Education Evolutions

Raising personal standards leads to increased student motivation in Washington, DC

Lana Learn High-Impact Tutoring program coach facilitates students raising personal standards to take ownership of their academic success at Thurgood Marshall Academy.

On Thursday February 16, 2023, I had my first site visit and High-Impact Tutoring (HIT) program meeting at Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) here in SE Washington DC. The last day of classes and HIT coaching sessions for this first cohort of students was Friday, June 9. I have taken the liberty of writing a “semester in review” to reflect on my first installments of HIT coaching sessions. Read on to see how I’ve impacted my students by facilitating them raising personal standards to take ownership of their academic success.

We posted the first part of this summary back in June. Here is part two: my review of HIT programming for the semester, with key events and dates emphasized. 

March 30-31, 2023 – Coaching sessions begin

After all the research, planning, class observations and creating schedules, I had my first HIT coaching sessions the last two days of March. I had been anticipating this moment for a while now, and I was both eager to begin and anxious about how the sessions might go. Truth be told, while I had clear ideas of what I wanted to happen in the coaching space, (and in alignment with the goals and objectives of the HIT program), everything depended on these first sessions establishing one key dynamic: 

Make “Working with Mr. Toju” an engaging and even fun experience that hopefully felt different than class! 

How to accomplish this? Well, throwing up multiple math problems and writing assignments on the board those first two days wouldn’t work. How would that be any different from their regular classes? All the students had some idea they had been selected for a “high-impact” program and had by now noticed me during the class observations, but that was it. The details of “what” and “why” would be part of the initial dialogues we would have during those first sessions. Dialogue that would give them a clear sense of what they had been selected for and why. While simultaneously giving me a clearer sense of each individual student – their personas, academic goals, etc.  

What’s your favorite subject?

So, no – these first sessions did not commence with math problems or writing assignments. We had conversations instead. I introduced myself and talked a bit about my background. I spoke about the program and why/how they had been selected (Congratulations!). It didn’t take long for the smiles and excited energy to set in. Finally, it was their turn to introduce themselves.  

“What’s your favorite and least favorite subject? Why?” “What subjects do you get your best grades in?” “How do you feel about your classes? Why?” “What are you really good at? What could you teach to people right now?”  

Yes, I had observed them in the context of their [English and math] classrooms. I had seen their levels of participation and engagement with teachers and classmates. What I sought now was a clear sense of who they were, their unfettered individual blends of personality and academic profiles. 

As you can imagine, their responses were varied and engaging. They all had definite “best” and “worst” subjects. In many cases, their favorite subjects were out of sync with their best subjects grade-wise. They all knew what they were good at and could teach people these skills. This ranged from chess and checkers to braiding and weaving, aka “doing your hair”. The back-and-forth exchanges and comments between them was more than I had seen any of them exhibit in class, but that wasn’t surprising at this point. It was looking like “working with Mr. Toju” just might become the fun, engaging “different than class” experience I was hoping for them.  And they hadn’t even talked about their current classes yet. 

I get bored!

“How do you feel about your classes? Why?” This line of questioning provoked the most dialogue and conversations amongst my students. Similarly, it is an ongoing dialogue we often return to in all HIT sessions. Their responses were revealing and, in my opinion, variations of a few common themes. 

  • Feelings of boredom
  • Lacking challenge
  • Lacking focus or motivation

These responses from two students also caught my attention: 

  • “I don’t come to school because [teacher or class] is boring!” 
  • “I don’t like writing! I do numbers, I get numbers, I get math! They already know I’m not challenged at all in math class.” Having already observed this student in class, I didn’t find her response surprising. In fact, I greatly appreciated her self-awareness and bluntness throughout the sessions. 

Having these first dialogues in the first few coaching sessions clarified something for me.  

In part one of this summary, I emphasized that one of my goas was to make “working with Mr. Toju” a fun and engaging experience. I also needed a clear picture of the students’ academic performances (grades, GPA, etc.). Additionally, I had to make each HIT session flexible enough to address students’ specific academic and personal challenges. 

But in their responses to the, “How do you feel about your classes?” question, we had stumbled upon the single most important element that would determine the outcomes of the sessions for each participant: 

What are you willing to do?

About boredom in class? The curriculum not being “challenging” enough for you? Settling for less than the “A” grade you know you’re capable of? Lack of motivation and focus in class?

In other words, the real challenge for me was, essentially: 

 How best to engage each participant, based on their responses and personalities, to facilitate the best possible academic, intellectual, and personal growth outcomes?

The first step? Guiding them on taking OWNERSHIP of their learning and academic growth! 

In the initial meetings with TMA about HIT coaching, I was told “These are B students who should be A students, just not challenged enough in the classroom.”  

Well, it didn’t occur to me then, but what that spoke to was not academic competency or any lack thereof. What that spoke to was the need for “raising personal standards.” Developing the habits that foster success and eliminating the habits that sabotage growth. Habits and values that engender success, however you define it. Habits and values that differentiate “very good” from “excellent” “talented” from “exceptional”. 

 But how exactly does one “coach, teach, mentor, provoke, and inspire” and otherwise convince fourteen and fifteen-year-olds (some of whom claimed to be quite comfortable with their current B averages) to take MORE OWNERSHIP of their academic growth and learning experience? 

Stay tuned next month for the third (and final, I promise!) installment of this HIT@TMA program review. 

Toju Omatete, Lana Learn HIT Program Coach at Thurgood Marshall Academy
Toju Omatete, Lana Learn HIT Program Coach at Thurgood Marshall Academy

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