Lana Learn HIT coach at Thurgood Marshall Academy helps students build habits and take ownership over their learning.
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. This installment focuses on helping my students build habits that contribute to their academic success.
Own Your Learning
- Are you “bored’ in class?
- Is the curriculum not challenging enough for you?
- Are you settling less for the A grade you know you’re capable of?
- Are you not motivated or focused in class?
In part two, I mentioned that the question, “How do you feel about your classes?” elicited the strongest reactions and most engaging dialogue amongst the students. They all shared the same sentiments: boredom, unchallenging work, lack of focus and motivation.
In other words, the real challenge for each student was essentially the same.
How best to engage each individual participant, based on their responses and personalities, to facilitate the best possible academic, intellectual, and personal growth outcomes?
Well, the first step for each one of them was simply taking ownership of their learning and your academic growth.
What do I mean by “taking ownership?” I mean taking responsibility for the attitude, commitment, effort, energy, and focus you bring to your learning process and academic growth!
Thurgood Marshall has evaluated and recognized these students’ academic capacities as “above the challenges of the current 9th grade curriculum.” TMA has selected them for a program designed to “academically engage, coach, tutor, teach, mentor, provoke, and inspire the student participants from their current “very good/promising” academic profiles to “excellent/high achievers” status. TMA said, “These are B students who should be A students.” And even more so, students who need constant challenge and stimulation beyond the classroom curriculum.
Now how was that supposed to work? How would we – the students, their teachers, and I – manifest the desired outcomes stated above?
This was the point at which I engaged the students in a conversation about my role in their learning and academic growth. We discussed the various roles I’ve had as an educator and teacher and now an “academic coach.” I asked them what they thought coaches did, if they could give examples of different types of coaches, and what all coaches have in common. They produced numerous examples and definitions of a coach’s role. However, they all agreed that coaches, “are there to help you perform at your best.” That’s when I told them my role was to be their “academic coach” and “performance coach.” I was not there to replace their classroom teacher or replicate their work.
And yes, of course I would be supporting their classroom work, working on their individual academic competencies and weaknesses, writing, comprehension, critical thinking, etc. However, my core focus was getting them to improve their academic performance by recognizing, understanding, and developing the habits that would ensure they sustained “academic excellence.” Because the difference between B+ and A+ or between “very good/ talented” and “excellent/ exceptional” comes down to the choices we make.
Students could choose to keep articulating and complaining about how boring and unchallenged they were in their classes. They could continue emphasizing they could be getting better grades if they were more motivated, or…
they could decide that, from this point forward, their priority as TMA students would be constantly thinking about and asking themselves a few questions.
- What do I need to do to ace this class?
- What do I need to do to completely understand this subject, this topic?
- What do I need to do to get my best possible result/ grade in this class?
- What can I do to accomplish all this?
- Who or what can help me accomplish this?”
Well, it would take a few more sessions with them for this to sink in, but eventually they realized that:
- Participating in the HIT program meant they were choosing to develop the learning ownership habit.
- I would work with them to recognize, understand, and develop those habits that ensure academic excellence.
- When you’re fully engaged in whatever it is you are doing, it is no longer boring! Or at least, you are no longer waiting for it to become more “interesting” for you.
So what did this look like in the coaching sessions? This was the point when we talked about ‘raising your standard’ which would reflect in the goals they set for themselves. However, I did inform them of the goals and expectations I and the HIT at TMA team had for them.
· All HIT program participants would improve by at least one grade level in math and/or ELA. All B grades would improve to at least an A-. All A+ grades would be maintained and sustained throughout their time at TMA.
This was the obvious “academic improvement goal.” It’s a necessary benchmark to measure their academic growth and effectiveness of the HIT coaching sessions. However, we were looking for more than just academic improvement. We needed to, at the very least, instill the idea of “taking ownership/responsibility” for their own successes. In communicating with the students and their teachers about how they were doing in class, it became clear that key indicators of academic growth and success came down to a simple checklist of questions:
- Were they doing all their class assignments and homework?
- Were they completing and turning in all assigned work on time?
- Were they taking responsibility for understanding all subject topics being taught and asking their teachers and academic coach questions when they didn’t understand?
- Could they accurately verbalize their academic strengths and weaknesses?
- Did they have a learning ownership strategy? Were they actively applying it?
Throughout the process and during coaching sessions, it has helped to constantly remind myself that these are fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, and I used to be one of them! Ambitious, high-achieving professionals normally hire Performance coaches. But I am working with academically talented teenagers who aren’t thinking about cultivating success habits for life.
I practice patience and continue to hold dialogues about taking responsibility for your own success with my students. I also ensure that there is constant dialogue with teachers about my students’ grades, participation, and performance. One-on-one time with students to follow up on an issue their teacher has made me aware of has made an enormous impact. Students realize that I do care, and I am keeping track of what they’re doing in class.
Also, they all started to enjoy (or at least appreciate) my, “Put away those calculators, thank you. We will be using paper, pencils, and our brains to solve these problems!” approach to math. I most certainly enjoyed the privilege of being an academic coach to that first cohort of students, whom I continue to see walking the hallways as 10th graders now. It’s these 10th graders now encouraging the current set of HIT program participants to take full advantage of the coaching sessions and their time with me.