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 Jen: I totally appreciate your honesty. And you’re not alone! I think motivation can change over time (sometimes waver back and forth), and every day, week or semester can be different!

Since we identified this a one of the main barriers for you, I’m going to ask you a series of questions (if you’re open to it) to try to uncover the real motivation. It can be a helpful exercise in reconnecting (or even connecting for the first time) to the true motivation for being in college.

It’s call the “5 whys” and I’m essentially going to ask you “why” several times 🙂

Student Mitchell: Yeah that’s fine!

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

Coach Jen: My first question is: why is it important to you to be in school right now?

Student Mitchell: Right now, it is important because it will help me in the future. Also, it is allowing me to decide what I want to do in the future, career-wise.

Coach: Awesome. Why (or how) will it help you with your future?

Student: It will help me learn the skills for what I want to pursue in life. It will help me understand things better. College is a life-learning experience.

Coach: Well said! So, why is it important for you to learn these skills, understand things better, and have the life-learning experience?

Student: To learn the skills, it will allow me to get a job in the future.

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 Jen: I still have few more “why” questions, so bear with me… Why is it important to you to get a job with your college degree in the future?

Student Mitchell: In some cases, having the college degree will benefit you and allow you to have the advantage again others for the job. Also, more places are open to college graduates than people with high school diplomas.

Coach: So it sounds like you see it as giving you a competitive edge or advantage (or opening doors) when trying to get a job you might want?

Student: Yes, in a way. I feel that if someone really wants a job, they’ll take every opportunity to see that they have the upper hand. I see it all a dedication themselves to their dreams.

Coach: Yes! So you see your college degree as a pathway to doing what you want (even if that’s not exactly determined yet, which is totally normal and OK, btw)

Student: Yeah that’s how I view it.

Coach: Why is it important to do something (for work, in the future) that you want to do? I’ll be heading out for the day shortly, so I’ll follow back up with you tomorrow to finish up our conversation.

Student: I feel that I should do what I want in life. If I have a job that I don’t care for, then what is the point of working. I want to have something that I can look forward to doing. Rather than dreading having to go to work.

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 Jen:  Hey Mitchell, thanks for sticking with this exercise and following up last night. We’ve peeled back a few layers to get to more of the root of why you’re currently in college, doing the school work to get through each week, each month, each semester until you have a degree.

If I’m understanding correctly, having you college degree is something that will open doors, provide you with opportunities, and most importantly allow you to have a job or career that you actually enjoy. Which is truly meaningful because you’ll be working for many more years ahead and liking what you do can impact a lot in life!

Student Mitchell: That is exactly how I view my degree, for whatever I choose to pursue. Why would someone work at a job they hate going to, when they can do something they love. I don’t want to waste my life working on something that I don’t appreciate.

Coach: What was it like to have this conversation about the underlying motivation for you – why you’re in college now and connecting it to the bigger picture? And what other questions, concerns, thoughts or ideas has it brought up for you?

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.

Student Mitchell: It gives me the idea of why I need to work on my stuff. And I don’t have any other questions, thanks. Just besides trying to get my motivation up!

Coach Jen: Yeah, it really sounds to me like you know deep down why you’re here and why this is important. It can be easy to lose sight of that big picture (of really long-term goals). How will reconnecting, or uncovering, this motivation help you work on your stuff?

Student: If I reconnect with my lost motivation, I will be able to finally start focusing on the bigger picture, which is doing my work and choosing my career.

Coach: OK! So great! Can I make a suggestion?

Student: Definitely!

Coach: We need to capture you motivation in some way (outside of our text exchanges). Sometimes I have people write it down on a piece of paper or a sticky note and put it on their computer (or where they do a lot of their school work), or sometimes put a calendar reminder or notification to pop-up with a sentence, word or phrase that really taps into the motivation piece.

What could you do so that you’ll have it in your face 🙂 What word, sentence or picture could you use and where will it go?

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.

Student Mitchell: I could have it be linked through my phone and laptop. That way, I’ll see it on one of those things. I’m not sure what I would use, maybe a quote from people who I believe have turned their motivation into their legacy. It could very well lead me to getting where I want to be.

Coach Jen: Nice! I like that you’ve chosen a very visible place for the visual. And a motivating quote sounds great! I’m also wondering what it would be like if you just wrote something down in your own words (sometimes that speaks to us the most)!

Like something you texted me earlier: “I don’t want to waste my life working on something that I don’t appreciate…” A gentle, yet realistic, reminder why not to procrastinate on the next reading or assignment! You ultimately know what will “speak” to you the most.

Student:  Yeah that sounds like a good idea. I could have it or a quote set as a daily reminder.

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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