Making Adjustments and Encouragement

Things usually go slowly when you start addressing a student’s school performance issues. It is rare that the problem just started, but major life issues (death, divorce, incarceration of a parent, drug and alcohol issues and etc.) do happen and require more than a parent, guidance counselor or teacher can usually handle. This can be very complex and I will need to discuss this during a future blog.

For now, I want to focus on what happens next; i.e., you are working with a specific student and you need to do some problem solving so that you can develop an action plan. Scheduling a meeting with the parent(s), teachers and any support staff (nurse, vice principal and etc.) that are involved with the student really adds great value. When we meet as a group, it isn’t unusual that some teachers see different strengths and weaknesses. At this point, we also have state test results and report cards from previous years so we can determine if this is an ongoing issue and if there were any specific changes that have happened recently.

It is important to get the parent’s perception of the information that is being presented. Some times they may be defensive ad sometimes they are surprised and sometimes they are pleased that we took the time to research the information and present our findings. Whatever their reaction, we need their support to ensure that we can help their child improve. We need their involvement in monitoring, supervising, encouraging, developing rewards and consequences and making a commitment to work on this for as long as it takes. They have to be willing to work through the times that their child will push back to see if they really are committed to do whatever it takes to make progress.

If they say they will check their child’s book bag, agenda or phone for assignments, dates of upcoming quizzes and tests and follow up with the school when things are not completed, and they don’t, their child will figure this out very quickly. This may be the single most difficult barrier to overcome and will reduce the chances for this student to become more able to make progress. That is also a factor that needs to be addressed as we implement an action plan.

The above may sound very clinical and calculated, but that is the point. People do not make changes in their lives unless there is a specific motivation for them to do so. That student that has been failing doesn’t automatically change the amount of time they spend doing homework, studying for quizzes and tests or making appointments to get help from their teachers when it isn’t a priority at home or at school. This requires a lot of hard work for the student, their parent(s), teachers and counselors. This is also a process that requires encouragement and support.

When this meeting is completed, I find that writing up my notes and sending them by e-mail to everyone that was in attendance will provide a record of  responsibilities and time frames that were agreed to. If someone needs to clarify what was discussed, they have a specific framework to refer to and don’t need to reinvent the wheel. When we are reviewing progress and next steps, we have that framework that was put in place and can specifically discuss changes and suggestions that will add value and ensure success.

I believe that it was my responsibility as a counselor to meet with my students and review the plan that was created. Teachers are very good at documenting results and most schools now have on-line grade books that can be accessed by students and parents. I review, highlight specific areas in need of improvement and print the students assignments and grades and send them home with the student. To ensure that the parent sees this information, I have the parents sign the print out and have the student return it to me. This starts the base line of where the student is and my future meetings refer back to what has happened since that meeting. It is very helpful to have access to this information, and even more importantly, the student knows that I can see exactly how they have done since our last meeting.

The process from here is one of follow up meetings with the student and e-mails and calls to teachers and parents to determine what is working and what we need to change. This is the part of the process that is more of an art than a science. This is the part of the process where we are trying to have the student take responsibility for their actions and the time we are trying to encourage, motivate and instruct them to tell us how they are feeling and what we can do to help them become successful.

Next time I will be discussing goal setting. If the student sets their goals too low, it limits their ability to make significant progress.