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Success Coach: After the Midterm

Success Coach: After the Midterm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

Week 5 Progress Reports

Week 5 Progress Reports

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

1. Is the student completing the assignments?

yes  no  some

Adequately?

yes  no

2. Has the student missed classes?

yes  no

If so, how many?

3. How are the student’s writing skills?

good  average  poor

4. Do you think the student understands the material?

yes  no  somewhat  unsure

5. Does this student participate in class?

yes  no  somewhat

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

 

Success Coach Accountability

Success Coach Accountability

One of the many faces of a success coach is that of the “newspaper editor.” In my mind, the newspaper editor is one of those hard-boiled, almost mythical newsroom fixtures of old always seen walking around the bull pen, chomping on a cigar, calling out to the rookie reporter: “Masterson! You better have that scoop you’re writing on my desk by the end of the day or it’ll be the last time you see your name in print, ya hear?!” Though this model is not exactly the one to which I subscribe, the basic premise of this part of my job is this: it’s important for struggling college student to have someone to whom they must be accountable on a regular basis.

However, it’s not just students who need accountability in order to produce their best results; success coaches, too, must continue to check and re-check our status, progress, and methods. That’s why, at each of our bimonthly success coach meetings, all of the coaches in our program are required to submit a status report for each of our students. These reports contain three basic pieces of information:

1. Whether the student has been present for all scheduled meetings with their coaches. If there have been absences, how many and for what reason/s?

2. The number of documented study hours the student has accrued in the past two weeks. (We require all of our students in the success coach program to put in a certain number of hours of documented study time- they must sign in, sign out, and an authorized staff member must approve the validity of these signatures as well as the time accounted for- in either the library or the academic support center.)

3. A short, written summary about how the student is doing as well as a brief outline of the action plan the coach and student have developed to deal with any issues. These summaries can speak to academic issues we are dealing with, i.e.:  “student has expressed concern about math class, so we are looking for a tutor,” or more social ones:  “student continues to have trouble with his roommate, so we are setting up a meeting with his RA.”

Accountability is crucial in making sure that our program works effectively for our students. It also helps me, personally, keep track of the progress a student is or is not making. If I find myself writing the same short summary over and over again for the same student, I know that something’s not working. Likewise, nothing makes me happier than when I am able to write simply, “student is really on the ball now. She has gotten organized, is staying focused, and I expect good things.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

Organizational Skills Lead to Success

Organizational Skills Lead to Success

How do you keep your life organized? Your home? Your desk? If I looked into your closet, would I find it neatly organized by color and season, or would it initially look like chaos until you explained to me the method behind your madness? We all know that, in order to manage our lives successfully, we need to be organized. I, for example, live by my planner. (And as long as they sell ’em, I will always prefer a low-tech daily planner to a phone or tablet. There’s just something satisfying about writing things down on a physical piece of paper, and I won’t give it up no matter how shiny that iCal is!) If I don’t have it written in my planner, it’s not happening, which is why I’ve learned over the years to write things down immediately after scheduling. But organizational skills, like time management and a few other skills crucial for success in college are not necessarily intuitive for the average high school student turned college freshman.

One of the reasons that my students enter school or end up on academic probation in the first place is that their lack of organization is rendering moot all of the skills they do possess. For example, one of my new students this semester, a freshman named Jacob, is both intellectually curious and hardworking. I predict he would be producing competent and even above average work in all his classes…if he could ever find a syllabus in the black hole that is his backpack. Most of his papers are loose, and the two notebooks that he does use are not delineated by course. His notes are all over the place, and he is having a difficult time connecting the notes and thus the ideas of one week’s class to those of the next.

In addition to organizing one’s physical notes and papers, I help my students get organized digitally. It’s increasingly important that students keep up with their coursework through the online syllabus, check for changes to assignments or deadlines that a professor may only post online, and follow online discussion threads, even for classes that meet primarily in person. We too often assume that members of the millennial generation, who account for the majority of college students today, have such a natural facility with technology and the digital world that they just know how to do this stuff when that’s not always the case.

Despite decades working as a teacher as well as a success coach, I can still be surprised when a student takes the art of disorganization to a new level. However, I do have faith that time and a little coaching can help them turn it around. I’ve written a few times about a student with whom I worked last year who arrived on campus on academic probation, then climbed out of the hole only to fall back in. She’s with me again this fall, and it’s clear that last year’s roller coaster of an academic performance left her motion sick.  It’s also clear that she is intent on getting off the ride for good. She has her planner planned out way ahead, a folder for every subject, in the front, left pocket of which sits a copy of the syllabus like a trusted sidekick. She’s got her work cut out for her, but she is organized in a way that tells me she is really motivated to get it right this time.

Some of us can’t keep our clothes organized by color and season; I know I can’t. Everyone has his or her own system, but if someone doesn’t have a system at all, it’s not going to work. So I and my colleagues are in constant dialogue with our students, trying and erring and trying again to figure out what works for each of them.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

5 Criteria for Effective Goal Management

5 Criteria for Effective Goal Management

So what are your goals? To own your own business? To make partner or simply move up in the company? To publish a novel? To finish writing said novel? To say yes to an opportunity you’ve previously declined out of fear? To get one actual page of this stupid novel on paper if it kills you?!

Goals come in all sizes. Some are big; some are small. Some are concrete; some are abstract. Some goals can be relatively easy to achieve- others only by figuratively moving mountains (unless your goal is to build a mountaintop removal mining empire, in which case you’re going to be literally moving mountains).

However, almost no goal, large or small, is achievable without a plan. When success coaches work with students, one of the first things we do is help them to set goals that are:

1. Actionable- Goals are always more frustrating and less likely to be achieved if there is no clear first step to achieving them. For example, it is a goal of mine to visit every National Park, but that goal means little if I never begin to figure out how I will get to Kobuk Valley, the country’s least visited and least accessible (feet, dogsleds, and snowmobiles only, please) National Park, located on the Arctic Circle. Similarly, it’s extremely important that my students and I talk about the first, second, third step, and so on, to accomplishing a goal (such as figuring out how your average success coach based in the Midwest can hitch a ride to the Arctic Circle.)

2. Manageable- One of my freshmen this year has an English teacher who has a particularly esoteric way of explaining things.  Her syllabus, even for someone like myself, reads a bit like a riddle. So it’s no surprise that Davin is nearly always at sea when it comes to knowing what exactly he is supposed to do in her class. In a situation like this, the most manageable first step is not to complete even a simple assignment- it’s to schedule 10 minutes to speak with his professor after class in order to get more clarity on the assignment itself.

3. Specific- Goals are always easier to achieve the more specific they are. With my students, we break down goals into small and large, as well as short, medium, and long-term.

4. Prioritized- Based on our assessment of goals as either short, medium, or long-term, I use an ABC system with my students. Any work that needs to be completed and turned in within the next 24 hours is labeled A; work that I want to see completed by our next meeting (even if it is not technically due for another day or two) receives a B, and anything that a student could do but is long-term enough that it doesn’t match the urgency of the As or Bs is labeled C.

5. Empiric- While on the road to goal achievement, it is crucial to be able to measure one’s progress. When I am working with students who have assignments that may span two weeks or an entire semester, this is especially important A) in understanding whether a student is truly on track and B) in keeping a student motivated by acknowledging (and celebrating) the smaller yet concrete results on the way to achieving something larger.

I’d like to mention one more thing, and that’s how technology has substantially improved my and my students’ abilities to document goals and assess progress. For example, I have a student this fall who is taking an art class, for which he had a project due on Monday before we met. So I called him last Friday to see how it was going. He said that he was halfway through, so I simply asked him to take a picture on his phone of what he had so far and text it to me. I knew that if he didn’t send me anything, his story was most likely untrue from the start, and if he did, he would know that I was holding him accountable to his word and for his work. Indeed, not five minutes later, I received an image of what certainly looked like a work in full progress.

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 Essential Goals of the First Success Coach Meeting

3 Essential Goals of the First Success Coach Meeting

I’ve spoken before about the importance of the first meeting between a success coach and a new student. Pretty obviously, the success of these meetings is crucial because it’s when first impressions are made, and thus when students decide if attending coaching sessions is just another onerous obligation- another mandated box they must check in order to graduate- or if is something in which they see the value. There are many aspects to a first meeting with students, but all of these are in service of a specific goal: that when my student walks out of my office, he or she knows three things.

1. “I know that my success coach is here to do anything and everything in his or her power to help me achieve my goals.”

If nothing else, students should leave the first meeting with a success coach with the absolute certainty that their coach has their back. I want my students to understand, even in the first 30 minutes, that I really do care about them, and that I want them to succeed just as much as they do. I also want them to know that, in the area of success, we have a very good track record.

2. “I know that my success coach actually has a lot of connections and knows how to connect me with all available resources.”

Whether it’s knowing who to call when a student has a financial aid issue, connecting a student with a particular professor or tutoring group for extra help, or simply knowing about the myriad academic and social opportunities available on campus, it’s important that students know that I am a one-stop-liaison for any and all kinds of help on campus.

3. “I know that, at each meeting, my success coach and I are going to set concrete, achievable goals, and that she is going to FOLLOW UP in an effort to make sure I am on top of them.”

Number three is really a two-parter. I want students to feel the relief that comes with knowing that we are going to break this process down into manageable, bite-sized pieces. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will they be asked to fix everything all at once. However, I also want them to understand that, because these session-by-session goals will be small and concrete, there are concrete ways in which I can and WILL check to see if they are taking care of business. If they have any doubt, they can ask any of my former students, all of whom know that if I ever got a face tattoo of my philosophy in this arena, “trust but verify” would be forever etched across my forehead.

If, at the end of his or her first meeting with me, I’ve succeeded in imparting these three lessons to a student, there’s a good chance that student feels more empowered, confident, and supported than before he or she walked in the door. For example, just a few days ago I met for the first time with a freshman who barely squeaked through our admissions process (so close to the line that he didn’t get through the NCAA clearinghouse that would enable him to play his sport this year). At some point that afternoon, he struck up a conversation with a colleague of mine who works in the office of the Dean of Students. “A few days ago, I was really scared,” he admitted. “I didn’t know how people were going to be or if I’d make friends, but now I feel so much better! Everyone’s been really nice, I like all my professors, and,” he continued, “I have a success coach who’s going to make sure I get my stuff done!”

Over the course of our meeting, I had seen first-hand this young man’s expression change from one of deep anxiety to relief- the feeling of relief that can only come from realizing that he was not alone, that there were people here in this brave new world who really wanted him to succeed. It’s a good feeling.

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 – The Semester Begins

Success Coaching – The Semester Begins

And now… it’s time for the hit, new game show that’s sweeping the nation: Get off of Academic Probation and GET! THAT! DEGREE!

The name of the show might be a mouthful, folks, but it’s making the American Dream possible for millions every year. Let’s meet some of our contestants…

Noah: Noah is a freshman entering college on a basketball scholarship (the good news) and academic probation (the bad news). Noah attended four high schools in four years, and the lack of stability obviously played a toll, for while his jump shot epitomizes follow-through and focus, his high school grades are all over the court.

Dante: While Dante’s composite test scores and GPA were all in range, I flagged his file as potentially at-risk because his English and math grades were particularly low, as were some of his ACT subscores. In addition, he made the ACT score that got him accepted by our university on his fourth attempt, and the other three score results would not have met our target composite.

Dan: Dan is arriving on campus seemingly carrying the weight of the world on his back. Six months ago, he lost his mother to cancer. Over the summer, his father was diagnosed with the same disease. An aunt is also battling a likely fatal illness. And yet here he is, excited and ready to jump in with both feet, according to the admissions counselor who has been his primary university contact up to now.

Tracy: Say it isn’t so, Tracy! Tracy is a returning sophomore with whom I worked last fall. She came to school desperately homesick and unable, due to her probationary status, to do the one thing that made her the happiest: run track. By the end of the semester, however, Tracy was one of my success stories. She had gotten her grades up enough both to get off academic probation and to run in the spring. That’s why I was so disappointed to discover, only days ago, that she had not been able to maintain the academic momentum she’d developed while working with me. But that’s okay, Tracy! We’ll dig in this fall and find a way to turn it around again. Sometimes you’ve got to learn lessons a few times before they really stick.

The stories of Dan and Tracy bring up two important points. The first is the invaluable role that our admissions counselors play regarding the students with whom they’ve been in contact, sometimes for upwards of a year. I can’t tell you how helpful it was to have these counselors attend part of our first success coach meeting. They were able to fill in the gaps- to give us information that even careful “transcript sleuthing” cannot provide, from insight into family dynamics to experiences which may have greatly influenced a student’s success in high school.

Secondly, Tracy’s fall and rise and fall again (going for rise #2 starting next week!) played a big role in the substance of the remarks I made to the entire freshman class earlier this week. Often, the problem with freshmen is that they don’t realize how difficult it can be to pull oneself out of an academic hole once one has dug it. So I spoke frankly with them about how hard it can be to come back from a bad first semester, but I also let them know that, luckily, the way to avoid waking up in a ditch of one’s own making is simple: speak up. Ask for help. Let someone know you’re struggling. Chances are, we have the resources you need to turn it around, but they only help those who take advantage of them.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

The New School Year – Part 3

The New School Year – Part 3

Well, the first official success coach meeting for the 2013 fall semester is now mere days away, and I’d like to talk a little more in-depth about the agenda. This will be our first meeting of the year but also the last before we meet our students, so it is imperative that we use this meeting to ensure that, come the first day of school, the program is running like a well-oiled machine.

First, the swimsuit competition! Oops, never mind, that’s just what happens in my anxiety dream version of this meeting. In reality, we will begin by listening to two Ted Talks given by educators Angela Lee Duckworth and Rita F. Pierson as well as discussing a Stanford University study (previously discussed on this blog) on the benefits of college success coaching programs.  I think it’s fitting that we begin our discussion of coaching students by becoming students ourselves, and hopefully the lessons provided by these educators and researchers will give us new and inspiring insights into our work.

Next, we are going to give each coach his or her student assignments along with the corresponding folder containing each student’s high school and college (unless they are freshmen) transcripts, standardized test scores, application, and class schedule. Then we are going to meet with freshman seminar instructors as well as as with the admissions counselors who have been in contact with our incoming freshmen for the past few months. Counselors will share what they have learned about this or that student over the course of their communication, so coaches will have some idea as to their personalities and backgrounds.

Then we are going to go through the folders and talk about specific students. For example, I will need to inform one of our coaches, who I paired with this particular student because he has a background in hospice work, that she recently lost her mother. I will inform another one of our coaches, who has experience working with students with disabilities, that one of her incoming freshmen has been diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. Sometimes, while going through these folders, we will swap certain student assignments due to scheduling or other issues.

Finally, we will close the meeting by talking about goals. I have asked each coach to come prepared to share one personal goal for the year as well as one goal for the program as a whole. I can say for certain that each year of our success coaching program has been better and more effective than the last, and I believe that’s partially because, as demonstrated by the way in which we will begin the meeting, many people who become educators do so primarily because they are students at heart. Simply put: we love learning. Thus, our program, like education at its best, is dynamic- ever-changing in order to better itself.

Here’s to doing it even better in the fall of 2013.

Please check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the ‘The New School Year’ series if you missed the earlier posts.

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 New School Year – Part 2

The New School Year – Part 2

It’s just over two weeks until the start of classes for the 2013 fall semester, which means my colleagues and I are hard at work making sure we are ready to go on Day 1. Right now, I am primarily working on making a final list of students with which we will either definitely be working (as in the case of new or returning students on academic probation or warning) as well as those “borderline” students who we will be offering an optional but highly recommended opportunity to participate in the program.

This semester, our roster includes 18 incoming freshmen who were admitted on probationary status, 25 students I culled from a freshman class of over 400 students who fall into the “borderline” category, and 25 returning students whose spring semester grades put them on either academic probation or warning. I am especially pleased with this last number, as it represents a huge drop from that of previous years. It’s a good feeling to have the personal knowledge that our program is effective (and only becoming more so) corroborated by data; after all, numbers do not lie.

I am also excited about the prospect of bringing these “borderline” students into the program. In order to make my final list, I went through the transcripts of every single freshman who will be walking onto our campus in two weeks, and looked for potential issues. Did a student do well overall but consistently struggled in a particular, core area? Were a student’s ACT or SAT scores significantly higher or lower than his or her classroom grades? Did a student have a chronic problem with tardiness or absenteeism? One girl on my list of 25, for example, missed nearly 20 days of school (and in one year she missed 24) every year of high school. This pattern could potentially speak to a lack of motivation, a chaotic home environment or one in which education was undervalued or simple immaturity, all of which could have a deleterious effect on her ability to succeed in college. As I went through these transcripts, I ranked students (1-3) according to how much or little they seemed at risk.

The 25 in my final list will be receiving a letter from our admissions director informing them that we would like to pair them up with a success coach for the fall semester. Participation in the program will not be required; however, we strongly recommend that they do participate. I am also going to talk to the athletic coaches to see if any of these students are on their teams. Our coaches are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of success coaching, and for those students who are on athletic teams; their coaches are going to personally request that they join the program.

Now that I have a complete list of the students who will (or who we hope will) be joining us, it’s time to assign students to specific coaches. Most of the time, this process is either random (as in the case of incoming freshmen about whom we know very little) or a continuation of the status quo. Most students who return to the program, and who have therefore worked with a certain coach before, choose to remain with the same coach. There are, however, cases in which we do match students with coaches based on perceived compatibility.

For example, sometimes a coach will recommend that a student receive a different coach for a second semester in the program. This decision can be based on the gender, age, or temperament of a particular coach or it can be based on the precept that a student may simply bond more naturally with someone else. For example, we had a female student last semester who did alright but who is still on academic probation this fall. In conversations with her coach, it became apparent that this young woman was in need of a strong, male role model in her life. Her coach and I both agreed that she might do better, therefore, with a male coach, and so this year we are pairing her with our very best.

Similarly, another student who struggled last year largely because she was dealing with a double dose of social isolation and homesickness, so this fall I have matched her with a coach who spent more than 20 years as a counselor in public schools. Yet another student, a football player whose coach left to take another job at the end of last year, is going to be working with a colleague of mine whose life has revolved around football for decades. Her husband and both of her sons played football, and her husband (as well as one of her sons) coaches professionally. I’m sure this student would do fine with anyone on our very capable team, but why not match him with someone with whom he has something in common?

There is still much work to be done before classes start for this brand new school year, but day by day my colleagues and I are doing our best to ensure that we will be ready.

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 New School Year – Part 1

The New School Year – Part 1

The beginning of a new school year has a distinct (and for those of us in education, an exhilarating) smell. Even as a little girl, I loved the aroma of new books and pencils, and, of course, that delightfully chalky smell of a blackboard- because these smells were all harbingers that a new term was beginning. Even these days, when chalkboards have largely been replaced by whiteboards, pencils by pens, and books by visually entrancing yet odorless tablets and laptops, I find that I can smell the onset of another fall semester. And these past few days, after two months of summer vacation has bestowed upon me its myriad gifts, I’ve started to smell it.

On August 21st, my colleagues and I will meet for the first time to discuss the upcoming school year, and I am looking forward to discussing the changes at the university as well as the ways in which we can improve the Success Coaching program specifically. In this first installment of a three-part blog, I would like to give an overview of what we are looking to accomplish in this first meeting.

First of all, there are a few changes going on university-wide that we will need to discuss. The one about which I’m the most excited is the complete revamp of our student instructor (which we call PAL: Peer Assisted Learning) program. I’m always an advocate of students learning from their peers, and I hope that this new model will be even more successful in helping those who are struggling in core areas like English and math.

In terms of the success coaching program in particular, I am very excited that we are currently in the process of hiring one to three new coaches. All three applicants are experienced former teachers- two are younger women who have been out of the workforce for a few years to stay home with small children, and one is a retired teacher with 32 years of experience in the public, K-12 school system. In general, our best recruits have almost always come from the “helping” professions- people who have previously worked in human resources or as counselors, social workers, and especially teachers- so I have high hopes that all three of these potential, new success coaches will be joining us on August 21.

I have asked all of our success coaches to come to the meeting with a few things. First is a list of their own personal goals for the semester. While we all think about what we can do better, I’ve found that it’s always more effective when we A) write these things down, and B) discuss them aloud in front of others. In addition to a list of personal goals, I’ve asked each coach to make a list of ideas as to how we can improve the program as a whole. I’d like a significant portion of the meeting to be a discussion of the question: how do we, as a group, better meet the needs of students? For example, last year we had a coach who began working with her students once a week via Skype. The experiment was a huge success, and we plan on doing more of this kind of coaching this coming year. We are also doing more to connect our students with one another as well as to attempt to catch at-risk freshmen before they fall through the cracks. We have tweaked our program every year since its inception, and positive gains have followed. This coming fall, I am proud to report, we have the lowest number of students on academic probation or warning than we’ve ever had. While there is an interconnected web of reasons and realities that have contributed to this exciting statistic, the success coaching program has certainly been a big part of the solution.

Next week, I will detail more specifically how my fellow coaches and I plan to improve our program for the coming year, but for now…I’m just enjoying the smell of anticipation.

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.