Archive for the 'Academic Coaching' Category

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A Simple Way to Inspire Yourself in 2014

Best Coach EverEvery New Year I do a goal-setting process called the Best Year Yet.

One of the things they ask us to do is create an “empowering paradigm” for the year. This year mine is (drum roll, please!)…

… overflow with me!

I feel really jazzed by this statement in at least two ways:

First, I give myself permission to be fully myself this year! To overflow with my me-ness. There are times when I have an impulse that I squelch, thinking, “That’s too crazy or wierd for the world.”

For example, I have a timer that goes off every 15 minutes – Ding! – to remind me to stand up and sit down again (so that I don’t hurt my body with too much sitting).

I used to turn this timer off during my sessions with clients, but one day I accidentally left it on. When the timer went off, – Ding! – I was embarrassed, but told my client what it was for. “What a good idea!” this 16 year old said. “Don’t turn it off. Instead, let’s stand up and sit down together!”

I was floored that he didn’t think I was too weird, and he was willing to practice with me.


Today during a session with a parent, I decided to leave it on. I warned this father that I’d be standing/sitting every 15 minutes. The first time I did it alone; the next time he stood/sat along with me. And then HE commented what a good practice this is! How fun to be joined…

I’m really looking forward to a 2014 filled with me giving myself permission to be my full, quirky, creative self…no holds barred!

And turns out…


When I’m fully myself, I have fun…and others have fun too!!! Both the father AND my client actually JOINED ME in standing & sitting every 15 minutes. They were happy to “overflow WITH me.”

Which brings me to the second way my empowering paradigm inspires me: it’s an invitation to the world to overflow with me.

For example, I’m beginning to produce engaging courses that share important — and fun!! —  academic life skills with a vaster audience.


It’s only been 9 days in 2014, but already I experience my empowering paradigm working for me.

So, what’s YOUR empowering paradigm for 2014?

Take a moment to notice how you limited yourself last year? What beliefs held you back?

Make a list of the ways you limited yourself, and then turn it around! What’s the OPPOSITE of that belief? THAT is your empowering paradigm for the year.

I’d love to hear your empowering paradigm, or even help you draft it for yourself. Please comment below if you’d like help!


Studying Sucks…Now What?

skateboarder I usually come home from my midday walks with major insights.

Today I was strolling along, and suddenly realized a major mistake in the way I have been talking to my clients about studying.

The truth is, studying is hard work. When we study, we are doing something that we usually don’t feel naturally inclined to do.

What Studying is Like When We Feel Passionate

As I was walking I was thinking about the things I’m passionate about. Right now, I’m loving playing with my new iPad! Every day I find two or three new apps that would help me in my business or my work with clients. It’s so much fun to curl up on my couch wrapped in a blanket and explore the apps, figuring out how they work, making mistakes, getting lost, having a little successes, and ultimately creating some cool, Cool stuff. I’m doing a whole lot of learning while I’m playing this way, but it doesn’t feel like studying.

Does a kid who’s going out to practice his skateboarding say to his buddies, “Hey, Let’s go study skateboarding!” Of course not. This young skateboarder is simply passionate about his skateboarding, and curious about how to get himself more and more skilled.

Many adults talk about studying as if

  • a. It’s easy,
  • b. Kids should want to do it, and
  • c. Kids know what to do to study.

That may be true for activities that kids naturally like to do. Our passion and curiosity pull us along through all the hard parts about learning. We’re willing to PRACTICE.

What About When We Don’t Feel Passionate (Which Is, Like, MOST of the Time)?

However, everyone needs strategies for keeping their brains focused on unpleasant tasks.Part of the art of studying is learning strategies to get yourself to do something that is pretty hard.

Over my years coaching middle and high school students, and watching them transition to college life, I’ve been practicing a better and better ways to help students tolerate, and sometimes even enjoy, that pesky task of studying. I’m super excited about a new course that I will be offering starting in January.

Once I’ve written it, I’ll be looking for people to give it a test run, because it’s my first on line class. If you’d like to be informed of the release date of this course, and possibly sign up for to be a free beta tester, please sign up here.  (You’ll also get, as I special gift from me, access to a webinar about 5 major mistakes students make, and 5 secrets about what to do instead).

I’m super, super excited about coming out with this new and powerful way of helping high school students think about how to get themselves to study. Stress free studying, here we come!


Photo Credit: Mark Dalmuder via Flickr

This Week’s Awesomeness – 12/12/13

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 “from the trenches.” Now it’s time to bring these snippets to my blog readers as well. Enjoy!

This week I could talk about…

…dying — yet again! — in the Habit role playing game I play with some of my clients. For the first time, one of my client’s is doing a better job following-through on her good habits than I am. Noooooooooo!

…buying my first iPad and going gaga over the  amazing world of apps for education & creativity. Current favorites: Penultimate (seriously? You can turn my handwritten notes into typed ones?!) and Pdf-Notes (highlighting .pdfswith my finger; talk about hands-on learning!).

…the cute puppy that greets me every time my 7th grade client FaceTimes me. I love that she gets to make organizing more tolerable by having a warm furry creature on her lap during our sessions.

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!

…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



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!