A Half Hour in the Life of a Success Coach
While I've blogged a lot about the various jobs a success coach has overall, it occurs to me that I haven't put all of that into the context of a single meeting. And while every session is always in some way unique, there is, on average, a "typical" structure to a normal meeting with students.
I meet with my students twice a week for a half hour at a time, and there are certain things we do at every single session. Almost always, the first thing I do with a student is check his or her goals from our last meeting. Have the short term goals (schedule a meeting with a professor, turn in a financial aid form, catch up on the reading for a certain class) been accomplished? What progress has been made on long term goals like projects or papers? Next, we move on to their learning center hours. All students enrolled in the success coach program must log in a certain numbers of hours in either the library or learning center each week, and they are required to sign in and out each time. So, before moving on to the bigger stuff, I check to make sure they have met their required hours. Then we move onto the syllabus. We read through either a hard copy or online version of the syllabus point by point, checking to see whether anything has changed, making sure that the student is aware of all assignments past and present as well as reminding him or her of upcoming tests or papers that loom in the near future. Then we make a list of goals for our next meeting.
ONCE A WEEK
At least once a week, my students and I get online and check their grades. Most of our professors post grades online, but I give those who don't a hard copy of a "scorecard" which my students can then use to keep track of how they are doing. In addition to just checking the grades, I work through the math with them so that they fully understand what is required of them either to maintain a grade or improve on one. We analyze the percentage of graded work that is already in the can and talk about what that means going forward. And that's about the time I realize how much "checking" my job entails, because then it's time to check…email! You'd be surprised how many students don't check their university emails. Oh, they'll check Facebook and Twitter and text messages and even their other email accounts, but since notices from the registrar are generally less exciting than juicy photos from last weekend's rage-till-dawn party, university email somehow seems to get lost in the shuffle. For most students, this is also a good time to check (again with the checking!) their plans to implement certain study skills as well as their retention of reading/lecture material. For example, I require some of students to print out power points of lectures and write notes on the power point guidelines during class; for others, I ask them to take notes in a separate notebook. At least once a week, I will check these notes to make sure students are A) actually implementing the plan and B) taking notes effectively. Then, depending on the student, I may ask them to summarize what a particular professor said in the last lecture or quiz them on a chapter they were recently required to read for comprehension. I try to make these interactions less like interrogations and more like conversations, and it's always a good meeting for me when the conversation organically goes deeper- when a question about a paragraph in a marketing text book gets a student jazzed to discuss the psychology of persuasion as used in modern advertising, or when a professor's lecture on Crime and Punishment leads to a conversation about how time and place both do and do not affect a person's concept of morality.
A FEW TIMES A SEMESTER
A few times a semester, it's important to talk with students about their co-curricular credits. At my university, we require students to earn 13 hours of "co-curricular" credits in professional development (attending guest speaker events and/or workshops on resume writing, etiquette, and interview techniques) and 13 hours doing community service. Students enter freshman year knowing about these requirements, but as it is so easy to become preoccupied by the things that are due today, tomorrow, or next week, these long-term requirements often get put on the back burner. Some students intend to complete their co-curricular credits but get too busy or forget, while others consciously put them off thinking, "I'm a genius! I'll complete all my academic credit hours and then do all of my co-curricular credits right before graduation!" Also, I always try to keep my students on track with the intricacies of registration. At the beginning of our time together, I have all my students create a four-year plan. Sure, things can change, but the very act of making a four-year plan can take a student a long way toward seeing the end-game of his or her college goals. It's also useful because students learn that not all classes are offered every semester and that they need to plan their schedules accordingly. Maybe this core requirement is only offered in the spring every odd year, or every year but only in the fall. Students are often unaware that college courses are not necessarily A) offered every semester or B) easy to register for even when they are offered. Making a plan plants the seed in students' minds that course registration is something that requires a bit of thought.
And sometimes I throw everything about a "typical" meeting out the window because life steps in. Sometimes I spend the entire session walking to the financial aid office with a student and translating acronyms into a language he can understand. Sometimes we simply figure out a way she can co-exist better with her roommate. Sometimes we talk about family dynamics that are making it harder for him to focus on his studies. Sometimes we console her about the death of a loved one. Sometimes we try to convince him to see a counselor because he is not psychologically healthy enough to do all the things he needs to do right now.
I do a lot of motivating. I do a lot of celebrating. At least once per session I ask my students, "what's something you feel really good about this week?" Once, one of my student's answers to that question was: "I got the highest grade in the entire class on an exam that was really difficult!" We immediately left the office, walked down to the coffee shop, and had mochas and croissants to celebrate. It was a good half hour in the life of a success coach.
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.