Developing a Proactive Advisee
Defining pro·ac·tive (adj)
- Taking the initiative by acting rather than reacting to events in a passive way
- Taking a practical, hands-on and “can do” attitude
- Leads to excellence in managing matters and dealing with problems and difficulties
- A sensible or useful approach that is likely to be effective
The goal. What a difference between an organized student, one who comes to an advising session with thoughtful ideas, goals and course selections, and a student who seems perpetually confused, unprepared or reluctant to participate in advising!
Add a few simple strategies and tactics to your advising schema, and you’ll soon be rewarded with student behavior that is more practical, sensible and entirely the opposite of passive. This won’t work with every student, but the success rate can be very high. Interactions with proactive advisees are more interesting, likely to get well into issues that matter (beyond course scheduling) and more rewarding.
The tools. Starting with the idea that advising is teaching, you can use the twin concepts of scaffolding (building a supporting network visible to the student) and front-loading (applying more effort at the front of the process). Also helpful is the basic philosophy that students don’t know how the system works but are capable and most likely interested in making the system work for them. Thus, when they haven’t done as asked, a simple quizzing as to “Why not?” and sending them off to complete the task and return, is enough of a push to keep most advisees moving toward developing proactivity.
Track info and dreams starting from the first meeting. Writing notes is important for documentation purposes, so making up some forms to collect information, especially for that first meeting preterm week, has a triple benefit. You have a place to record what you learn from the folder, and a summary of your impressions of past performance and future dreams. When you note their suggestions for the current term and the next, you acknowledge and respect their control over the process. It’s easier to “advise” between several paths than to “provide” solutions, which is what their parents have done all their lives, and what they need to grow beyond.
“Reminder to pre-register” letters. A reminder letter (sent through the portal before each registration period) can do wonders. This letter opens the space for conversations, gets students anticipating the arrival of paper schedules, and often brings them to the office door to sign up for advising times early. Making the expectations explicit helps focus their actions; they are to come with possible classes and questions about their progress through college. Dawdlers get a call at the end of the first week and are watched more closely for failure to take charge. It is much less effort to send an email, than to deal with an advisee who never registered and now can’t get classes. An example of each letter is located in the new advisor site; feel free to adapt what you want.
Answer questions with questions. Within reason, it is much more effective to send them off to ask questions, ask to get on waiting lists, deal with scheduling conflicts and make a first stab at solving problems. This makes it clear that they will need to gather the information themselves, but it also gets them thinking about the pros and cons of any decision. If you start small, with one or two questions or decisions during the first advising session, you will help them build confidence and skill, until they are anticipating and bringing the data they need before you meet.
The flexible four-year plan. If you start students thinking about their four-year plan in November of the first year, you provide a scaffold for their four years. Most students need to see a plan, or a shape of a plan, to see what they are really working toward. A four-year plan is one of the most powerful tools we have for retention, but it can be misused. This plan cannot be done in one step, nor is it a static product, but breathes a little each term.
When you begin the plan in parallel (in pencil to accentuate that these are just ideas), you draw the student into the process of thinking ahead, and begin to shift the responsibility toward them. If you ask the student to bring the plan back each time, you learn more about their organizational skills and investment in the process. See the page “Building a Four Year Plan” under Field of Study questions on the student advising website; hardcopy forms are available through the Registrar (eventually on-line).
Setting expectations. Building a proactive advisee is about setting expectations, giving assistance and explanations at first, and gradually pulling back the level of support at a rate appropriate for the individual student. This is developmental advising at its best.