Personalized coaching for personalized success

By Vanessa Zambrano

Achieving the Promise Academy provides three coaching options to support all students

Montgomery College (MC) adjunct professor Silas Burris has an interesting metaphor for describing his recent experience as an embedded Achieving the Promise Academy coach: “The course is the planet, and I am a satellite that is always circling. I’m always there, but I am a whole different experience.”

Burris has been teaching general psychology and child psychology at the Maryland college for three years, but fall 2021 was his first time as an embedded coach with Achieving the Promise Academy. A collegewide program, Achieving the Promise Academy provides extra support for students—an extra faculty member in addition to the professor–enrolled in select courses with the highest enrollment that are also, historically, the hardest to pass.

Achieving the Promise Academy offers three different coaching options to support students.

Personal academic coaches help students create a personalized academic success plan. They meet with them weekly and act as their coach until the students graduate or transfer.

The drop-in coaching option, which is available through a Zoom hotline or by appointment, offers students one-time coaching sessions with an academic coach who can help them think about changes they want to make and explore specific academic success strategies, like time management, goal setting, study skills, and more.

Achieving the Promise Academy also offers embedded coaching in 250 courses across MC, such as the Psychology 102 course that Burris was a part of last semester.

“We can pick up on content, we can talk about study skills, things going on in life that impact productivity, more efficient ways to do things, notetaking, reading, understanding concepts that are big,” he said of his role.

Burris said students were mostly coming to him with questions related to writing assignments.

“I think there is arguably normal anxiety around a writing assignment in a college-level course, so wanting to make sure they understand the prompt, that they are navigating the library website or identifying an article of a specific qualification, is important,” he says. “But I also have been [a listener] for personal conversations about what’s going on in their lives, how to navigate that alongside school.”

Nik Sushka, interim director of Achieving the Promise Academy, said academic coaching is distinct from but complements other supports at the college, like tutoring and academic advising, supports that coaches frequently help students connect to. But with embedded academic coaching, “The coach is paired with an entire class to provide proactive, personalized, persistent coaching sessions. They are there to help students understand concepts and to improve their studying and testing skills with coaching support.”

For Burris, it comes down to being able to create one-on-one moments that allow him to dive deeper into a topic or get to know the student in a more personal way. Sometimes, the experience creates opportunities for mentorship, as it did with student Layla Aguiriano.

“Dr. Burris has helped me through my very first semester of college,” said Aguiriano. “He would make sure that I never lost sight of what my main goal was. …. He made me realize that I just had to take it one step at a time. Being a first-generation future college graduate in my family, I definitely have been feeling the immense pressure.”

Burris said after meeting with Aguiriano weekly, they concluded that she would benefit from personal academic coaching, which she later pursued.

“With personal coaching, I feel more confident in my progress in MC,” Aguiriano said. “Sometimes everyone needs that little push of confidence or help to keep on going.  Having someone around you who knows about college, knows how the system works, knows what to do in a crisis situation, and knows a resource for every tiny little problem that you have is the most comforting thing that you could have while transitioning into a new life.”

Coaching for changing needs

As Aguiriano’s experience shows, students’ coaching and support needs can change during their time at MC. According to Sushka, it all depends on what the student wants to work on and what their time commitment is. Drop-in coaching, she says, is often a good option for students who need short-term support or who want to try out coaching.

“With drop-in coaching, students don’t need to commit to a coach or enroll in a class with a coach,” she says. “They can check in with somebody to talk about how things are going, to ask a specific question, and to learn more about what coaching is seven days a week.”

Aguiriano’s evolutionary coaching experience began by simply asking for support. She advises other students to take advantage of the resources at MC.

“Reach out for help and start using the resources and people that MC provides,” she says. “It will make your life one-thousand times easier.”

This article originally appeared here.

Vanessa Zambrano

is the strategic content producer at Montgomery College in Maryland.