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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.

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 (http://www.npr.org/2013/11/14/245222230/roald-dahl-wanted-his-magical-matilda-to-keep-books-alive)

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 (http://vimeo.com/18913413). 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 http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/08/07/news/messy-vs-clean-workplace#.UogODwBcJ90.gmail

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.

Drop-Out Prevention and Alternatives for At-Risk College Students

Drop-Out Prevention and Alternatives for At-Risk College Students

College dropouts face tremendous challenges: fewer job opportunities, lower earning ability and lower socio-economic status. According to a paper published by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 47 percent surveyed say that dropping out of school made it hard to find a good job.

Those who graduate with a post-secondary degree earn on average nearly $20,000 more annually than those with a GED or high school diploma. Obtaining a diploma is the first and most important step on the road to opportunity. If you know how to find the right resources, there are alternatives available to at-risk students.

Preventing College Dropouts

It’s OK to reach out and look for help or options if your college student is in danger of dropping out. Many public, charter and private schools offer guidance counseling and resources for families in need.

  1. Tailor learning environment to student needs (different schools for different students): Not all people learn the same way. One reason many students cite for dropping out of school is the overwhelming change or the freedom is too much to manage. The online program at pennfoster.edu offers at-risk students with an alternative to traditional classroom settings. The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, dropoutprevention.org, is a good starting place to find alternatives to traditional universities. Your child may benefit from hands-on instruction, self-directed online instruction or another method of learning. Starting at a community college and living at home the first couple years can give your child a leg up in education and financial success.
  2. Look for career education programs: Job Corps (jobcorps.gov) is one source that offers free education and job training to low-income college students. Some school systems offer vocational training programs as alternatives to traditional college and university curricula. Before you enroll in a program, do a little homework to make sure it is reputable. The Federal Trade Commission offers guidelines for checking the backgrounds of these schools on itsConsumer Information page.

What If My Child Drops Out?

According to a 2011 Georgetown University study, professionals with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of 84 percent more than those with a high school diploma or GED. The study also estimated that 63 percent of jobs in America will require some sort of “post-secondary” education or training by 2018.

If your child drops out, work with him or her to understand the consequences of that choice. Set limits and let him or her know that you won’t be able to take care of him/her for the rest of his/her life. Set a deadline for finding a job or enrolling in college classes again or a vocational/technical program, and hold him/her to it.

 

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.