How to Keep Students Moving Forward

Perseverance has been on my mind quite a bit lately. It’s something we’ve discussed in My Learning Principles course this semester and also something that I need to remind myself to maintain in the midst of recent events. This past week has been full of setbacks that have worn on my ability to stay focused and on track. From my husband losing his job to catching the always awful norovirus in the midst of final class projects, it has been a week of pure chaos. So what do we do when things get chaotic and life sets us back? Hopefully, we persevere.

As advisors, we all know how important perseverance can be for our students. It’s what will drive them past the roadblocks of hard classes and writing that important paper even though they might be going through a breakup. It’s what will get them to graduation and, ideally, provide them with the will to withstand the ups and downs of landing that first big job. What happens, though, when a student walks into your office and seems completely defeated? Is it in our power to drum up the perseverance they need? What if that student hasn’t experienced or witnessed any true examples of perseverance in his/her own life?

When this topic was discussed In class, we mulled over the possibility of presenting examples from our own lives to our students. However, I’ve always felt that revealing too much about my own life when talking with students diverts their attention and also doesn’t make me seem particularly focused on helping them develop their own strategies for success. I like to take that journey together, but let them choose the final path on their own. So how do I do that?

As I sit here still wrapped in blankets on the mend and plotting out what my little family will do over the next few weeks, there’s only one answer that makes sense: focus on what will be. If I dwell on the fact that my life has taken a major turn or that I’m in bed sick and have a paper due, I’ll stay in that mental space like a stick in the mud. However, if I say to myself “wow, I’ll feel so good about my progress when that paper is done” (like I did yesterday) then I’m 100% more likely to get moving on that goal.

To get that same message across to my students without sharing my story, I’d approach them with this simple question: What would the future look like for you if you accomplished this goal? They might not respond right away or might brush the question off in a stubborn effort to stay stuck in the mud, but stick with it. I bet in the end that vision of the future will be enough to light at least a spark of perseverance. It’s certainly working for me right now.