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Landmark College Advisors Deliver Inspiration At International Conference On Student Success

Ruth and Lyn at UMby Solvegi Shmulsky

On June 7, 2013, Landmark College advisors and professional coaches, Ruth Wilmot and Lyn Sperry spoke about skillful questioning at the first-ever National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) international conference.  The sold-out conference, titled Enhancing Student Success: A Global Perspective, was attended by educators from 19 countries and was held at the University College Maastricht in the Netherlands.  Highly regarded by Landmark College advisors, NACADA is “an important resource for professional development, information, and industry standards,” said Christopher Osgood, Director of Advising, “Members of our department attend and present regionally, nationally and internationally—allowing us a voice to shape post-secondary advising.”

Home to the 10-year-old Maastricht University College, an American style liberal arts institution, Maastricht is the oldest city in the Netherlands.  With “windy cobblestone streets, ancient buildings rubbing shoulders with sleek modern ones, tons of cafes and good restaurants,” Lyn Sperry described the city as the “most live-able” she had ever visited.

With enrollment that exceeded expectations by about 100, the conference buzzed with energy and excitement. Professionals from around the world joined to inspire and educate one another—with the shared purpose of maximizing their students’ success in college.  “The international flavor was really wonderful” said Sperry.  “It seems that everyone's trying to professionalize academic advising—I kept thinking how lucky I was to work at Landmark College and have the time to use a more developmental advising approach.  It made me realize just how important close and personal advising relationships are, especially when dealing with our student population and its developmental needs,” Sperry reflected. 

Skillful Questioning

For their fully-enrolled session, Wilmot and Sperry discussed skillful questioning, which is one method that promotes “close and personal advising relationships.” Skillful questions help students hone in on their most important priorities and marshal their energy and creativity toward these pursuits. Within the safety of a non-judgmental atmosphere, Wilmot and Sperry’s approach invites students to take an honest look at themselves and their behavior, thus opening the door for greater self-direction.  

Skillful questions follow the logic of self-determination theory as articulated by education researchers and disability specialists Dr. Sharon Field and Dr. Alan Hoffman.  In this perspective, it is necessary to “know and value” the self—by exploring what is really important to you—before setting goals and making plans.  When based on self-knowledge, one’s goals are more motivating and attainable.  The skillful question sequence below derives from the work of Field and Hoffman.    

Skillful Question Sequence

  • Knowing & valuing the self—What is most important to you—academically, socially, personally?
  • Setting goals—What are your most important goals?
  • Planning—Given what you know of yourself, how can these goals be pursued?
  • Experiencing outcomes—What are the outcomes of your actions?

When asked what students like about skillful questioning, Ruth Wilmot said, “It allows students to celebrate the success of what they tried, and to reflect on what didn’t work. They plan what to do next—and get motivated to try again.”

Why are skillful questions meaningful to students?  Wilmot explained, “Students appreciate being able to talk about deeply held beliefs and values—this doesn’t happen to the same degree in other academic settings,” she continued, “This is a different approach than counseling because we talk so much about potential, dreams, what is possible.” 

If you are wondering, “what place does this approach have in college—aren’t students supposed to focus on academics?,” consider social shifts affecting contemporary students. The stepped-up pressure to earn a college degree, an unprecedented expectation to be connected 24/7—via text, Facebook, and other social media, and an increase in mental health issues among college students—all show the importance of educational approaches that develop self-direction.  Mastering one’s energy and time amidst competing demands is essential for staying on track toward a goal, which may be small—like finishing a research paper—or large—like graduating with honors.  Those who can zero-in on their priorities and not get sidetracked will be most likely to succeed, and skillful questioning, in the context of academic advising or coaching, can help.

The promise of Wilmot and Sperry’s approach generated enthusiasm at the conference in Maastricht. “Many participants approached us afterwards to tell us they appreciated the workshop,” said Sperry. Wilmot offered a similar impression, “I met people who care deeply about working effectively one-on-one with students in their institutions….Many people came up after we had ended the workshop to thank us for the new tools we shared to work with their students." Many people came up after we had ended the workshop to thank us for the new tools we shared to work with their students.” Learn more about ‘skillful questions’ or connect with Ruth Wilmot and Lyn Sperry.

Landmark College was the first institution of higher learning to pioneer college-level studies for students with dyslexia. Today Landmark College, offering two and four-year degree options and summer programs for high school students and students visiting from other colleges, is a global leader in integrated teaching methods for students with learning disabilities, ADHD, and ASD.  Students, faculty, and other professionals from all over the world are drawn to Landmark College for its innovative educational model, one designed through research and practice to help all students who learn differently become confident, self-empowered, and independently successful learners.

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