Archive for the 'Academic Coaching' Category

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This Week’s Awesome Sauce – 12/6/13

20131205-100606.jpgIn academic life coaching, each week is its own kind of awesome. For years I’ve been regaling my Facebook friends with stories, both heartfelt and hilarious. It’s time to bring these stories to my blog readers as well. Enjoy these snippets from my week.

This week I could talk about…

…how much I love having clients text me in between sessions with requests like, “Do you have 10 minutes to help me think through the project that just got assigned today?” … and how sweet their gratitude is afterwards: “Thank you SO MUCH for taking the extra time! I really appreciate it!!” Teenagers are much more present, polite, and thoughtful than our culture gives them credit for.

…hearing a client rave about her new Arc organization system (bought at Staples), so proud that several of her classmates admired it. How many kids actually get compliments on their school supplies?! “I don’t know why Staples doesn’t market this, it’s so cool!” she gushed.

…working with two clients in a row on a new way to set up their planner, and having both clients comment, “Wow! You should sell this idea!

…getting a text message from a college student announcing, “BTW, I got an 80 on my second linguistics test ;) And that’s without a grade curve!” (from a student who is working her butt off to get off of academic probation).

the bittersweetness in both our smiles as my client (whose been with me for 4 years) had her final session. One downer of Skype sessions is that we couldn’t give each other goodbye hugs.

…my client (junior in college) gleefully calling out “Flowchart Friday!!!” when she realized that she could get out her colorful markers and create posters of flowcharts in order to study for her biology final exam…not to mention the motivating alliteration of F. Whatever it takes to get motivated…

…my client’s clear frustration with the way I was “wasting” our time by asking him “pointless” questions about his paper on transcendentalism…and his sheer delight at the end of 50 minutes when we ended up with a rockin’ thesis statement, 3 great topic sentences, and an easy-to-follow outline for what to write next.

…competing with my client about who can earn more “points” in an online role playing game called “Habit.” This game inspires this highschool sophomore to think more deeply about his habits than any other technique I’ve ever tried in our 3 years together. Yay for gamification! Yay for www.habitrpg.com!

…how fun it is to watch my client’s hairstyle change from month-to-month (shaved one month, pink the next).

How Not To Make Stupid Mistakes in College, Part 3

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 12.56.18 PMHave you ever thought those dangerous words, “Naw! I don’t need any help”?

I don’t know about you, but my gut reaction is to say, “No thanks!” when someone offers help, even if I really want (or need) what they’re offering.

Our culture is wierd that way; we’re taught that — in order to be truly highly advanced — we need to work alone. However, the times I’ve been the most successful in my life are the times when I’ve reached out for and/or accepted support from others.

Which brings us to the last tip in my series “how not to make stupid mistakes in college.”

To recap, Tip #1 points to the importance of knowing yourself, both your strengths and your challenges. Tip #2 reminds us to take time to think through tricky situations in advance.

And Tip #3 recommends we get humble and get help! Check out this video for more:

Speaking of getting help, do you know anyone (maybe it’s you!) who is feeling a bit nervous about the transition to college? I’ve designed a fun program to help you, or a freshman you love, practice all three of these tips before heading off to school.

College Survival 101 is a 15-day virtual scavenger hunt designed to give new freshmen tricks & tools to rock their transition into college.

Registration is totally FREE, and the first 7 people who register themselves and two friends also get a FREE 50-minute college-prep consultation with moi!! (Normally consultations are $125, so this is DEAL!).

The registration deadline is Friday, July 12 which is SOON, so act NOW! Simply click here to begin the registration process.   Or click here for more information about College Survival 101.

Please forward this email to any freshmen (or parents of freshmen) you know!

How Not To Make Stupid Mistakes in College, Part 2

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Have you ever made a mistake that left you feeling, well, stupid? It’s an ugly word, stupid (unless you pronounce it the British way – styu-pid – which sounds a bit more sophisticated). Feeling stupid is also a pretty yucky emotion.

I’m tempted to reassure you that there are NO stupid mistakes. After all, we learn from our mistakes; they are one of the most golden educational opportunities we have!

However, it IS POSSIBLE to lessen the number of silly mistakes we make. To approach new experiences — like the move to college — in some really smart ways.

Last week I introduced you to my first tip for how not to make stupid mistakes in college: to know yourself  – you strengths and your challenge areas — so that you are not headed into your new experience blind. I’m talking rigorous honesty, here!

This week I’ve got tip #2 for how not to make stupid mistakes in college:

Finally, you might also like to check out College Survival 101. It’s a laid back & fun summer experience that will also help you rock the transition to college…and make fewer silly mistakes because you will have gotten yourself prepared.

If College  Survival 101 is not for you, but you know a new freshman who needs it, please pass this along. It starts July 15, so time is of the essence!

How Not to Make Stupid Decisions in College, Part 1

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Have you ever found yourself going into a new experience worrying that you’ll  totally mess it up?

For better or worse, fear of failure is one of the most common human anxieties. So, it’s no surprise that recent high school grads might worry that they’ll make stupid mistakes in college.

I’ve recently spent hours on the phone with a young woman who’s off to a liberal arts college in the midwest. Her frantic questions to me included:

What courses should I take first semester?

Do I want an advisor in my major, or outside of it?

Do I want to live in the same dorm with kids in my freshman seminar, or not?

Will I screw it all up if I make bad choices early on?

The common theme of all her questions was, “Will I screw it all up if I make bad choices early on?” And my answer to her is: no, you’ll be fine. As long as you pay attention to these 3 tips  to protect yourself from some typical freshmen woes.

Check out this video, and I’ll explain more about what I mean.

P.S. Now that you’ve watched the video, I need to add one thing: it’s actually quite healthy  to make a certain amount of mistakes in college…and in life! Some of the most wonderful experiences in my life (and my best ideas for my business) resulted from making a mistake first. But more about that later…

Was this helpful? Please forward it to others. Please feel free to comment below! If you’re a freshman-to-be, how are you feeling about college? If you’ve already been through college, how well did YOU know yourself when you first stepped foot on campus?

How Parents Undermine Their Teens’ Self-Sufficiency

I get it: as a parent, you want what’s best for your teen, and you’ve hired me — an academic life coach! — to help your teen learn the skills necessary to be a success. However, are their ways you might undermine the very coaching you are paying for? Read on:

Parent To the Rescue

Because I do most of my coaching on Skype, I’m able to see some of my clients during their off period while they are at school. The other day I got an email from a student saying that he might be late because he’d accidentally left his iPad (the source of his webcam) at home, and he needed time to problem-solve an alternate method of calling me.

To my surprise, he showed up right on time after all, on his iPad no less!

Evidently, his father had rushed the iPad over to school in time for our session. According to this client, this was the third time this week that a parent had delivered something that he forgot at home.

Now, I don’t blame these parents in the least. They’re spending good money on academic coaching, and don’t want it to go to waste because of their son’s forgetfulness. However, by diving in to help their son fix the problem, the parents inadvertently interrupted him as he tried to problem-solve his mistake. They also taught him that it’s ok to forget things because they are always available to rescue him.

Advice From a 3-Year-Old: Worry About Yourself

The video that I posted at the top of this entry is perfect advice to parents: “Worry about yourself!” This young gal wants desperately to buckle herself into her car seat, and she rejects her father’s incessant interference in her process. She is clearly not figuring out the buckling mechanism, but gosh darnit, she is hell bent on trying! And she’d prefer that her father go off and do his own thing. “Go drive!” she commands him.

In the case of my client, what might it have looked like for the father to “worry about himself” rather than readjust his day to deliver his son the iPad? How did the father’s habit of “worrying about his son” undermine an opportunity for the son to practice self-sufficiency and learn from his mistakes?

Making a New Plan for Self-Sufficiency

During our session the son came up with a great plan for remembering to pack  his backpack.  Several sessions ago we’d established what we fondly called the “Yay! I’m Done with Homework Ritual!”, which includes the following steps (as written by my client):

  1. Put all my stuff in the correct folders
  2. Put the folders/binders in my back pack
  3. Put my backpack by the door

After carefully recalling each moment of forgetfulness, he realized that, although he was doing a good job of putting his backpack by the backdoor, he was actually leaving some assignments  next to his backpack rather than in the backpack. The next morning he would be in a hurry, and grab the backpack, but not the items next to the backpack. Hence: forgotten work.

He also realized that he charges his iPad overnight, which means he can’t pack it in his backpack during the “Yay! I’m Done with Homework Ritual!” This client came up with the idea of leaving his backpack near where he charges the iPad, and in fact, putting the iPad in his backpack while it’s charging. So the new ritual reads as follows:

  1. Put all my stuff in the correct folders
  2. Put the folders/binders in my back pack
  3. Put my backpack where I charge my iPad

Time Will Tell

Now we will need to see whether my client can follow through with this ritual. Time will tell. I’m going to ask his parents NOT TO REMIND him about the ritual, so that his success is entirely dependent on whether he remembers to do it! If he doesn’t remember, I will process that with him, and we will go from there.

How Donnel Learned His Lesson the Hard Way

Another client, Donnel, is a senior in high school with newly diagnosed ADD. He drives himself to my sessions, and so is completely self-sufficient in this regard. Early on, though, he totally forgot one of our sessions and didn’t show up. Luckily, I offer one “freebie”, and so I didn’t charge him; however, I did make an agreement with Donnel and his mom that, were this to happen again, Donnel would owe his mother $85 for the missed session.

Several month later, Donnel missed the session again without giving me 24 hour advance warning. As promised, his mother charged him $85 (a debt which he has finally paid off a few weeks ago). Although I know it was annoying to Donnel to have to owe his mother, it was well worth the money.

As the final weeks of senior year have ramped up, he has consistently given me 24-hour warning since then, which is a great feat for a young person who struggles with attention deficit. By being held accountable for his own forgetfulness, he has learned to put all activities on the calender, check the calendar regularly, communicate ASAP to people affected by schedule changes, and (perhaps most importantly) that he’d rather live debt free. Not a bad set of lessons.

Being a parent is not easy!

So why make it harder for yourself by worrying about your kid. Take this wise little 3-year-old’s advice (it’s just so cute and profound, I can’t help but post this again):

Write and Exercise At The Same Time?! Two Gadgets That May Change Your Life

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New toys are so much fun! I’m often recommending that my coaching clients get a smart phone, iPad, or some other computer software to inspire them to organize themselves differently.

But when is a new technology gadget actually productive, and when is it simply an excuse to procrastinate?

I’ve been spending all evening in the throes of setting up my own new toy — Dragon Dictate for Mac. (In fact, I’m using this software RIGHT NOW to dictate this blog post. So exciting.).

Ever since I’ve become fully self-employed and working exclusively out of my home office, my back pain has increased.  I love coaching students on Skype, but it requires that I sit for much of the day. When I’m not coaching, I’m writing — either for this blog, or for a couple of *super secret* books that I’m writing. More sitting! Ack! I know I should walk around the block periodically, but I’m just too excited by my work.

This week I’ve gotten two new complementary toys, and it feels like they’re about to change my life.  I’ve already told you about Dragon Dictate, a piece of software that will allow me to dictate while I walk.

The second toy is called a FitBit, a handy little pedometer that counts steps, calories, miles, flights of stairs, and more. I’m hoping that FitBit and Dragon Dictate will work together nicely.

I am particularly excited about these two new toys because they dovetail nicely. The more I stand up and walk while I am writing, the more steps my FitBit will record. Match made in heaven.

So, back to my original question: are new toys ‘procrastinatory’ or productive?

I suspect that these two new tools will actually be transformative, and are not just gimmicks. I see how directly they impact my physical and my intellectual well-being. Because they are tied to some exciting goals I have set for the year and because I get immediate feedback in regards to the health of my body, I suspect that in 12 months time I will go using and loving these tools. Check back with me then!

Why Obsessing About Word Counts Can Make Your Writing Worse

It’s typical in our education system for teachers and professors to assign essays that need to be a specific word count (500 words, for example) or a specific length (3 pages, for example).

Although I understand the need to set some kind of expectation for the length of an assignment, word and page requirements are my nemesis. And, I’d argue, they can work against students’ learning too.

Let’s look at my recent coaching session with Wendy, an 8th grader. She was preparing for an in-school essay she’d have to write the next day. Wendy was feeling super-stressed out beceause the essay would need to be 2-4 pages, but Wendy had no idea how to make it that long!!

We practiced outlining on a separate piece of paper. We thought through her introduction and conclusion and added topic sentences for all the paragraphs. When we were done, she had an outline that would EASILY fill up 2-4 pages.

While we were outlining, Wendy kept saying something that bothered me: “I want to write about (insert topic here) because it will take up more space!”

I redirected her: “It’s NOT about how much space you’re taking up! It’s about the quality of your ideas, and how to flesh them out. If you have a rockin’ outline, you can write a shorter or a longer piece, but at least there is a coherency and flow to the ideas. When you’re just trying to fill up space, your argument may not make sense.”

At the end of the session, I asked Wendy to give her future self some tips. Here’s what she said (in her own unedited words):

  1. Plan it out.
  2. Make sure that stuff that seems obvious is fleshed out to its full potential.
  3. If I notice myself making a list, look to see if one is more important, or if I can make write a sentence about each part of the lists.
  4. If I notice myself making a list, notice WHY I’m making it and what makes it different than the other writing around it. Write better transitions.

Do you have a good essay writing strategy? Talk about it in the comments!

P.S. If you know a student who could use this advice, be sure to forward this article to them!

 

How Not to Freak Yourself Out

Have you ever freaked yourself out  –  by imagining the worst when you had no evidence that it would actually happen? Students do that all the time. Part of my job as an academic coach is to help students parse out the difference between fantasy and reality.

Meet Roger, a 7th-grader who freaked himself out last week.

Recently, as Roger walked through my office door, I heard the “ding ding ding” of my iPhone text message. It was an alert from his mom, asking me to please talk to her son about his resistance to getting an older student who can act as Roger’s “homework tutor”.

Roger is a bright — and incredibly hyperactive — young man. It takes him forever to get through his otherwise easy homework because he can’t focus on one task for very long without getting engrossed in off-topic curiosities. He needs someone to sit next to him to keep him on task during homework, but apparently Roger was not excited about that tutor being a high school student.

Throwing a ball to him (to distract him from the fact that I was about to get personal), I asked him why he didn’t want the tutor.

He threw the ball back: “I’m afraid I’ll try and act cool around him. I’ll worry he’ll judge me.”

“You don’t worry about that with grownups like me?” I asked.

“No, just with kids close to my own age.”

That reasoning made sense, and I took a moment to commiserate. But then I added, “Have you met this high school student yet?”

“No,” Roger admitted.

“Well then, how do you know that you are going feel judged and want to impress him? Is it possible that you’re basing your reasoning on a fantasy that might not be true?”

Roger couldn’t argue with this kind of logic. “Yes, it’s possible.”

“Would it be reasonable to meet this high school student first, and postpone your freak out?”

Grinning, Roger responded, “Yes, that would be reasonable.”

Silence descended, as we were suddenly engrossed in our game of catch.

Finally, I broke the silence. “Ummmmm…. when are we going to stop throwing the ball?”

“Maybe when we’ve made a firm decision,” Roger responded.

“How will we know we’ve made a firm decision?” I asked.

Roger threw down his arms, letting the ball drop to the floor.

“What’s the firm decision?” I asked.

“That I will meet the high school student first and see what he’s like.”

Excellent.

One of the reasons I love academic coaching is that kids very often respond to reason! They just need someone (who is not their parents) who is willing to speak reasonably.

The next week when I checked in with Roger, he reported that the two high school students his mom found were great, and he’s happy with his decision.

Let’s Break It Down: 5 Tips To Keep Yourself From Freaking Out

Are you freaking yourself out right now with a fantasy about something bad that *might* happen, although you have no proof? Try these steps:

  1. Take a deep breath. Notice you’re freaking out.
  2. See if you can identify what you are thinking that’s causing you to freak out.
  3. Notice whether that thought is true. If you’re not sure, look for the proof.
  4. If you have no proof that it is true, decide on an action that will give you more information.
  5. Choose to delay your freak out until you have more info.

I’m not telling you NOT to freakout. I’m just suggesting that you delay it a little by thinking about what might be more true in this moment. You might discover that reality is much kinder than you think.

What is something you are freaking yourself out about? Do you have any other strategies for keeping your cool? I’d love it if you shared in the comments!

P.S. If you thought this post was useful, be sure to sign up for free email updates to receive more helpful hints!

What Hot Dates and Homework Have In Common

Prior to today’s coaching session, I had no idea that hot dates and homework have ANYTHING to do with each other. Turns out that they do, quite a bit.

Meet Ulysses: a high school freshman who is charismatic, thoughtful, and funny. He’s been struggling with a constant stream of zeroes in his classes.

He’s often loopy during our Skype sessions, which occur when he’s exhausted after Lacrosse practice. As a result, we often veer off into crazy tangents, though lately I have grown to trust the wisdom in our seemingly random deviations.

Today there was another zero in the online grade book. Sigh. A Spanish assignment this time. According to Ulysses, he had done his homework, albeit incorrectly, and thankfully his teacher would allow him to resubmit it.

I suspected a deeper learning issue and inquired further. It became clear that Ulysses had completed this homework assignment in class while everyone else was watching a video. Aha!

Wanting to be diplomatic, I observed: “There was something good about you choosing to do the homework in class, and also something problematic. Can you guess what was what?”

“Yeah, I was being proactive about getting my homework done. That was the good part,” he said and I agreed.

“The problematic part was that I was not paying attention, and I didn’t read the instructions correctly.” True, yes, although I wanted him to think more deeply about how his learning was impacted by his choice to multi-task.

Suddenly, a strange analogy popped to mind. At first, I didn’t trust it, but Ulysses cajoled with a twinkle in his eye, “Just say it, Gretchen. Just say it!”

Encouraged, I asked, “What if this homework assignment was actually a cute girl you were taking out on a date?”

Ulysses took the analogy and ran with it. “I get it! I rushed the date, not paying any attention to her, trying to get it over with as fast as possible. Instead, I should have taken her to a nice dinner, bought her flowers, asked lots of questions, and really gotten to know her.”

“Yes! So, what does all this have to do with your Spanish homework?”

It took some back-and-forth, but Ulysses finally understood that he had not been respecting his own learning. He was doing his homework just to get it done, without any attention to using the assignment as a legitimate learning tool. As it turns out, he really struggles with Spanish. He’s not going to learn it well unless he slows down and commits to being in an active, intimate relationship with his own learning.

Practically speaking, what does it look like to be in active, intimate relationship with one’s own learning?

(And this is where I’m afraid I must leave the analogy of dating, lest I extend the metaphor way too far).

1. Read the instructions to fully understand what is being asked.

2. Take a moment to reflect: Does this assignment teach me something new? Or is it asking me to practice something to which I have already been introduced? How much do I already know? What needs more practice?

3. Complete the assignment. Notice what tasks come easily, and what don’t. Take extra time with the ones that don’t.

4. After completing the assignment, reflect: What do I know now that I didn’t know a moment ago? What have I not yet mastered?

5. If there is anything that needs more mastery, make a plan. Will you ask the teacher for help? Go to peer tutoring? Consult the textbook?

OK. So maybe doing your homework isn’t quite as exciting as a hot date.

However, the skills you can practice while doing your homework mindfully — noticing the details, being curious, asking good questions, paying close attention to what is (and is not) working, adjusting accordingly, and being clear about next steps — are pretty sexy. And might just earn you another date!

What is/was your relationship with homework or other work like? How can you treat your work more like a hot date? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Do you know students who could afford to treat their homework more like a hot date? Be sure to forward this article to them!

Photo Credit: Image by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons license.

The Biggest Mistake Parents Make When Hiring An Academic Coach

Several years ago when I was new to academic coaching, I had a client named Sophia. She was a high school junior and a sweet young woman: friendly, thoughtful … and compliant.

However, Sophia would forget to tell me crucial details about her school work.

I always saw Sophia on Thursdays. One particular Friday morning,  a frenzied email from her mother appeared in my inbox.

Apparently Sophia had been up all night reading seven articles for her government class! She was exhausted and overwhelmed. Her mother wondered why we hadn’t made a plan during our session the night before.

I was totally caught off guard. Seven articles to read?! Sophia hadn’t mentioned a thing.

During our next session, I asked why she hadn’t told me about the mountain of work last week. She answered that she just didn’t think of telling me.

“I always thought of you as someone who was just hired by my mom,” she said.

I’m here to work on the things that my mom wants me to work on,” she added. “If my mom hadn’t told us to work on homework, it just didn’t seem important.”

In hindsight, I couldn’t blame Sophia for her passivity. Her parents and I had failed to make sure that she understood the purpose and process of coaching.

In those early years, I met with the parents first, not meeting the student until the parents had already committed to eight sessions. The student never got to actively choose whether she would see me or not. Sophia was content to let the adults run the show because, quite frankly, that’s what we’d tacitly communicated to her.

These days, my intake process is drastically different.

A family never has to commit to coaching until the teenager has met with me.

During my initial consultation I have an honest and straightforward conversation with the student, letting them know that they have the final say about whether we begin coaching together. I stress that they are interviewing me just as much as I am interviewing them.

I have a commitment never to work with a client who doesn’t want to work with me…and I would hope that the teenager has a similar commitment to themselves.

Ever since I’ve had this new policy, I’ve noticed that my clients are no longer passive recipients. They understand that our relationship is collaborative and interdependent, and they seem eager to join forces with me in order to transform their skills as students.

Parents, too, can relax. They don’t have to feel ever-vigilant about their teen’s success; they can trust that we’re all on the same team working towards the same goal.

So what’s the big mistake I’m urging parents not to make? Do not push your kid to undergo coaching.

Instead, try these five steps:

  1. Have an honest conversation with your student about their hopes and fears about their education.
  2. Tell your student about academic coaching and ask if they think it would help.
  3. Show them my website (you might start with this post about the difference between academic coaching and tutoring) and encourage them to surf around inside it.
  4. Schedule an initial consultation so your student can meet me.
  5. Be truly open to them deciding that they do not want to work with me, or any coach.

Do you have any more advice? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

P.S. If you found this post useful, be sure to get more helpful advice by signing up for free email updates!