Tag Archives: student success

Mentoring students is an all-time thing: mentoring is not just an occasional conversation with a guidance counselor or mentor

Student MentoringAt the A+ Club, we make strong claims for the power of mentoring. We believe that consistent, positive feedback from caring, experienced, and non-judgmental educators empowers students by building lifetime skills and habits of reflection, goal setting, and general self-betterment.

A Gallup-Purdue study of the impact of mentoring on college students in post-graduate job success and all-round well-being already proves our theory (see Mentoring Students for a Lifetime of Success). What the Gallup-Purdue study doesn’t say but is implicit to the results is that mentoring is neither casual nor predetermined.

Note that the study did not point to “advisors” or “guidance counselors” for impact on students. In fact, the absence of those terms in the study is significant. Mentoring relationships are not appointed, they are not pre-selected or administered from above. They develop organically through sharing, trust, care, expertise, authenticity, and constancy.

Mentoring is…

  • Sharing: effective mentoring is empathetic.

  • Trust: mentoring without trust is just more random advice.

  • Care: the effective mentor is selfless, non-judgmental, patient, and caring.

  • Expert: the effective mentor delivers something of value.

  • Authentic: effective mentors don’t condescend or merely guide from above; their mentoring comes from the heart.

  • Constant: effective mentoring is regular, not occasional or random.

Why Guidance Counselors Aren’t Mentors

Imagine that a high level executive at a major company mentors up-and-coming professionals. Imagine that some of these protégés ultimately report to that executive, if not directly, then through other chains of command. If so, there is with great difficulty any mentoring, as it’s just another power-relationship, however well-intentioned.

Now, imagine that a high school student receives mentoring from an educator at the school. We call those “Guidance Counselors,” and they have no less administrative weight than does our executive. They are both firmly a part of an institutional power structure and are therefore inherently judgmental and authoritative.

This doesn’t mean an executive or a guidance counselor can ‘t be an effective mentor — it does mean that each has the burden of authority to overcome in order to deliver mentoring that is authentic and trustworthy.

So, yes, we can imagine that executives or guidance counselors can make effective mentors. Absolutely. But it is harder to imagine that they can be effective mentors to more than a few protégés or students with whom they can create authentic relationships.

They not only have to overcome the burden of authority (which severely challenges authenticity), they have to overcome the burden of a strained caseload. Thus the largest reason that guidance counselors don’t make good mentors is that, according to Time,

A public school counselor in the U.S. now has an average caseload of 471 students….

(from The High School Guidance Counselor Shortage,

Try being caring, empathic, authentic — and constant — with 471 students! Not possible. A guidance counselor can mentor some of the students some of the time but none or a very few of them all of the time.

A+ Club Student Mentoring

Our view is that effective mentoring starts with the student, not the mentor.

When we take on a student, it is by student choice. We cannot mentor a student who is not interested in self-improvement, and we don’t. We don’t get past a first conversation with such a student (and I’ve only run into 2 or 3 over my three years in this business).

The only way we can start with a student is if that student sincerely wants academic improvement. And we never define it for our students: it’s up to them what that means. Once we have established goals, then we can work on deliberate, realistic steps towards them with confidence, trust, and care.

Our authenticity comes of the concern we show and the expertise we bring. Our teachers — whom we call “Student Supporters” — are experienced, active educators, and they only do this work because they care, because they enjoy establishing a relationship with a student whom they do not grade, whom they do not judge. Freed authority, they are free to care without judgment.

Once our teachers have established that trust, once they have established their care and expertise, then they have an authentic relationship. Then the only missing ingredient for effective, powerful mentoring is constancy, which they bring through scheduled, weekly or more reflection, goal setting and problem-solving conversations .

Our teachers love this work. And they also know how emotionally taxing it is, for they care so much for each child. They only take on a few, some choosing to work with only one student, and the rest taking on no more than a few to work with, guide, counsel, and help along towards a brighter future  each and every week.

We know it works, and not just because our kids do better in school. We know it works because our students are ready and eager to take that mentoring call every week.

– Michael

What do grades measure, anyway? How to make sense of grades and student learning

Student-Performance_Process-flow-chart_noheaderParents! If schools were meant for learning, why do we have grades?

In other words, if learning were the goal, wouldn’t every student have to get an A+ before moving on to the next level?

If, when a student gets a D, and it indicates the student met 64% of expectations, is there learning going on at that school? Wouldn’t a 100% grade represent true learning?

As long as there are grades less than an A, the point of schools, then, is not learning.

Worse, not all grades are equal. Does an A in PE represent learning as much as an A in math? They both count the same towards your GPA and both are required. Clearly, learning is not the only thing being measured here.

Grades as thresholds of… of something

So, the student got a B- or a C+, or an F. What does that mean, anyway? The F might be a zero –no work was done at all, or maybe it was 59% and just shy of a D. That’s quite a leap, but that F is still an F.

Or, maybe that C+ was because, even though the student aced the tests, he didn’t do any homework and got nailed for it on the overall grade.

Ask my son, as that was his strategy for high school. He learned everything asked of him, but he only showed it on tests. He learned, but that’s not what school is about.

Well… It worked for him, as he’s a successful musician who dedicates himself to perfecting his craft and learning everything he possibly can about it.

What’s going on here is that grades measure lots of things, just not always – or even mostly – learning.

School is about process

A student like my son learned everything required of the test but skipped on the rest of the process required by the teachers.

Here are some of the things students get measured on that have nothing to do with the generic “Learning”  but everything to do with “grades” and doing what’s asked of them. Some of the things by which students are measured include:

  • showing up
  • writing name on papers
  • sitting down for long periods of time.
  • lifting one’s arm in the air before speaking
  • remembering locker combinations

Okay, so sometimes students are measured on figuring out math formulas or reading literature. But it seems to me that a student could get a much higher grade in high school doing all the other things than strict “learning” that my son did, by actually learning, and never proving it on tests.

School is about figuring out what’s expected and then getting it done, learning or not. My advice to parents, however, is not to get to worked up over a student’s ability to follow process. It doesn’t measure worth, it measures… process.

Of course we want our kids to get good grades, the best grades, and the best way to get there is to follow teacher and school processes. So let’s understand “studying” as not just learning but also following all the little steps that students are being graded upon in addition to “learning.”

See what inspires your child, encourage it, and then encourage her to engage in grade-accumulation as well as learning.

The Secret Life of a teacher gradebook

At the A+ Club, we often hear from parents and students that the student got a B-, or whatever, and can’t say why. The teacher didn’t explain it, the student doesn’t understand it, and the parent is helpless to figure out why.

I just had a conversation with a very bright student who was disappointed in a B+, as her goal was an A. She says that her grade dropped because of a single quiz — which is possible. I suspect, though, that there was something else that knocked her off, and it was very likely manipulated by the teacher. I’m guessing that as a brilliant thinker, quick learner, and full of impatience with process, that quiz grade was the excuse the teacher needed to reflect an overall B+ — smart, got it down but didn’t do everything I asked.

That’s a guess, but I know it happens all the time, especially as an excuse to lift grades — “Oh, well, he did all his homework, so I’ll just pass him even though he failed all his quizzes.”

I’m hearing disgust from all the high-minded teachers out there who believe that standards are standards and the grade book speaks for itself. I’m sorry, but that’s impossible. You will always, necessarily, judge kids holistically, no matter how hard you try to be objective.

Let’s say a student has an A in homework, which is 25% of the grade, an F on tests, which is another 20% of the grade and a D in quizzes (with corrections)  and an A+ in classwork, each 20% of the grade. That adds up to a 77%, or a C+. (Try it here: Mercer Univ Weighted Average Grade Calculator).

Now, the teacher also has a 15% “participation” grade, and whatever the teacher assigns here will decide that overall, final grade:

  • a C in participation will yield 76%, or a C
  • a B in participation will yield  78%, or a C+
  • an A+ in participation will yield an 80% or a B

Assuming there’s no real metric for “participation,” the teacher is justified in assigning this grade based upon pure observation, which will then impact the overall outcome of a C, C+ or a B.

Teachers can do the same by tweaking different grades, such as dropping the lowest grade in each category, or whatever.

From the grades profile we have created, this student is following teacher process, such as in doing homework, but is not learning what is required of the test. Many teachers would be sympathetic to the process and reward a high participation grade simply because the student ostensibly did what was asked, whether or not any learning was involved.

I’m not judging this process. I just want parents and students to be aware of it.

So what do your child’s grades actually measure?

Tests necessarily contain some learning measurement, whether or not it was taught or if it was an explicit part of the content (multiple choice measures reading and logic as much or more than content knowledge). So test scores are usually a primary indicator of your child’s learning. (It is not an indicator of a presence or absence of effective teaching!)

Other assessments such as research projects and essays yield measurable learning, although, like homework and participation grades, these are process-heavy assessments and do not necessarily reflect learning achievement (“mastery” the educators like to call it).

Look over the grade book, speak to the teacher, and discover what, really, is being measured. An A in homework does not mean learning is happening, especially in classes in which the teacher grades for compliance and not accuracy (check it off for having something written on the page — yes, this goes on every day).

Hopefully the various categories of student measurement align, such as B in Homework, B on classwork, and B on tests. I have to say that a part from A- students, that kind of overall consistency in grade results are rare.

Above all, insist upon strong feedback from your child’s teachers. Only the teacher can say what the teacher is measuring, and a good teacher will align grades with thoughtful feedback on actual student production.

Grades measure a lot of things. Make sure you and your child understand what, exactly, is going on with your child’s grades.

– Michael

Mentoring students for a lifetime of success

Puck & Stella slideshowTurns out that a friend really can help.

An important study was released by Gallup:

When it comes to being engaged at work and experiencing high well-being after graduation, a new Gallup-Purdue University study of college graduates shows that the type of institution they attended matters less than what they experienced there. Yet, just 3% of all the graduates studied had the types of experiences in college that Gallup finds strongly relate to great jobs and great lives afterward

Continue reading

Are you obstacle-minded or a problem solver? Goal setting & fixing mistakes

When we say, “Oh, well,” to a failure, we are more likely to repeat the mistake. Instead, correct forward rather than excusing backwards. Quite literally, this is “problem solving.”

There will always be obstacles and difficulties. Success doesn’t happen by itself. It’s all about learning from problems instead of resigning to them — or worse, using them as an excuse to give up on our goals. Continue reading

Encouragement from Mischa Beckett: empowering yourself & your college experience

Encouragement from Mischa Beckett: empowering yourself & your college experience

Student Success Podcast No. 19, Apr. 17, 2014

Today’s Guest: Mischa Beckett, Ph.D. Political Science and college lecturer.

In this interview, Mischa discusses her work with high school students in the A+ Club program. Mischa brings the view of a college teacher to the high school experience and discusses how all students of all levels and struggles can use encouragement and help in raising their self-awareness. Continue reading

Procrastination destroys

Help us fight this disease.

Procrastination destroys grades, it destroys relationships, it destroys futures.

It may not seem like such a big deal. Just make another promise to yourself to get better grades next time, study more, and move on. Besides, cramming it in and busting it out at the last minute always works for me!

Here to learn more:   Procrastination Specialists

Careful.

As procrastination expert, Dr. Timothy Pychyl says,

If you work best under pressure, you only work under pressure.

Continue reading

3rd Quarter blues: beware procrastination payback time

Third quarter is break-down time

It just is. Lost in the middle of a long year, things get tough.  You just got through midterms and the end of the 2nd quarter, you had a nice winter break, then, bam! School is back, and hard.

In Q3 teachers are off their game, too. They’re either panicked for having gotten off track from their pacing and lesson plans, overwhelmed from grading and making new plans, or distressed that students aren’t where they should be. Worse, administrators are having their own panic and are throwing meetings and putting  more demands on teachers, worsening the load for everyone. Continue reading

Real solutions for procrastination from Dr. Timothy A. Pychyl, part 1

ProcrastinationPuzzle_3Real solutions for Procrastination from Dr. Timothy A. Pychyl, part 1

Student Success Podcast No. 13, Jan. 15, 2014

Today’s Guest: Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D.

Dr. Pychyl shares his incredible knowledge, experience, research, and insight into the nature of procrastination and how to overcome it. Dedicated to bettering people’s lives, he uniquely applies academic concepts in a way we can all understand and appreciate.

This is part 1 of 2 segments we are publishing on the Student Success Podcast. Tim has also published his own version of the interview on his “iProcrastinate” podcast. Continue reading

Feeling like it: how to get your homework done even when you don’t feel like it

late-and-overwhelmed__msclipartSo if you don’t feel like it now, when will you?

Here’s the problem: your mood won’t match your work, and the less work you do, the less your mood will guide you towards doing your work. The only way you’ll get to it now is through Procrastinator’s Panic, which isn’t the best thing.

Research proves that last minute work is less effective, less thorough, and more stressful than work completed on time and with consistent effort. It comes down to control: if you rely on the “cram” or the last-minute surge, you’re letting the work control you, not the other way around. Continue reading

How to stop procrastination: Ten (10) tips for getting your work done

How to avoid procrastination: building self-awareness & specific steps to avoid procrastination.

You really can do something about procrastination.

If you think you “work best under pressure,” or if you think that “getting it done in the last minute” are good strategies, we beg you to think again.  By definition, procrastination is any delay that causes harm. Last-minute work almost always could have been better with planning and earlier start.

These strategies will help: Continue reading