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Virtual Student Success Teams

(A. Solano)
March 22, 2020

Video is also available via YouTube.

In a recent piece on Student Success Teams, I defined them as: 

An academic and student services team that collaborates to plan and implement data-informed, equity-infused practices along the student journey.

These teams could be attached to a division, school, or for campuses that created meta-majors, per each or combination of meta-majors (also known at many campuses as Career & Academic Pathways, Interest Areas, Academic & Career Pathways, Areas of Interest, etc.).

Necessity is often the mother of all inventions, especially in a crisis. Given the extreme circumstances that colleges are in and the need to ensure that students are supported and receive quality instruction, Student Success Teams would engage in short bursts of inquiry in deep collaboration with a Distance Education/Teaching & Learning Team.

Here are steps for short bursts of inquiry that Student Success Teams would undertake:

STEP 1: Identify Student Needs
Identify and clarify specific student needs as students transition to online and continue their learning online (which could be extended to 2020-2021):
- Most of this information will be garnered from faculty, frontline student services professionals, institutional research, and of course, students.
- Having settings for a crisis will help ensure a steady flow of information to identify student needs.

STEP 2: Choosing Strategies
Identify strategies to address student needs:
- The team brainstorms ideas.
- The team sets the direction based on a simple majority consensus, not on unanimous consent.

STEP 3: Draft an Implementation Plan
In the team's virtual meeting settings, decide how to best deploy the strategies:
- A 1-3 pager uploaded to a virtual platform such as Google docs would suffice. Answer the following questions:
What are the strategies?
How will they be implemented?
Who will be responsible for implementing?
What's the timeline?
How will we gauge that they're working?

STEP 4: Implement the Strategies

STEP 5: Report Back & Make Adjustments, If Necessary
In the team's virtual meeting settings, those responsible for implementing need to communicate how the strategies are unfolding and their impact on personnel and students:
- The team is informed and provides ongoing input and recommends necessary adjustments.
- The team keeps a record of strategy updates.

Return to Step 1 to cycle through the process again.

Inquiry is often a long process that requires a deep understanding of student needs and developing thoughtful plans, executing, then evaluating and making adjustments.

Given the circumstances we're in, I call the work "short bursts of inquiry" because a team may perform Steps 1-5 in a matter of days.

These shorter cycles of inquiry allow teams to be more nimble and responsive to the needs of students.

There is precedent for a virtual Student Success Team. At Bakersfield College, they've already had their Student Success Teams (aka, completion coaching communities) working mostly virtually. According to Lesley Bonds, Director of Student Success & Equity, "Our completion coaching communities were essentially already functioning largely in a virtual environment with the exception of the bi-weekly meetings which should be no problem moving to Zoom."

Lastly, students need our meetings to be more productive than ever. Every second counts. Therefore...

Let's think through our verbal contributions and deliver them succinctly.

As the saying goes, talk is cheap. That’s especially true in cases when an individual is simply talking and thinking off the top of his or her head and verbalizing thoughts without first collecting them and fashioning them in ways that are cogent and meaningful to others.

There are at least two self-monitoring prompts that, if employed, help discipline one’s verbal participation in meetings: What do I want to say? Why do I want to say it? The first question is an internal check on whether or not the thought is actually ready to be articulated. If it takes more than a second to recognize what it is that you want to say, you might need to give it more thought. In such cases, don’t talk. Wait, think it through just a bit, and find words or phrases that get to the heart of what you want to say.

The second question is an external check on whether or not your thoughts are going to contribute to the group’s discussion at that moment. Sometimes a really good idea makes a better contribution a few minutes after the discussion at hand has a chance to come to closure. Sometimes a really good idea or a penetrating observation needs to be withheld from the conversation, because it introduces another complicating factor or there isn’t sufficient time to explain and elaborate, or it simply is not something that others are ready to embrace.

These are the kinds of considerations that a disciplined team member is willing to consider. Certainly this is not to say that individuals need to be overly self-conscious about every verbal contribution they might make. In fact, there are long portions of time in meetings in which extemporaneous conversation is appropriate. However, there are also times when the issues are more complex, cognitive demands on the participants increase, and the need for verbal discipline becomes important for the sake of the group’s work. In such cases, thinking through one’s verbal contributions and delivering them succinctly can make a significant contribution to the group’s efforts. Failing to do so can undermine the group’s efforts.[1]

As with everything I write and create, it's sufficiently agnostic for a campus to modify and make it their own! For example, Porterville College president, Dr. Claudia Lourido-Habib, has already taken the settings model and modified it for the institution's online instruction support infrastructure.

Stay safe. Stay Strong. We got this.



Also visit:

Resources: Transitioning to Online

Settings: Operating a College in Times of Crisis

Tips for Productive Online Meetings

Student Success Teams

[1] Verbal Contributions, Getting Results Handout

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