Supporting students anytime, anywhere via text coaching

Crafting the “perfect 10” text exchange

Mitchell, a college student in Indiana, was having a hard time with time management and distractions. He was in the process of earning his associate’s degree, but was struggling with academics. When his Retention Coach, Jen Adams, would call, her calls went unanswered. When she offered to set up a call at a time that worked best for Mitchell, he stated that he’d rather text. Little did he know that Coach Jen was adept at coaching via text and she would use that medium to connect with Mitchell and help him regain his footing on the road to graduation.

Meeting students where they’re at

While texts are traditionally used for snippets of informal conversation — often just acronyms and emojis — they can also be an amazing way to communicate with busy, on-the-go college students. This is especially true with online students, where the campus is virtual and keeping students connected is critical. “Mitchell told me he would rather text, so I think meeting him where he was at with his preferred platform for communication was key,” says Coach Jen.

“We communicated via text just as we would speaking over the phone. But I had to be mindful of how many characters I was using — being as succinct as possible, while still including my ‘voice.’”

Along with supporting students by helping them connect their long-term goals to their degree completion, coaching by text can also be used to identify potential challenges and develop plans to overcome them. And it can provide student support for engaging with online institutional resources — from advising support, videos and tutoring to student help desks and community discussion forums.

Coaching — and connecting — through texts

While working with Mitchell, Coach Jen made sure to clarify her role throughout their texting conversations. “I explained to him that in coaching, we do x, y and z to ensure a mutual understanding of how and why we would cover various topics. Before engaging in certain coaching exercises, I always asked if he was open to it, which he was.”

Along with time management issues, Mitchell also expressed that he was struggling with procrastination. “Through texting,” said Jen.

“We were able to uncover a lack of motivation for his being in school right now — he wasn’t connecting putting in the work with the degree and the career he’ll have at the end.”

According to Jen, the area of focus with Mitchell was almost always around academics. “Initially, we focused on how to combat procrastination and  how to minimize distractions while studying.” They also explored having Mitchell change the environment where he studies, along with ways he could hold himself accountable. “Ultimately, the most helpful topic to cover seemed to be motivation. Our communication provided time and space for him to reconnect to his motivation for going to college in the first place.”

“I really appreciate everything!”

So what was the most exciting change she witnessed during her text coaching sessions with Mitchell? Coach Jen says it was when he reconnected his immediate actions (studying) to his bigger picture life goals (having a career in an area he enjoys). In the end, Mitchell was very grateful for all the help he received from his coach. Coach Jen remembers getting a text that said “Thank you for all the help. You definitely made my freshman year a lot smoother for me. I really appreciate everything.” 

The fine art of texting

During one of her last text meetings with Mitchell, the entire exchange was internally reviewed using a rubric. The text meeting scored a perfect 10. According to Mark Pitzer, an Operations Quality Specialist with InsideTrack, “Earning a score of 10 tells us that Jen employed InsideTrack coaching tools and techniques in a manner that was adapted to what the student needed at that time, and that the interaction had a strong impact on the student.” He continues, explaining “Over the years, we’ve made some changes, but our student support has always been and continues to be based on two main factors: coaching methodology and impact on the student.”

“I walked Mitchell through an exercise called ‘The Five Whys,’ which spanned the course of a few days. He stuck with it, and ultimately reconnected with his core motivation for graduating with his degree,” Jen said. Here’s a look at some of that “perfect 10” text exchange:

COACH TIP: Get student buy-in by explaining what you’re going to be talking about — and why.

COACH TIP: Tap into the student’s abilities and mindset in order to get them to self-realize that their efforts pay off and they can achieve their goals.

COACH TIP: In conversations that span a longer period of time, be sure and communicate when you’ll be out so the student knows what to expect.

COACH TIP: Once you’ve gotten the student to address and problem solve a key issue, give them the opportunity to ask questions or follow-up on related topics.

COACH TIP: Having the student strategize and problem-solve is a way to build the relationship while helping them stay on task, overcome obstacles and learn to grow.

So what was the motivational quote Mitchell created for himself? “You can make something of your life. It just depends on your drive.” An ongoing text dialog between student and coach can truly be a motivational force — especially for online students.

Learn more about ways text messaging can be used to connect with and help students — including students in crisis.

Student name has been changed.


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