How often do you use your counselor? Our guest post is by Stephen Holland telling us how important it is to utilize the school counselors and what success they can bring to you and your students.
When online students fall behind in your course, who do you call? My answer is to call the student’s college counselor. Calling in the counselor to help make that important connection has saved many a student enrolled in my online courses. I recommend putting counselors on the team as active participants. Counselors are crucial in putting action into the student’s success plan.
Of course, counselors are teammates who are involved in a student’s success long before the day of enrollment. We long have recognized them as valuable agents of success for students. They have many, many duties. Many of these duties are addressed in the 2011 report that Dr. Mac Adkins of SmarterServices and Julie Bryant of Noel-Levitz authored. The authors make four recommendations to help colleges build an online experience of quality for the students. Writing in “Online Student Readiness as a Predictor of Online Student Satisfaction,” they suggest:
- “Online learning should provide a measurement of a student’s level of readiness for studying online as a beneficial student service.
- “Appropriate individuals should have a dialogue with online learning students about their levels of readiness to inform decisions regarding instructional delivery systems and/or provide students with appropriate resources for remediation and support.
- “Literature in online learning programs should communicate to students that their level of readiness will likely impact their level of satisfaction with the online learning experience …
- “Institutions should monitor student satisfaction regularly to determine how they are meeting their students’ expectations and which areas require improvement.”
I have highlighted in bold a few key concepts in those recommendations, in order to highlight phrases where counselors may take action. Now let us focus upon how counselors put these concepts into action, illustrating how the suggestions help students. A case in point, not long ago I had a student who for several weeks was making very good progress from the start of the semester in one of my online courses. Just after midterm, however, her name showed up on our student-at-risk dashboard as she had not entered the course for several days and missed a deadline for a major assignment. Here our monitoring system provided data calling us into action. What did I as an instructor do? I wrote the student, and I called her counselor. By the way, I also consider the student to be a teammate.
Prior to the start of the semester, the counselor had worked with the student to create an academic plan, so he was more aware than I of her academic needs. He was also aware of personal issues in her life, which gave him insight I did not have. Plus, he quite often saw the student on campus. As an online instructor, I rarely bump into students on campus unless I specifically go to the college. Even so, I do not have photographs of students and would most likely walk right past those in my online classes unless they recognized me first and then introduced themselves. My photo is included in the course design, but I only have a slim chance of this possibility happening. However, the counselor often knows the students face-to-face, often sees them on campus, and already is connecting with them via phone, text, email, or, most importantly, in person. While the student mentioned in my case study did not respond to my attempts to communicate with me, there was no escaping the counselor. The counselor very quickly made the personal connection for me, and with this nudge addressing my concern the student again became an active member of the class. I credit her successfully finishing the course to the counselor’s timely intervention. The lesson learned is that even though I now teach only online I often do have an on-campus appearance through the efforts of the counselor, my teammate.
As Adkins and Bryant suggest, placing the counselors on the success team starts long before the student finds himself or herself in trouble. With that being said, I request counselors welcome my students immediately after enrollment in my courses. It is common practice that students enroll in courses several weeks ahead of their start. For example, spring semester courses may start in the middle of January but the roster may be completed by the middle of November. This is a shorter wait time than the one for fall courses, which tend to start in late August. Enrollment for fall courses at my college starts in the middle of April. In either case, this is too long to go without a personal contact.
Given that the wait is so long, I want to address this. As early as I can after students enroll, usually within 48 hours, I send an email welcoming them to the class. I immediately send students a syllabus, schedule, and invitation to explore the course. Here is where the counselors show up as teammates for a particular course. I also provide the students the name of their counselors. Many students do not know who is assigned to them as a counselor. Some students, for example, are transfer students and may not immediately have been assigned a counselor. If I see this, I ask one of the transition-to-college counselors to stand in and make a connection until an academic counselor has been assigned. I then ask the counselors to send a brief email to welcome the students to my class and to provide contact information. Instantly, a counselor is activated as a team member for the student’s success within the course. When I spot a potential issue for the student’s success after an exploration of student records, I confer with the counselor who then helps me to devise a strategy to address the concern. Thus, long before the student has officially begun the class, attention is being given to the student to enhance the opportunity for success.
In addition, I find that the more I talk with counselors about my classes the more they help me to succeed as a teacher through student placement. To explain, I find that sometimes counselors recommend a student for my courses, doing so with increasing clarity as to my objectives. That is, counselors become more and more familiar themselves with my assignments as well as my teaching efforts on the behalf of the students. Sometimes the recommended student is a high-achiever and sometimes the student needs developmental help. The point is that the counselor sees something in the student’s profile that appears to be a good match to my approach. I have grown to rely upon counselors to review student profiles that make for better matches in my courses.
Many institutions now post online syllabi and even the complete course. There are orientation units, study plans, notes on financial aid, and more instantly available to students. Early intervention strategies such as these take the mystery out of the course. The personal touch, though, helps the students to be ready for success not only on day one of the course but also while the course is underway. Putting counselors on the team works for students.
Steve Holland teaches English and Education classes online through the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC). In 2012, the ICCOC honored him as Teacher of the Year. He recently retired after 25 years of teaching with Eastern Iowa Community College, but he continues to teach and serve as an education consultant. He holds a B.A. in journalism, an M.A. in English, an Ed.S. in Education, and an Ph.D. in Education, all through The University of Iowa. He has also served as a judge for Softchalk’s annual Lesson Challenge.