How better staff training creates better student interactions

Student support from the front lines

A two-year vocational school in Wisconsin was undergoing internal and external changes and the admission, advising and career counseling staff needed help. They were experiencing burnout and a lack of motivation. They felt like they were doing work beyond their scope. And while they loved the students they worked with, they were feeling overwhelmed — and needed guidance to better engage with those students.

With school and department priorities changing, leadership turned to InsideTrack to provide ongoing training. Nikki, a client-trainer certified coach, was one of the InsideTrack team members who led a series of ongoing virtual training sessions with the school’s advisors, admissions team and career counselors.

Helping the team that helps the students

“The staff members I worked with told me about what they had been working on and how they were trying to improve their student interactions,” recalls Nikki.

“When I shared specific examples with them of student situations or ways to approach something differently, I could audibly hear the a-ha moment where they realized they could relate. Having a college counselor tell me they would try things differently based on my coaching was a great feeling.”

So what did Nikki think was the most positive effect of the training she led? “Giving them space to reflect during our conversations, and think about ways that their work could be easier and more enjoyable with a few new tips and tricks,” she replied.

Drilling down into crucial topics

As a trainer, Nikki often has to work with counselors and other student-facing staff members to take an in-depth look at major issues. In today’s higher ed world, change is the status quo, and change initiatives typically involve multiple stakeholders across the campus. Thus was the case at this college, where student-facing staff needed help assessing to prioritize the most pressing student needs.

“This is a common issue,” recalls Nikki.

“In order to help the trainees prioritize what needs to be done, I ask lots of questions to make sure they’re focusing on the real issue. Sometimes the challenge an institution thinks they need to solve isn’t actually the real problem. By asking questions — and assessing their specific situation — I can help them get to the core.”

According to Nikki, since advisors can have dozens of students on their roster, when it comes time to interact with those students, they tend to ask routine questions without getting too deep. She gives the example of a typical exchange with a student: “You need to register for biology 101? Great, here you go. Thanks for coming in.”

“The trick,” she says, “is to dig deeper and ask lots of questions so you can determine the most pressing issue for the student and not miss any major red flags. They could come in asking to register for a course, but you may discover that they don’t have the financial aid they need, or they’re failing two classes. That’s an entirely different need and conversation.”

By training the advisors to ask students about different aspects of their college life, she gets them to take a more holistic view.

“What do you know about your financial aid package? What’s important to you to feel a sense of belonging on campus? How are you preparing for life after graduation?”

That, she says, is the engagement that moves the needle.

Student success

“Ultimately,” says Nikki, “it all comes down to how do you make sure the student is getting what they need.” For her, that means tailoring her training depending on the specific staff type. Since advisors, admission staff and career counselors each have different reasons for interacting with students and are working with them at different points in their educational journey, Nikki tailors the training to match their needs.

“The best part for me,” she says, “is when I can tell the advisor or counselor is really engaged with me and is soaking in the information.” She says she can tell when they connect and get excited, sharing student stories and examples of ways they can use the information to better their job.

“When they ask lots of questions, I know they’re invested in helping their students.”

And that’s what it’s all about.

See how one university solved a problem it didn’t know it had — increasing retention in the process.


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