Schools around the world are getting creative and working hard to develop remote capacity while we all navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For the past two years, College Success Foundation has used both remote and in-person coaching models. Below, you can read tips from our Passport Coaches and Program Managers for those faced with the sudden and widespread shift to full-time remote coaching. 

Our College Services Coaches are currently remotely coaching students from their regions. 

  • Robbie Lang, currently working with students at Central Washington University and Western Washington University,
  • Rosalynn Guillen, currently working with students at UW-Seattle,
  • Arlicia Etienne, currently working with students at UW-Tacoma
  • Denise Smith, currently working with students at Eastern Washington University

It will be some time before we know the full impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our students, but we believe we can work together and unwaveringly support our students remotely. 

You can watch the full webinar recording on our YouTube.

What strategies are most effective for connecting with students remotely? How often do you check in or meet with the students you’re working with?

“One change I have made is a lot more phone calls – I used to avoid them. But I’ve found they’re answering more and it’s been effective. I’m doing more follow-up correspondence too. More texting and email outreach. I try to make these more individual instead of sending bulk texts or emails. These lead to a better response rate – which makes sense! I am also trying to be more direct with students when I want to schedule a video call. Being more directive has helped schedule times. I’ve been averaging about five coaching appointments a week and 7-10 other meaningful moments of communication.”

-Denise Smith, CSF College Services Coach for Eastern Washington University

“There are so many great things I’ve learned about remote coaching. The first is authenticity. It’s hard to portray authenticity when you’re sending mass emails, but we need to share our passion so we can start connecting with students. I recommend using specific language rather than being broad… Things like open ended questions and making it really easy to sign up for an appointment. I also want to communicate why it’s important to have the connection with a coach. I share things about myself that I think they can relate with. I was a first generation student too, so I share little blurbs about imposter syndrome or challenges. Questions like, “Do you know how long it took me to pick a major?” help students connect with me. I try to normalize their struggles and relate with them. 

Another thing I want to highlight is intention. When I am engaged with a student, I want to really listen to what they are saying and write down what they said: things they were looking forward to, what’s going on in their life. I keep a calendar, and then I can be really intentional about bringing it up later or reaching out with details and dates they mentioned… really going out of my way and spending time building those relationships. At the conclusion of the meeting, I always make sure we talk about next steps and goals. We set time limits for when we’ll check in again and that helps keep a calendar of encouragement and engagement. 

I also pick up the phone and call. I had a biased outlook toward phone calls and thought people wouldn’t answer, but now they’re answering and we naturally fall into an impromptu coaching session. I’ve been able to reach a larger number of students that way!”

-Rosalynn Guillen, CSF College Services Coach for University of Washington-Seattle

What tools have you used to engage with students who have limited access to technology? How have you provided technological training for students who have access to technology?

“I’ve used Zoom, Google Hangouts, phone calls, and texting with my students. One thing I found helpful is using tools they’re already familiar with so there’s no additional barrier. Most of my students at UW-Tacoma are using Zoom with their classes already, so I ask my students what method of communication they prefer. Some students are a little shy to be on camera with video chatting, but using the link with the option to call or video chat is helpful. Because technology is limited, I recommend avoiding complexity and go with things the students already know and are familiar with.”

-Arlicia Etienne, CSF College Services Coach for University of Washington-Tacoma

“For adjusting to online learning, the two biggest pieces I’ve seen are access and time management. I’ve worked with students who have been doing all their assignments on their phone – reading, writing papers, watching lectures – they’re trying to make it work but it’s not ideal. When that comes up or is noticed, I try to talk with them about what other access to technology they might have. The first thing is to explore what barriers those students have and what we can do to alleviate those barriers. Maybe their college is loaning out laptops or providing wifi services. College Success Foundation and the Washington Passport Network both have small pools of funds dedicated to emergency requests like this as well. The other thing is time management. This adjustment to online classes has caused students to really need to hold themselves accountable for time management. So I work with students on procrastination, how to stay on track, spread assignments out, things like that. Students typically know the tech really well, and they use tools they are already familiar with.”

-Robbie Lang, CSF College Services Coach for Central Washington University and Western Washington University

What have you found helpful to support the mental wellness of students in a remote setting?

“The mental health aspect of this is more important now than ever. When meeting with students, I kick the meeting off informally asking them how they’re doing and gauging where they’re at and how they’re doing. I’m trying to relate, normalize the abnormal and get that out the way. That conversation flags some things I might want to check in on again. I also focus a lot on self care: are you getting out for a walk? How are you de-stressing? I ask a lot of questions about how the student’s family is doing too. They might not realize how big the adjustments are and I want to address those things. I like to send a quick text, thoughtful messages letting them know I’m thinking about them. 

Also, students that are still living on campus – that’s a whole new experience. It’s a ghost town and feels weird for them. I try to ask them about that and have them tell me their experience. I just try to create a mental health domain and really bring that into my conversation.”

-Denise Smith, CSF College Services Coach for Eastern Washington University

“I have tried to maintain whatever services I was providing before we moved remote, so I still focus on promoting community building. I try to find ways to build a community virtually and bolster a sense of normalcy to promote mental wellness. Students are used to having a community on campus so I try to find a way to promote that virtually. I’ve also been making sure to celebrate my students and all their victories – a birthday, getting accepted into a major – it’s important to go out of my way to acknowledge those and be creative by using a note in the mail or a text. I think it’s worth sending acknowledgement and praise as often as I can.”

 -Arlicia Etienne, CSF College Services Coach for University of Washington-Tacoma

Additional remote coaching tips:

“Make it as easy as possible for your students to meet with you. Use whatever technology you have available to set appointments. It increases your capacity and reduces the back and forth that can come with scheduling.”

-Robbie Lang, CSF College Services Coach for Central Washington University and Western Washington University

“This isn’t a one-size-fits-all. It’s a tapestry of communication: it’s emails and texts, but it’s important to make students feel visible to you and build those connections. So I use unscheduled phone calls too. I physically schedule time to make calls in my calendar for impromptu coaching sessions. I also set goals for myself to keep myself on track with calls and outreach. Be mindful about what time in the quarter it is for students too and be mindful of their schedule. Also, just be yourself – send authentic emails, use photos or memes, and follow the metrics to see if you can track schedule patterns to guide the outreach.” 

-Rosalynn Guillen, CSF College Services Coach for University of Washington-Seattle

Some additional resources from the webinar: