Academic Coaching for privileged children with a sense of entitlement can be difficult, because there is often a simultaneous expression of interest (i.e., on the part of the student and/or parents) in the student’s making better grades and putting more effort into studies, while the academic coach realizes that there may be no “price to pay” for the student’s continuation of careless study habits and amotivational behavior. The under-functioning student realizes that the vacations, the clothes, and the extra-curricular activities will continue to be unwritten by the enablers in the student’s life. What’s an academic coach to do?
During the winter break at a Virginia school, I once advised a couple to tell their child that they would no longer micro-manage the student’s academic activities but that if the student did not pull all grades up to “C’s or better” the student would be going to summer school. At semester’s end, when the student made two “F’s,” the student talked as if he would be going to the aunt’s home on the Florida coast for the family’s traditional month-long vacation. The mother stood firm in telling the son that he would be attending summer school and living with his aunt, while the family vacationed in Florida. The mother went on to say she advised her son that the cost of summer school would be coming from the son’s college fund and must be replenished if he were to enroll in school for the following Fall Semester. She said she would reimburse the college fund 100% for A’s, 80% for B’s, and 70% for C’s.
The mother told me she was opposed by her husband and the family in Florida — each of whom believed her to be harsh and unfair. She prevailed, her son made two “A’s,” and he returned to school with a new attitude and a sense of urgency as he interacted with professors and assignments for the duration of his university experience. Her family reluctantly agreed that her taking a principled position seemed to have worked quite well.
In my opinion, this is an excellent example of how to use natural-and-logical consequences to motivate students to put all required energy into assignments and permits the parents to empower the student to assume greater responsibility for quality work.
Academic coaches may wish to remind themselves of the importance of avoiding power struggles in recommending such a course of action — so that any failure is not the coach’s failure and everyone involved views failure as following from well-intentioned but misguided decisions made by the student and the parents.
As a matter of strategy and style, it is often helpful for the coach to write a letter to the parents (e.g., at the beginning of the summer) summarizing the coach’s recommendation and the coach’s role as a consultant to the family to assess the under-functioning behavior and put forth a plan for remediation. Oftentimes, such a success experience with this natural-and-logical approach becomes a template for upcoming challenges and helps the student internalize controls. Furthermore, it enables the student to accept credit for hard work and a new experience for academic excellence.
— Andrew J. Billups
NOTE: Some details have been changed to protect privacy.