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How to Implement Growth-Mindset into your Student Success Advising For Higher Learner Retention

Is it really possible to manage relational advising at scale? 

Reach University is doing just that. In 2020, Reach University set out to pioneer the Apprenticeship Degree, creating degree, certification, and leadership programs that offer a job-embedded pathway to earn a bachelor’s or graduate-level degree as a teacher or education leader. 

Since then, their student enrollment has expanded rapidly — to the tune of 2,000% more learners in 3 years.

Ko Kim and the advising team at Reach University have scaled student support without losing the warm, relational advising model that works for their students using Ribbon’s real-time student data. Their team’s growth-mindset coaching and relational advising model has helped 

more than 70% of their students graduate within 8 semesters.

Key Stats for Reach University

We sat down with Ko to hear about how they’ve successfully implemented growth-mindset coaching and relational, tiered advising models to support learner success — and her advice for using these models in your own advising programs. 

How to Improve Retention with Growth-Mindset Advising 

For Ko, implementing growth-mindset advising really stemmed from the trends they were noticing among their learners. 

“We noticed that a lot of our learners were using perfectionism and fixed-mindset language, saying things like, ‘College isn’t meant for me,’ or just thinking that they weren’t capable. So we decided to start using growth-mindset language, which is to reflect back [what students really are capable of.]

We knew that we needed to reframe failures and stumbles along the way as growth. And that has been so monumental to get learners to be invested again.” 

If you’re interested in implementing a growth-mindset advising model for your own program, here’s her high-level recommendations: 

  • Start with internal training and support. If you can’t do it for yourselves, you can’t do it for your students.  

  • Use automated learner data, as with Ribbon. If you’re spending all your time sorting through data manually, trying to find what you need, you won’t have time to develop the kinds of relationships that support effective advising. 

  • Practice artful questions. A good question goes a long way toward building relationships, connecting with learners, and coaching them toward more effective mental models and beliefs. 

  • Focus on relationships and warm advising. Of course, you can incorporate a growth-mindset even if you don’t have warm relationships with your students. But Ko says their warm advising model has been foundational to their success. 

Start with your team

The best place to start with growth-mindset interventions is your own internal advising team.

As Ko points out, many of us aren’t actually that great as using growth mindset language for ourselves. 

“You really [need to start by] growing your internal muscle as a team to apply this to yourself, right? If you can’t do it in your management of your team members, if you can’t do it with each other as colleagues, it’s not going to work [with your students].” 

So start with your own team! Work with your team to internalize what it really looks like to have a growth-mindset, and then move that outward towards your learners. 

Don’t neglect training 

Initial and ongoing training for their advising team is a core way that Ko has helped their team incorporate growth-mindset advising models. 

“We have scripts for our advisors to use, and the idea isn’t like the script is a rule — it’s more like a guide to use as an example. So, for example, we have a scenario where maybe a student is missing 2-3 assignments. We make sure we say things like, “Zero judgment on my end, I see that you’re missing a few assignments in [this class], do you want to talk about it? I see that a professor left you some comments for growth, what’s a good time to call you?” We’re just trying to weave it in, the idea is that everything has embedded in it the mindset that our candidates can grow.” 

The scripts are a great place to start, but Ko also places a high-value emphasis on ongoing training for her team. Ko recommended several training ideas she uses with her team:

  • Teaching growth-mindset internally. Make sure your team really understands the values and principles behind growth mindset, and keep working through them internally within your team to help take them to heart. 

  • Make time for self-reflection. Encourage your advising team to reflect on how fixed or growth-mindset beliefs have impacted them throughout their lives. How do they respond to their own challenges or mistakes? How were they taught to think about failures and successes in their families of origin? 

  • Give feedback on recorded calls. With learners’ permission, record advising calls and bring them to team meetings for feedback, review, and analysis of growth mindset principles. 

Practice artful questions

The practice of artful questions has been key for Ko’s team as well, and is an effective way to increase your warm advising and integrate growth mindset coaching in your advising practice. 

Artful questions prioritize active listening and non-judgmental responses to ask both clarifying and probing questions. 

Clarifying questions help you get more details and facts to understand a situation and ensure the learner feels heard. Probing questions help expand the learner’s idea of the challenge and the possible solutions. 

One of the benefits of artful questions is that they can — and should! — be used for both learners who are struggling and those who are doing well. 

Ko explains it like this: 

“It comes down to praise too, and not just problem-solving. One of the biggest questions we use there is, “How did you do that?” If someone’s doing really well, it’s not about praising them, make it about being metacognitive, “Huh, yeah, how did I do that? Did I study more, or did I move my schedule so I study at night instead of the morning?’ 

That helps to actually reflect students’ success and reach out to them early with positive, appreciative advising, and not just when there’s a problem.” 

Practicing and integrating artful questions into your advising practice helps support all of your students, and develops the warm, relational rapport needed to bring all of your students to the graduation line. 

Use learner data for support 

A big part of how they’re able to create these relationships at scale is with the right data, at the right time. 

“We use the data from Ribbon, and I really feel like without Ribbon you can’t really do growth mindset, because anything you can say is just generic. It’s the difference between being able to say, like, ‘Oh, you’ve gone up 35% from your last test,’ vs. like, ‘Oh, you’re doing okay.’” 

With Ribbon, Ko’s team doesn’t have to spend time manually pulling and combing through Canvas reports looking for students with missing assignments, or spotty attendance and trying to figure out who’s struggling. 

Instead, they can use Ribbon to immediately view all of their data visually, including attendance, missed assignments, grades, and more. With custom filters and flags, they can adjust how and when they want students to be flagged as “needs attention” so they can easily filter to the students who are most at risk and need additional support. 

The data helps them support students who are improving too. Rather than overlooking students doing well because they’re not getting flagged, Ribbon’s data quickly shows them who’s making improvements so they can reach out to them to reflect that positive growth and improvement. 

Focus on warm, appreciative advising 

Ko points out how focusing on warm, appreciative advising has made a huge difference for their learners. 

“[Many of our advisors have said] there’s a remarkable difference in how warm we are to our students. I think that warmth is really a part of our appreciative advising. They know we’re not just coming to them for a transaction, but it really is relationship-focused and relationship-based, and that’s how we’re different. 

Of course, you can apply growth mindset to someone without having a warm relationship, but we’ve seen it work best in combination with appreciative advising and warm advising.” 

At Reach, they’ve really tied these two ends of the spectrum — data and relationships — together. Instead of focusing solely on data to try to scale, or focusing solely on relationships and being unable to scale, they’ve merged the two and created a powerful, effective, and scalable advising model that supports students well. 

With the right data in hand, they’ve been able to focus less on manual data processes, and more on actually getting to know their students as individuals. As a result, they have a much fuller picture of their students, can advise them more individually and uniquely, and create warm relationships — even at scale. 

Ko pointed out that she sees this as one of the biggest reasons why Reach has been able to achieve such consistently high NPS scores and retention rates. 

Wrapping Up

In short, Ko says, it’s not fancy or exciting: 

“It sounds really boring, but it really is just — 

Ok, we know the data, we know the facts from Ribbon. And then, [we use that] to leverage growth mindset, language and framing within our teams, across teams, and with our candidates and students.” 

With the right data, anyone can implement this type of advising model. And, based on the success they’ve seen for learners with it, Ko hopes more advising teams will try this approach. 

If you’re interested in how a growth mindset and more relational advising can support your learners, we’re here at Ribbon to help. With Ribbon, you can get detailed, real-time, and easily accessible learner data so you can: 

  • understand exactly where each of your learners are at, at the current moment (no more waiting for midterm grades to come in before you can help) 

  • set up custom filters and flags to know who needs attention and who’s improving 

  • spend less time manually digging for data, and more time getting to know your students 1:1 

  • get specific, detailed data on student progress and grades at a glance so you can look for patterns and trends 

  • and more! 

Reach out to our team for a personalized demo to see how Ribbon Edu can support your advising goals, and give your team more time for student relationships. 


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