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 Even these days, when chalkboards have largely been replaced by whiteboards, pencils by pens, and books by visually entrancing yet odorless tablets and laptops, I find that I can smell the onset of another fall semester.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.