Student coach - new function in the school

Short summary

The root of the problem was that many upper secondary high school students did not finish their diploma on time. School leaders and governance recognized that students who were struggling were in need of a different type of support than the pedagogical support traditionally offered in the school. Students were in need of a more holistic support targeting students’ well-being and situation as a whole.

Management decided on implementing a new function at the school, a student coach.

The coach provides holistic support for students at risk of not completing their educational programmes, especially students in need of motivational support. The coach collaborates with the class teachers (mentors) and the student health team (usually counsellor, special education teachers, school nurse, psychologist, educational and career advisor etc) to coordinate the interventions and support, and provide support of a holistic nature. The coach provides a support that reaches beyond the pedagogical support traditionally provided by the student health team and teachers in the school.  

Context of good practice

The context of the intervention is a municipal upper secondary school located in a rural area in the north of Sweden. Many of the students travel quite long distances to get to the school from the surrounding villages/towns. The school offers a variety of programmes (VET and college prep) and about 300 students attend the school. Students start at the age of 15/16, and a regular national programme usually runs for 3 years. The school also offers introductory programmes for students who have not passed all the necessary courses that make them eligible for a national programme.

The school demography has recently changed rather drastically as a large number of newly arrived immigrant students have been placed in the municipality. The students are placed in the language introductory programme, which has grown very fast.

Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group

Many students find themselves in complex situations and are in need of a more holistic support than the pedagogical support traditionally offered at school. Students may be in need of support to plan and structure their schoolwork and life situation, need more holistic guidance and mentoring, adult support etc. To make the support for students more efficient, the staff also were in need to strengthen the collaboration.

The student coach initially targeted students who were at risk of dropping out of school/not completing their programme mainly due to absences, low grades and difficulty finishing their course work, but also high-achieving students who were experiencing stress and anxiety etc. Support from the coach was offered to all students at the school, who experienced that they were in need of coaching to cope better with their studies. The coach-function was introduced to all classes and promoted via the school TV and other channels available, also to parents via letters and meetings. The coach was made available during the whole school day in a convenient space at the school, where she could be approached directly by students or teachers who were concerned for their students. Other ways to contact the coach is via mail/social media or phone.

Initially the coach worked mainly with individuals on their own initiative, of referred by staff, but as the new function has evolved, the coach also began working with groups of students/classes in which a need of extra motivational support has been identified.

Success factors and processes

The student coach is a new position/role/function at the school. As the management had identified that the need of students was of holistic nature, the first step was to hire a person with adequate skills, such as a social pedagogue who would complement the student health team with additional skills. They hired a student coach with special training in coaching methods and motivational techniques, who has a degree in sport and exercise psychology and counselling. 

The coach worked closely with the management to find effective strategies to identify students in need of support, strategies to approach them, and how to collaborate with the student health team and teachers. To make the most of the support, the staff and management also worked with parallel processes in the following focus areas:

  • Development of structured “Early Warning System” – Develop efficient routines to detect and monitor students´ progress, and identify needs early 
  • Focus on positive relations and positive student-adult interactions – staff development to make the students feel comfortable and able to benefit from their education. Staff must believe in the ability of the student and treat them with respect as unique, equal individuals. 
  • Focus on objectives (formative approaches) – staff development on the emphasis on results and constant feedback from the subject teacher. 
  • Quality through cooperation – staff learn from one another, from student coach and student health team

School level:

  • A student coach function – available for all students who are in need of a support that reaches beyond what the schools traditionally offers in terms of pedagogical support, a holistic approach
  • The student coach offers a flexible support and can adjust the extent of the support according to students´ needs – meets with students weekly/daily/monthly and coaches them and helps them structure their work/school situation etc. based on students´ needs.
  • Student coach is part of the student health team and collaborates with mentors/class teachers and the members of the student health team to identify students at risk, and in finding strategies to support them.
  • Student coach cooperates with individual teachers and class teachers, teacher teams to identify students at risk, and in finding strategies to support them. Participates in teacher team meetings, and meets with teachers individually.
  • The student coach functions as a case manager and coordinates the support for students together with the students´ mentors.
  • The coach has cross-sectorial collaboration with actors outside of school, to facilitate support for students when needed.
  • The coach has focus on supporting students to explore skills and competences, individual objectives, holistic view of students, support of skills related to key competences needed for everyday life, and life-long learning  
  • Holistic focus on students’ needs and well-being – nutrition, physical education, positive thoughts, to keep out of stress, to learn new things, structure, study skills/techniques, decision-making, friends, set goals, problem-solving, the training of different skills, self-knowledge, self-concept
  • The coach cooperates and students’ health team works with groups of students/classes in need of “life skills” 

In order to make the new function efficient at the school, the following factors were highlighted by the management, staff and coach:.

Key factors for success:

  • Support among municipal decision makers/key actors behind the decision to establish the student coach function
  • Cross-sectorial collaboration - networking and cooperation among local municipal stakeholders/decision makers – such as educational providers and local, employment agency, social services etc
  • Collaboration between schools in order to identify students in need of support quickly (compulsory schools and Upper secondary schools) in the municipality
  • Collaboration within the school (staff) in order to make the support cohesive for students
  • Educational leadership: the strong commitment and collaboration between staff, students and teachers was described as dependent on the principal´s leadership. The head teacher works closely with the coach and health team, staff and students.
  • Quality control – continuous professional development and school development efforts, and assessment of progress for students and the organisation – systematic reviews and monitoring of organization
  • Intense follow-up (progress of students, individuals and groups and of interventions
  • Holistic approach to students´ education (and lives) – life skills as well as program of study
  • Flexibility – student-centered organization (needs of students guide the development of structure/instruction/curriculum/support)

As it is a new function, with a mission to give “holistic support”, it’s advised to plan for a year of implementation. It takes time before the routines for cooperation are implemented and responsibilities are negotiated. Also on an individual level the coach reported that student improvements may vary greatly depending on the individual needs. Some students can make vast improvements after a few weeks of extra support to structure the schoolwork, while other who are in more complex situations may need intense support over long periods of time.

Impact of measures taken

At the end of 2014, after about 1,5 years of having a student coach function at the school, 41 students at varying level of risk had received individualized support. None of the students had dropped out of school and the majority had made improvements in attendance and/or grades. The function continuous to evolve and will be evaluated again in 2017.

Leassons learned

See above success factors.

A risk is possible reductions in financial support for schools in the municipality.

Resources needed

Cost for support function: student coach

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Target group of good practice:

Teacher

Country:

Sweden

Author:

Linda Söderberg (student coach) and Anna Strömstedt (principal)

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