from your seat among all the other graduates? Now, every time you are tempted to go to that impromptu dorm party when you really should be studying, even if you tell yourself you’ll only go for an hour before getting back to the books (a hilarious lie we have all told ourselves at some point in out lives), remind yourself of that image. You are closer to it every minute you stay above water. This doesn’t mean, of course, that any time spent partying or relaxing with friends is wrong or wasted. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and probably a pretty sad human being. It just means that, if spending two hours right now on macroeconomics will get you closer to the exhilaration of walking across the stage at graduation, the shouts from all those who have supported you and cheered you on ringing through the air, open that economics book and remind yourself that there will be another party tomorrow.

4. CARROTS AND STICKS: CARROTS ARE ACTUALLY PRETTY HEALTHY, AND STICKS SHOULDN’T KILL

We can all be pretty hard on ourselves. We fail, and instead of getting back in the game we tell ourselves, “you are so stupid for failing! No one else is failing, and if you were worth a darn you wouldn’t either!” Each of us has a different mantra that our inner critic repeats to us over and over, but we all have some version of it. With my students, I remind them that it doesn’t do much good to beat yourself up when you fall off the horse. They all have failed to some degree already, and too much self-criticism can become demoralizing and eventually defeatist. On the other hand, if you not only acknowledge your mistake but also give yourself a kindly lift back into the saddle, you will be more apt to commit to continuing the ride. Likewise, rewarding yourself for small victories can be healthy and motivating as long as you don’t let a little reward send you into full temptation gratification. “If I finish three pages, I’ll go get a mocha at the coffee shop,” can do a lot to boost energy and morale…as long as the mocha doesn’t lead you to, Augustus Gloop-style, fall headfirst into a river of chocolate.

As with everything, it’s a process. Willpower is a lifetime sport. As a success coach, I teach my students that every setback is one small step for man (or woman), and every victory…one giant leap toward achieving a worthwhile goal.

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.

Be Bad At Something…Until You’re Not

Be Bad At Something…Until You’re Not

Recently, I’ve been reading the book Nine Things Successful People Do Differently by Social Psychologist and Associate Director of Columbia Business School’s Motivation and Science Center Heidi Grant Halvorson. The book is full of interesting thoughts and sage advice, but I’ve been focusing on one chapter in particular as it relates to my current crop of second semester students.

The chapter is titled, “Focus on Getting Better, Rather Than Being Good,” and it speaks to the thoroughly debunked yet pervasive notion that our aptitudes, personalities, and personal strengths and weakness are fixed. How many times have you heard someone say (and perhaps this someone is you): “I’m just bad at math.” Or, “I’m a slow reader.” I do this all the time even as an adult. “I’m good with faces,” I say to the person whose name I’ve forgotten again, “but so bad with names.”

While of course people’s brains think in different ways, and while we are usually “naturally” better at some things than others, this is no way means that we cannot get better at the things at which we struggle. A large and growing body of research has shown that abilities are, in fact, profoundly malleable. In the words of Halvorson: “embracing the fact that you can change can lead you to make better choices and reach your full potential.” While I agree with almost all of this statement, I’d like to take a moment to disagree with the idea of “full potential.” The phrase “full potential” insinuates an end point, a point at which we could not get better or go further if we tried for a million years. It seems to indicate a finite universe in which limits of time, space, and energy exist. For better or worse, I do not believe in such limits. It’s the blessing and the curse of being human. We cannot possibly achieve it all (a reality that can frustrate us and at times make it seem as if all of our striving is for naught), and we cannot possibly achieve it all (the absolute best thing there is, for it leaves another adventure always beyond the next horizon!). However, Halvorson’s main point is that we can change even the things about ourselves we believe to be fixed, and that the first step to enacting change is understanding that it is possible.

With my students, I first try to take them back in time. “When you were two years old,” I ask some of my athletes, “were you good at basketball?” They laugh. The question is absurd. “Of course not!” Then I ask, “when you were in 7th grade, were you better at basketball than you were when you were two years old?” Now it’s starting to make sense. “But when you were in 7th grade, did you think that you were the best you would ever be at basketball just because you were better than you were when you were two?” The answer to this question is a universal no.

I also remind them of something they already know because they are experiencing it: when you are inexperienced or new at something, the odds of making mistakes are naturally higher. Learning something new- whether it’s a killer jumpshot or string theory or the art of time management- can be hard. It doesn’t feel good to be bad at something. It feels bad! It can be frustrating and intimidating and at times overwhelming. But you have a choice. You can take those feelings for what they feel like– a sign that a certain skill or concept is unlearnable or simply not for you- or you can take them for what they are- the natural but temporary discomfort that comes with being a rookie.

I’ve had students who find themselves in a course that is much more difficult than anything they ever experienced in high school. They don’t understand the lectures. They don’t understand the reading. They’re scared and intimidated and they feel like giving up. So we talk about “getting better rather than being good.” Perhaps next class they get a handle on one of the concepts being discussed. Better! Perhaps they schedule a meeting with the professor or a tutor to go over the material. Better! The pressure to get it right the first time often results in many more mistakes and a far inferior performance than allowing yourself to be bad at something until, well, you’re not so bad at it anymore.

And you know what? The message is being received. Since 2007, the success coach program at my university has seen over 700 students walk through our doors. And every year, more and more former students and upperclassmen spread the word to freshman as well as older students who find themselves struggling. All of my students this semester knew about the program before our first meeting. They knew friends, classmates, or teammates who had worked with a success coach in the past, and this kind of word-of-mouth support for the program has basically erased any and all stigma that could be attached to needing academic help. Students entering the program now see it for the tool that it is: a headlamp, a compass, a rope thrown down to the bottom of the well.

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.

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.