Tips for College Success

Even though I’m a bit late with this one (oops!), it’s never really too late to get organized, get prioritized, and get on track towards achieving academic and all-around success in college. Freshman year of college is an overwhelming time for even the most prepared of young students. The demands and workload are greater, and the accountability systems and oversight are fewer than in high school, so many new students are understandably overwhelmed. Add in the pressure of a new social life with far greater temptations, and college life can seem unmanageable and trying to navigate for new students.

However, with some simple tips (and then putting them into practice!), all students who want to achieve success can. Here is Part 1 of my tips for a successful college career:

1. Get acquainted with your school, program, and dorm

Every school is quite different in terms of how offices are set up, how and what services are provided, how information is disseminated, etc. The more you know, the more you can tap into all of those resources and maximize your experience and tuition dollars. Here’s how:

•       Attend all orientations

•       Walk around campus until you feel like you know it well (use a campus map!)

•       Spend time on the school’s website and platforms (e.g. BlackBoard) that you’ll be using and will be required to navigate effectively

•       Find out about services (career, tutoring/writing, accommodations/disability services, health center, counseling/psych, etc…) and locations of those services

–   Go right away to any offices or services that you need immediately (or know you will need in the future)

–  Many schools have different tutoring centers for different subject areas. Some will have a science specific tutoring center that is separate from writing help, for example. Find out what these services are and where on campus they are located, and don’t wait to go if you need help as appointments are generally required and are usually booked on a first come, first served basis

–   If you have a documented disability, go to your disability services office immediately AND tell your professors right away

2.  Be proactive with academic planning

As I said recently to a college student (who wanted to not make a plan and instead see how things would “pan out”): Panning is not planning! As in, don’t just go through the motions with a wait and see attitude. I’m not suggesting that plans will not change or that all will go according to your plans, but making plans that are real but flexible is a necessary task for academic success. Do the following things:

•       Meet your advisor and get to know her or him right away

•       If your advisor in nonresponsive, follow up via email, phone calls, and then showing up to their office to follow-up.

•       Some academic advisors are very active and participatory and helpful, others frankly are not

•       Go to the head of an office or department (or loop them in) if you are not hearing back or receiving the help you need from an advisor. CC them on emails and show up at the office to speak with someone

•       Take your school’s core requirements ASAP

•       Don’t put off required courses beyond a semester

•       But DO wait to take a specific class if you’re waiting for a specific professor to teach it

•       BUT…Don’t rush to declare a major

•       Take different classes and explore your options. This is the time to do that!

•       Plan smart:

•       Don’t overload your schedule with too many challenging classes in one semester

3. Manage your time

I know, this one’s easily said, but not so easily done for many. However, it’s a worthwhile endeavor as scheduling, planning, and prioritizing are critical for success and a less stressful experience in college and beyond. College is much less structured than high school and there are no parents or teachers to hold you accountable in that way. College assignments are not broken up and checked the way high school assignments and readings are, so it can be easy to fall behind. Find pragmatic, day-to-day strategies such as setting a timer, that work for you. And utilize metacognition and goals to guide you towards intentional, realistic behavior. Some strategies for time management include:

•       Create your own pacing schedule with reading, break up large assignments into smaller ones, and set due dates for yourself

•       Use a planner/calendar religiously

–      Find a system that works for you: get a weekly/monthly planner from the store, use the calendar or an app in your phone or tablet, etc…

–      Always have that calendar with you and check and update it daily

–      If you need more structure to your daily schedule, use an hourly calendar to block out your day

•       Have a long-term and a daily to-do list that you constantly update

–      2x per day is reasonable: morning and evening

•       Be realistic with your time goals and expectations for what you can accomplish

–      If you notice that you have a tendency to underestimate how long projects or tasks will take, take that into account! Add on an extra hour or day (whatever) to your initial estimate

•       Deadlines are real, even if you pretend otherwise!

–      Don’t stick your head in the sand if you find yourself getting behind. It happens, it’s almost expected during freshman year.

–      Do reach out for help- talk to your professor ASAP, reach out to your advisor if needed, and seek help from a tutor or the writing center.

–      I’ve seen students be afraid or ashamed to speak with a professor if an assignment is late, missing, etc. Remember: This happens to most students at some point, so you are not unique or special because of this and no one will remember (or care).

4. Stay organized

Again, easier said than done. But I firmly believe that anyone can stay organized if they’re willing to put aside time each day or week to do so.

•       Go through your school bag 1X each week- file away papers in proper binders/folders, recycle garbage papers, make sure things are neat, clean, and follow an order that makes sense

–      Don’t throw away old work or tests. File them away – just label each file or notebook with the class and semester

•       The syllabus is your main set of guidelines, due dates, and schedule for each class. Use it religiously, bring it with you to every class, and write down ALL changes to the syllabus on the syllabus- because it WILL change

•       Keep your desk/workspace neat. A few times a week, go through all papers and books and again, put them in the correct binder, folder, or recycling bin. Sell back (or donate, if you’re feeling giving) old books that you’re certain you will not need again (I suggest holding on to books relevant for your major)

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ve gleaned some practical strategies for college success- comments are welcome! Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll address procrastination, self-advocacy, how to navigate group projects, and more!

Does This Make Sense? A Thinking and Reasoning Strategy

Some of the best strategies to help students get motivated and become more focused are the simplest. As they say, you can’t reinvent the wheel! I strongly believe that metacognitive strategies are very effective as they get students thinking about their way of thinking. Research shows that being able to define objectives helps individuals improve in key areas such as decision making, planning, and any action that has a purpose (which is, or should be, most of them). One simple strategy that gets students to focus directly and deliberately on the intentions behind their actions is AGO: Aims, Goals, Objectives; this strategy was developed by Edward de Bono, the father of lateral thinking and one of the most celebrated intellectuals of our time. AGO is a simple strategy that “makes sense” while teaching students to think about what they’re doing and if it “makes sense” (and of course if it does not, we teach them how to make decisions that are in line with their AGO). This is one of life’s most basic yet underutilized lessons and one of the reasons, I imagine, why de Bono is a major proponent of teaching thinking skills in school.

For a quick semantic clarification: Since aims, goals, and objectives are closely related and often used synonymously, this strategy defines Aim as one’s general direction, Goal as an ultimate destination, and Objective as a recognizable point of achievement along the way.

One critical role of a coach or parent is to help students concentrate on the general idea of “purpose”, since without a sense of purpose, all actions are either reactions to a situation or matters of habit or imitation. When I reflect on all of my students, past and present, the ones who have been most aware of their AGO (even if we have not explicitly engaged with this specific strategy) are the most motivated and vice-versa, and therefore are generally the most successful. The intention of this type of strategy is to directly instruct students on how purpose is distinct from reaction and habit and how by acting with intent, we can create our own success. Our educational system is unfortunately structured so that students are often looking to adults, or the “authority”, for the “correct” answers or ways of doing things without doing any thinking of their own, regardless of whether there is a single solution or correct answer. Teaching and modeling metacognitive and other thinking skills promotes just that: thinking. Developing thinking skills enables us to become rational, resourceful, purpose-driven, problem-solving human beings. Students will not only be able to correct their own thinking and behavior through this type of strategy, but they will be able to develop stronger interpersonal connections as they begin to understand what guides people’s actions in general. People who engage in metacognition are more able to identify what is guiding others’ actions (are they behaving rationally and with AGO in mind?) and choose their actions accordingly.

I once believed that due to the complex metacognitive nature of this strategy, it was best applied with students in older grades – when they can understand what it means to let purpose direct their actions. I have since changed my own line of thinking as I’ve implemented this strategy with children as young as seven and eight years old. I obviously modify my language to be age-appropriate and relatable for a younger audience, but I’ve found that children are very receptive to being empowered to think in these ways. While it takes some time to develop these thinking and self-monitoring skills, the younger we start students on purposeful behavior and decision-making, the more successful they can be. This strategy teaches students of all ages how to literally develop and maintain a rationale for their behaviors, which leads to rational behavior and goal-oriented decision-making.

DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats (1985) recommends the AGO strategy be taught via a series of simple steps:

Step 1: Introduce the idea of metacognition.

•   Discuss with students that as individuals, we must always be thinking about how we’re thinking, making decisions, and taking action.

Step 2: Define and discuss Aims, Goals, and Objectives with students.

•   Discuss the general idea of “purpose” and that aims, goals, and objectives are all benchmarks and indicators of purpose. Don’t let students get hung up on the semantics of each word.

Step 3: Whenever we go to make a decision or take action in some way, we must be doing so for a reason and with AGO. Direct students to always think: What is the purpose of their action/decision? What is the aim, the goal, and objective?

•   Discuss with students that decisions without a purpose or without thought to AGO often end up being detrimental to both the decision-maker and others (in small and/or big ways).

•   Hasty decisions often haven’t been reasoned through. Teach students to think about AGO even when they feel pressed for time because time is saved and efficiency is gained when we behave in ways that make sense because they are in-line with our goals.

•   If someone does not have or can’t state the reasoning/purpose behind their action or decision, they shouldn’t do it! Tell students to go back to the “drawing boards” in their head and re-thing the purpose of their action or get rid of it all together because it is a habit or reaction to something else.

•   The ONE QUESTION that I always have students ask themselves is, “Does this make sense?” They always know the answer and often can correct their behavior or thinking with little support once they have become stronger thinkers.

Step 4: Reinforce and keep practicing and modeling this effective strategy!

If You Ask, You May Receive: Learning to be Proactive

If You Ask, You May Receive: Learning to be Proactive

There’s an old adage that goes: “If you ask, you will receive.” This is an oversimplified statement that will frequently prove to be false! Yet if we modify this basic idea, we end up with commonsense advice that we can all understand and get behind.

Learning to be proactive can be a lifelong task

Being proactive means one anticipates negative situations prior to them happening and prepares in advance for such occurrences by taking specific and explicit action(s). Being proactive might entail asking for accommodations well in advance of a test date. Another example of proactive behavior would be seeking out a teacher, tutor, or parent for extra help before one is urgently needed and the situation is desperate. I often get requests from older students and parents alike that reflect a reactive pattern of behavior, such as, “My child has been failing English all year” when it’s already February!  Such a (frequently occurring) situation brings to mind the saying, “Better late than never.” Which is true! But better to be early than to be late. In the case of a student who is seeking help perhaps months after he/she should have, they can still make progress and improve upon whatever they need to at that time. But it is always harder to play catch up than to get in front of the ball. (See my previous blog post– Don’t Wait or Procrastinate- Motivate)

Here’s a Story for You…

While acting as an advocate on behalf of a high school student, I participated in a meeting with my student and her principal in order to receive testing accommodations retroactively due to my student’s months-long illness the prior semester. My student had been out sick for dozens of days and classes due to a debilitating and excused illness, yet she was not granted certain testing accommodations and as she is a hardworking, overachieving student, she did not think it necessary to ask at the time.  Well, she ended up being made to take the very same final as all other students, with no accommodations, and fared well below her average performance. The final grade she received thus ruined her otherwise stellar average and in retrospect, her being made to take the regular final with no additional instruction or accommodation seemed like a punitive measure by the school. So, we engaged in a summer-long chain of emails to teachers, department heads, assistant principals, and the principal in an effort to modify that grade and assignment, despite the fact that it was now completed. While we ended up successful (this student was finally granted additional instruction time AND a slightly altered version of the test to retake), going about the process retroactively was costly, time-consuming, and difficult. Had this student asked for accommodations (she would have had a compelling case for temporary accommodations under Section 504) proactively during the spring, before the final, she and her family would have saved time, energy, and money and received an outcome that was the same or better.  (On a side note, this particular student is very bright, put together, and an excellent self-advocate, so this lesson has been learned!)

Why is it so difficult to be proactive?

Why do we have such a hard time reaching out for help before the ship reaches the iceberg and why can’t we prevent ourselves from crashing into it, capsizing, and then having to do damage control much of the time? Well, we can avoid this fate. But being proactive requires us to be honest with ourselves and to face the reality of the situation that we are in.  Many of us fear the potential repercussions of a situation before it has even come to fruition and act on those fears as if they are reality. The “repercussions” may be a material consequence such as a lower grade or loss of a job or income, so we anticipate the loss of those things prior to them happening; by fearing and anticipating the worst, we create fertile ground for our inactivity which then leads to the realization of those fears. I, like most humans, have found myself NOT asking for something out of fear of what may happen. But what do we really have to lose by asking? When you don’t yet have something, you have nothing to lose by asking for it. But by not asking, we may lose the opportunity to achieve our goal altogether. And on a practical note, I have also found that many people respect it when someone speaks up and asks for something they want or need (within reason and done in a respectful manner, of course). I try to remember that the world is not set up for ME and my reality, needs, and success. But we can create our own success in the world by seeking out help or what seems like “extra”, when it may in fact be readily available, but will likely not be offered. Let the world work for you by getting to work yourself right now!

So, whether you are asking for a raise from your boss, an extension on a paper, an instructional accommodation, or a special order, go get it!

Simple Strategies for Proactivity

Figure out your specific goals

  •  Envision yourself achieving those goals
  • Do a task analysis: Break down each goal into small, achievable steps to make it more manageable

Know your Rights

  • When you understand your legal, consumer, and human rights in a given situation, you are:
    1. More able to effectively ask for support
    2. In a better position to get what you want out of that situation and in a more efficient manner

Plan Ahead

  • This includes anticipating and planning for less-than-ideal scenarios
    • This does not mean we expect or assume these things will happen, just that we should be practical by being prepared if they do

Visualize Success

  • Imagine yourself asking for what you want in a confident and clear manner
  • Visualize accomplishing your goal(s): what it looks and feels like

Self-Talk

  • Remind yourself of what you have to lose by asking (nothing) and what you have to gain by asking (everything you want!)

Create a script or talking points in advance of taking specific action

Practice being proactive in small, everyday ways

  • Make specific or special requests at restaurants and stores
  • When you get what you want by asking for it, take a moment to fully realize and process that success, which reinforces said behavior

Most of us fall into traps of fear and inactivity that lead us to have to retroactively work that much harder to achieve success or whatever we set out to accomplish. We can free ourselves from this counterproductive behavior by acknowledging the truth of where we are and where we want to go, and can actively create success by asking for what we want and need (and are sometimes entitled to by law)!

How to be a Parent Advocate

Last night I presented a workshop on the topic of “How to Raise a Successful Student” at the Briarcliff Manor Library after which I received particular interest in my advocacy tips and techniques. I’ve also had many conversations over the years with parents who are involved and invested in their child’s academic career, but who don’t necessarily have the proper strategies with which to effectively advocate for their child when it becomes necessary (and it almost always does at some point!). The topic of parent advocacy has long been a passion of mine, as effective parent advocates raise students who are more successful learners. Yet many barriers to participation and advocacy exist and prevent parents from harnessing their full power.

Why Advocate?

Research of the last several decades has shown that parents who advocate for their children and participate in their children’s education to a high degree raise students who perform better in school and achieve greater success. (Read a Research Summary that I authored that goes into greater detail here). It is thus only appropriate that parents, especially of struggling learners, know what is going on in the classroom and what their child is doing in school. Too many parents are “shut out” of the learning process by being inadequately informed of what is being learned, how it is being taught and assessed, how your child is performing, and what you and the school can do to increase student learning.

And many parents seem to be held back by fear of asking too many questions or of “bothering” schools, administrators, and teachers. While I respect and admire the humanity and compassion that parents have for teachers that causes them hesitation prior to sending an email or making a phone call, the reality is that that is part of the job that education professionals sign up for. And good teachers figure out a way to communicate regularly with parents, whether through an e-board or classroom newsletter, blog, or other media, between in-person conferences.

You Are Not the School’s Keeper                                              

As a parent, your first obligation is to your child and family. Parents are not responsible for the well being of the school, rather schools are responsible for the well being of students! As such, you as a parent are entitled to ask as many relevant questions as you need and are also entitled to know what is going on in your child’s classroom and what their learning experiences consist of. Parents of students who attend public schools are paying for their child’s education with their tax dollars while parents of students who attend private school are paying for their child’s education with their tuition dollars. It is only appropriate then, as consumers of education, that parents should be able to know what they are paying for.

“The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil”

If there are specific teachers who you want for your child the following school year, request them! Again, many parents are hesitant to “bother” schools by asserting what they want for their child, be it a specific teacher/classroom, services, or simple answers to questions. This creates a situation in which there are a limited number of vocal parents, with districts generally more willing to acquiesce to those outspoken parents. In my personal and professional experience, parents who ask more questions and are more insistent get better results for their children.

Here is a list of questions that parents of students, specifically in a K-5 classroom, should have answers to or should ask of their school administrators and teachers (or themselves-i.e. Has work been returned?), especially in the case of struggling or underperforming students:

– What is the student’s reading level? Specific areas of weakness?

– What content is being taught in all subject areas?

– What curriculum(s) are being used for each subject?

– How often is student assessed and how? Do assessments vary? (i.e. not just tests)

– Is work being returned in a timely manner with feedback?

– How are any learning challenges addressed? What strategies are being taught in those situations?

– How often is student getting small group time with a teacher for a specific subject (i.e. reading)

– What is/are the classroom routines, rules, and expectations? Systems of management and discipline? I.e. Individual reward chart, whole-class system, etc…

– How is the day structured? How much time spent on each subject and in “specials”?

– How much time for independent reading each day?Guided reading? Shared Reading? Read-alouds?

– How and how often is reading progress monitored and assessed? How often do students confer with their teacher?

– What leveling system for books does the school use? (i.e. Fountas and Pinnell, Lexile, Reading Recovery, etc…)

– How do students learn to check out/pick“ just right” books for themselves?

– How often do students get to go to the library and check out books?

–    What does the mathematics curriculum consist of?

– Are games incorporated into the learning? Technology?

When to Seek Outside Help

Most parents can effectively advocate for their children once they know their goals, the right questions to ask, and their legal rights.  However, families dealing with school districts that are attempting to circumvent the law may need the help of a professional to get the school to adequately serve their children. In those cases, it is a good idea to contact a non-attorney advocate, such as myself, to act on your behalf or in concert with you. In extreme cases, a special education lawyer may be needed, though I have managed to accomplish what lawyers have not been able to, in terms of getting schools to provide accommodations and or services to students and families.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for Part 2 of How to be a Parent Advocate, in which I will describe the exact steps for parents to take when advocating as well as some additional resources! Feel free to post a comment on how you have handled a situation with a school as a parent or an advocate!

Don’t Wait or Procrastinate, Motivate: Get Prepared Now for a Successful School Year

Summer is quickly coming to a close and schools in the area will be starting classes in just over a week. So…what are you doing to be prepared for not just the first day of school, but also the whole year? While it’s a bit of a bummer to be thinking about school while trying to enjoy the last days of summer, it can also be an invigorating time in which students get a fresh start on a new year. I’ve always loved the back-to-school time of year despite the accompanying nostalgia of an ending and fleeting summer because it allows for endless possibilities and a renewed focus on learning with new goals and motivations. This is the time of year when many students are feeling the greatest levels of optimism regarding their future success and their highest levels of motivation, so tap into these feelings and use them to build a framework for success!

Here are a few quick tips for getting a jump on the school year and setting yourself up for a successful year:

  • Set achievable and specific goals for the semester or quarter and year.
    •  Write them down (even on a bulletin or white board) so you can read them when work gets challenging and you need motivation.
  • Buy materials now. Anticipate needing extra supplies of frequently used items such as post-its, appropriate writing paper, etc…
  •  Pre-read or prepare in content.
    • Prepare for any challenging, upcoming classes by reading or skimming recommended texts, watching relevant videos or media, working with a teacher, tutor, or parent, etc…
    •  If assigned summer reading or work was very difficult or problematic, consult the teacher prior to the first day of school if possible. Otherwise talk to the teacher during the first week- this is essential as summer work is an assessment of student’s abilities.
  • Get a planner that works for you, whether a paper planner or electronic. Have it all the time. Use it. Be consistent.
  • Make a study plan and/or schedule now.
    • Block out chunks of time for studying, schoolwork, and similar commitments. Prioritize most important work and activities.
  • Visualize Success. This goes along with setting those goals. Create a picture(s) in your mind of what it looks like once you have worked hard and have accomplished those goals.
    • This will help keep you motivated because you have a specific visual of what it is that you’re working for.
  •  Preemptively strike against the mid-semester slump
    • Always be proactive. Make a plan now! Battle complacency. Have strategies for motivation, relaxation, etc… as well as strategies for what to do IF you feel yourself starting to struggle or fall behind.

My good friend Simone, who is also an amazing student and one of the smartest people I know, is back in school doing postgraduate work in nursing and is currently preparing for a difficult semester of rigorous work. We had a rich conversation on this very topic and she left me with the wise adage: “Start strong, finish strong.” She is absolutely right: if one starts the school year in a disorganized and unprepared manner, it’s already a bit of a losing game and it’s possible to spend an entire semester or even year trying to “catch up”.

But by implementing these simple strategies, all students can start the academic year as their best selves and with high chances for success, however “success” is defined to them and their families. Many parents can assist their children or teenagers in effectively getting set up for success, but many need a professional to help create this structure and keep students on track. In those cases, don’t hesitate to reach out to a tutor or coach who can work with your child to help them be the best student they can be.

The Stigma of Lazy

Parents and other adults who interact regularly with children and teenagers throw around the word “lazy” so often that I think we have collectively forgotten what the word means and connotes to those whom we label as such.  The word lazy is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “unwilling to work or use energy.” I have never met a child in all of my years who fits that definition. Children innately want to work, learn, explore, engage, and be active. Some of the best anecdotal evidence of this can be seen at the beach, where children can be readily observed eagerly shoveling sand, filling and lugging buckets of water, painstakingly sculpting sand creations, practicing swimming skills, and digging holes to reveal different layers of sand, all the while working cooperatively towards their objectives. This is hard work! Yet children naturally gravitate towards such work, which of course goes against the very nature of being “lazy”.

Why, then, do so many loving and well-meaning adults call children lazy on a frequent basis? I suspect that most parents don’t fully realize that they’re essentially “name-calling” when they tell their child that he or she is lazy. Calling another person “lazy” is vague and does not let them know what you want them to do; it does, however, send a powerful message that they are somehow lacking in value, as the word lazy applied in this way carries the connotation of worthlessness. In general, it is more productive to call out behaviors than to make blanket statements about someone’s person or character (i.e. “I think you could make more of an effort to read everyday” vs. “You’re lazy because you don’t read enough”). Read more about the dangers of general name-calling at home here. And sometimes what appears to be “lazy” behavior is masking a student’s challenge in a particular area, and additional support in that area can generally alleviate this struggle.

Research shows that calling children a name, be it “lazy” or “dumb”, is counterproductive and actually can be damaging and stigmatizing. (Read more about the psychology behind the personal and social stigma of lazy at Psychology Today). A more effective and rational route is to instead set reasonable expectations for children, then model and communicate them appropriately.  For instance, if you want your child to read more and spend less time hooked up to a computer or device, do the same yourself! Children love and look up to their parents, and they want to emulate you, so the more you do what you want them to do, the more likely it is that they will do it.

Obviously when we call children (and older students) lazy, what we really mean is: “I think you can spend more time on your homework” or “I wish you would apply yourself more” or “I know you can work harder and produce better quality work” or something to that effect. As adults with extensive vocabularies, we can and should do better by saying what we want children to do (along with modeling expected behaviors) and why, in appropriate and straightforward ways. This also teaches positive and productive communication skills! The other side of this, of course, is that our expectations of children and teens must be reasonable and it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to create opportunities for learning to be fun, stimulating, and interactive, so that children want to learn more. This creates a cycle of positive feedback and reinforcement for learning and can set children up to be lifelong learners.

So next time you catch yourself about to call your child or teenager lazy, stop and think for a minute about what you do want from your child, whether or not it’s reasonable, (and assuming it is) how you can facilitate that task or behavior in a productive way.  And while most parents can accomplish this at home with regards to engaging children in essential academic skill building, in some cases parents need the help of a tutor or coach to help children learn and improve in critical skills such as reading, writing, and math. Older students may benefit from help with organization and time management skills while some may need support in certain academic areas.  With a little thought, effort, and support when needed, all parents can assist their children in becoming activated learners!

How to be a Successful Self-Advocate

Self-advocacy is a hot topic in education right now. Self-advocacy consists of being empowered to speak and communicate effectively about one’s needs and being able to achieve one’s desired outcome.

The term, “self-advocacy”, has long been associated with students who receive special education services, especially those with a cognitive impairment. Yet being able to represent and assert oneself is an invaluable skill for all human beings despite the fact that little attention is paid to it in most classrooms. Teaching individuals the skills required to successfully speak up for themselves should not be done solely within the domain of special education, as people of all ages and abilities benefit from possessing these skills.

An essential part of being able to survive and thrive in our demanding world is being able to represent oneself and one’s interests with efficacy and poise. People who can and do speak up for themselves in a confident and cogent manner generally have better outcomes and greater opportunities for success. We can all benefit from increasing our self-advocacy skills; here are some ways in which to do so:

Know your Goals and Know your Rights: Effective self-advocacy happens when you know what you want as well as what you are legally entitled to. Self-awareness is critical to understanding what you want and need out of a given situation. Getting in touch with yourself and developing goals that are specific and attainable are critical first steps towards successfully advocating for yourself. Do your research so that you know what legal rights you have in the context of the situation. When advocating for yourself, presenting a knowledgeable and reasoned argument will always give you a better chance to fulfill your desired goal(s).

Believe in your “Voice” or Message: Many individuals who successfully advocate for themselves in many areas of their lives are those who are confident in their goals and believe that their voice or their message has inherent value. We are scared to speak up for ourselves when we lack confidence in ourselves and in our desired outcomes. Believe in yourself! People will be able to see your confidence or lack thereof, so even if you have to, fake it until it becomes real!

Practice, practice: The old adage that “practice makes perfect” is true in this instance! (Read more about how “over-practicing” essential skills can increase overall mental efficiency here: http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/20/dont-just-practice-over-practice/)
Practice speaking up for yourself in front of a mirror, with parents, siblings, and family that you feel comfortable with, record yourself on video and play it back for feedback, and lastly, contact a tutor or coach who can help you develop positive and effective communication strategies.

Self-advocacy skills are critical for teenagers and adults who want to be successful and realize their goals effectively. Know what you want, practice good communication skills, do your research, and deliver your message with confidence! Sometimes these skills come naturally; sometimes people need concrete experiences to learn these skills. People who know how to assert their needs effectively also know when to seek help from a professional teacher or coach. Practicing effective self-advocacy is an art and a skill, and when mastered, anyone can achieve their desired outcomes.

“Patient, understanding and very supportive …”

Having Alex as a tutor was amazing. She is patient, understanding and very supportive in many ways. Alex not only helped our son with his writing and vocabulary, she helped him organize his thoughts and strengthen his study skills. I highly recommend Alex as a tutor.

–Celina M., Greenburgh, NY
“Personalized teaching style, depth of knowledge, attentive manner”

When there are so many great things that can be said about a person, it is hard to find the right words that truly satisfy that person’s character. I first began working with Alex when I was a freshman in high school. Not having success with previous tutors, I concluded that tutors simply are not for me. However, Alex showed me otherwise; her personalized teaching style, depth of knowledge, attentive manner, and even sense of humor is above any tutor I’ve ever encountered. Beyond the skills that make Alex an effective yet enjoyable tutor, she also provides insight and guidance to those who are struggling in certain areas of their life. I have sought Alex’s help with challenges both big and small, and she always steers me in the right direction while teaching me important life skills in the process. As I am now approaching my senior year, I am overwhelmed with feelings of confidence and excitement because I know that I will have Alex by my side.

–Victoria L., Armonk, NY
“Effective, Articulate Advocate”

I hired Alex to help me obtain a private school placement at the district’s expense for my 3rd grader, who is nonverbal and autistic. After hiring an ineffective attorney for the same purpose when my son was in first grade, Alex was able to accomplish this goal and got my son a placement in a specialized, private school program. While this endeavor took months of work, meetings, emails, and school visits to accomplish, my son is now in an appropriate program where he is able to learn and thrive. Additionally, Alex was able to get the school district to provide every single service, accommodation, and technology that I was requesting for my son. Alex is assertive, articulate, and knows the law and best educational practices. As such, she effectively and vociferously advocated on my son’s behalf and accomplished all of my goals. I highly recommend her to anyone in need of an advocate!

-Angela F., New Rochelle, NY
“High Quality Tutor”

Alex is a highly skilled and knowledgeable writing teacher. Warm and nurturing. Reliable. Made learning meaningful, engaging and fun. Definitely recommend and will use again.

-Wendy D., Tarrytown, NY
“Knowledgable and Dedicated”

I must admit that I was absolutely fortunate when I stumbled upon Alex’s website during my internet search a year and a half ago. I was desperately looking for someone to proof read my papers and assist in guiding me throughout the pursuit of my doctorate degree. With the guidance, support, and constructive criticism from this very knowledgeable, insightful, and patient individual I received As in all my courses. I truly enjoyed working with Alex.

-Jessie M., White Plains, NY
“The Best Tutor”

Alex is very well-versed and knowledgeable about many subjects. I have not been in school in over 20 years and now I am back to obtain my doctorate degree. Alex has helped me get organized and has assisted me with my APA citations, grammar, and word choice. My writing skills have improved significantly and every one of my papers has received an A. Alex has provided me with the skills I need to continue my studies. I am so lucky to have met Alex.

– Renee C., Yonkers, NY
“Awesome Teacher and Person”

Amanda: I am a student of Alex’s. I would recommend Alex to other students because she pushes you, gives you confidence, and she has a great sense of humor. She turns around any of your negative feelings into positive ones so you can believe in yourself to succeed.

Doretta: I am Amanda’s mom. Alex has a tremendous amount of patience. She is creative, funny, and very knowledgeable of her material. Alex tutored my daughter to obtain a driving permit. This was a major challenge for Amanda. Aside from needing help to learn the material, Amanda also has severe test anxiety. Amanda also has had many many tutors throughout her life. Alex not only helped Amanda learn the material and prepare for the test, but also made her believe in herself and decreased her anxiety. She is truly an awesome teacher and person. I highly recommend her to any struggling student.

– Amanda and Doretta Tarangioli, Eastchester, NY
“Hardworking and dedicated”

Alex is a hard working and extremely dedicated person. Not only is she able to help me better understand what I am studying but she also has a way of inspiring me to learn more. I have had many tutors and I know for a fact that Alex is by far the best. She pushes me to better myself and helps me become increasingly more interested in school. Alex helps me with whatever I need to improve on and is always the first and most excited to congratulate me on my accomplishments. After studying with Alex my grades have dramatically improved. This made it possible for me to get into a high honors English class after years of special Ed. Also with her help she made looking and applying for colleges an enjoyable experience. She is an amazing tutor and person and I can go on forever stating how much she has helped me become a confident student.

– Nicole L., Armonk, NY
“Extremely knowledgable about the admissions process”

My daughter struggled with writing her college application essay. We were fortunate to meet Alex who not only helped our daughter select the appropriate subject matter and prepare a well-written essay, but minimized the stress and drama that comes with this process. Alex has great writing skills and she is very creative and extremely knowledgable about the admissions process. Alex is a pleasure to work with.

–John S., White Plains, NY
“Knowledgeable and Helpful”

Alex helped me with my personal statements for graduate school. It was helpful to brainstorm ahead of time because it made our sessions more productive. However, we brainstormed more throughout our sessions. She made me feel confident in my writing and the writing process less stressful. She took notes as we talked and cares about making a connection with her students. I definitely recommend her assistance! It was such a pleasure to work with her and I will be sure to keep in contact with her for future assignments!

– Desiree, R., Homer Glen, IL
“Far exceeded expectations”

Alex has worked with my son for three months and the improvement we have seen has been tremendous. My son went from failing in math to exceeding his peers in class. He enjoys his sessions with Alex and as a matter of fact, looks forward to her coming to tutor him, he refers to it as “so much fun and interesting”. Alex provided our son with the necessary strategies to apply to solve math problems and we can see him applying those strategies in his homework assignments.  Our son went from 60’s and 70’s to 95 in scores for his math tests.  We are incredibly lucky and grateful to have found Alex. She has done wonders for our son and has been able to teach him in a manner where he understands and retains the information.  She has far exceeded our expectations in so little time.

–Nadira B., Scarsdale, NY
“Insightful, inspirational, and enthusiastic professional”

Alex has been working with our 2nd grade daughter for over a few months now, and she has had an amazing, positive impact on her. Alex is knowledgeable, hardworking, and extremely patient with our daughter who has been having some challenges reading. Alex was able to identify our daughter’s weaknesses and help provide the necessary strategies and techniques to help her improve her reading skills. Alex is an excellent tutor who my daughter says “makes reading fun”! She eagerly awaits and looks forward to her sessions with Alex as Alex never fails to have a clever game and fun worksheets for them to work on together. With Alex’s help, our daughter’s confidence has really grown, and her reading has significantly improved –she will actually read aloud now! We are so grateful to have found Alex – she has truly been able to teach our daughter in ways that she can understand and learn. We can’t thank Alex enough for all her hard work, and would highly recommend her. If you’re looking for an intelligent, dedicated and incredibly responsive tutor, look no further!

–Eileen B., Tuckahoe, NY
“Dedicated, professional, reliable”

Alex is an inspiring tutor, full of enthusiasm and knowledge. Her lessons are always personalized and tailored specifically to my daughter’s needs.  My 5th grade daughter always looks forward to meeting with Alex, as Alex always includes activities and games that make learning fun for her. I noticed her increase in confidence and it showed through her improvement in grades. Dedicated, professional, reliable – what more could you ask for! I would highly recommend Alex without any hesitation. Thank you, Alex!

–Jen A., White Plains, NY
“Excellent tutor, very helpful”

Alex worked with me very diligently and helped me with several college supplemental essays. Alex knew exactly what college admissions officers were looking for which helped me include critical information in my essays. Also, I was able to engage in conversation with Alex about how to go about revising my essays. She approaches the essay sentence by sentence and makes sure that the essential question: “so what?” is always answered within the writing. I recommend Alex as a tutor for anyone in need of help for any piece of writing.

–Brian W., Greenwich, CT
“Professional, effective tutor and advocate”

I hired Alex as a tutor and an advocate to help me prepare and receive accommodations for an NASM personal training exam. Alex was critical in helping me successfully study and prepare for the test by teaching me effective study skills and test-taking strategies. Alex was able to get NASM to provide me the full extent of accommodations that I was legally entitled to. She also made sure that the reader for my test was competent and prepared by personally escorting me to the testing center to make sure that they were following the appropriate procedures. I am extremely thankful to Alex for her dedication to my success and for helping me pass the exam.

–AJ Sauer, Tarrytown, NY
“Terrific tutor”

Alex is well prepared and detail-oriented and works hard during the sessions to make sure my son understands what she is working on with him.

–Bonnie Y., Scarsdale, NY
“Professional problem-solver”

My adult brother has been working with Alex for the past few months. She is amazing! I have never known someone in this profession to be so patient, insightful and so good at breaking down challenges into pieces of a puzzle in order to find the best possible solution.

–Andrea Weinberg, New York, NY
“Competent, knowledgeable, and committed”

Alex was able to help me improve my study and test-taking skills and I’m so glad I hired her! I am a nursing student in a competitive program and I felt lost given the vast amount of material that I had to study. Alex helped me use recall strategies like mnemonics to remember difficult terminology for exams. She was also helpful in teaching me metacognitive strategies for focus and self-monitoring during testing. I am especially grateful to Alex for helping me navigate through the difficult “red tape” of my program. She taught me effective self-advocacy techniques so that I was able to attain the outcome I was seeking by being assertive about my rights. I am now much more confident about going into my next semester of school and feel like I have the necessary skills to succeed.

–Sam Kudelka, Pleasantville, NY

TESTIMONIALS