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What stigma? What support looks like at a student-centered college

After starting the new school year in the wake of Hurricane Irma, Florida’s Pasco-Hernando State College had to be ready for anything. The school’s student affairs and enrollment management staff put a different spin on readiness at their annual summit that focused on the theme of “Becoming a Student-Ready College.” Through team-building and professional development activities, staff gathered to build camaraderie, celebrate their shared mission, and support each other in putting students first. In her keynote address, Catherine Parkay, InsideTrack’s research programs director, shared the following tips on how institutions can become student ready, no matter the circumstances.

Walk the Walk

“What does it feel like for you when you try something new?” Parkay asked the audience. Parkay coached earlier in her career at InsideTrack, and still draws on the sometimes uncomfortable experience of learning new skills to put herself in a student’s shoes. “If we want students to embrace a growth mindset, to persist through setbacks and trust the learning process, we must embrace it ourselves. If we want them to be lifelong learners, every one of us must demonstrate by being students too,” she said.

Stop Blaming Students

Even talented and motivated students can feel like they’re fumbling in the dark when they try to navigate higher education policies and requirements — or do something as seemingly straightforward as read through the college’s course catalog. Blaming students when they become stymied by these everyday obstacles can perpetuate achievement gaps and deprive us of these students’ irreplaceable contributions, Parkay cautioned.

Remove the Stigma

Many students, Parkay explained, associate asking for help with a stigma. She shared a story of one student she coached who didn’t reach out to her until she was failing several classes. Rather than chastise the student for not seeking help sooner, Parkay said she chose to celebrate the student’s courage. “I told the student, ‘If the only thing we accomplish this year is for you to learn to ask for help, that’s OK,’” she recalled. In the end, their interaction shattered the student’s limiting and false beliefs about asking for help. “When students only hear from us when there’s a problem, they associate our help with being in trouble,” Parkay said. She implored the audience, “Ask yourself how you might be inadvertently reinforcing existing stigmas.”

Be your own best coach

Student support research indicates that coaching has a residual, long-term impact on the student. “Long after they work with a coach, they continue to perform better than students in demographically balanced, randomly selected control groups,” Parkay explained. Coaching helps keep students from boomeranging back into your office with the same issue. Think of it as working yourself out of a job, Parkay said. This ultimately benefits even more students when valuable support personnel have more time to focus on proactive and high-impact interactions instead of constantly putting out fires.

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