This week, we caught up with Nikkie, an experienced Dyslexia specialist and Student Support Services Tutor, to find out a little bit more about the fantastic work she does. During our conversation, we discussed the rewarding nature of the role, and the positive impact it can have on university students.
Keep reading for the full interview:
What previous experience do you have supporting students overcoming barriers?
I have been teaching in adult education for 17 years now, mostly in functional skills support. Through this role, I found a passion for supporting learners with dyslexia and with other SPLDs (Specific Learning Difficulties), later gaining qualifications as a specialist in this area. I have also worked as an assessor for the British Dyslexia Association and supported classes for younger children too.
What led you to student support at university level?
I have always held an interest in supporting students studying at university, but I’d previously considered it quite difficult to branch into due to the governing bodies differing from my previous experience. However, Prospero contacted me and said I’d be a great fit for a Student Support Services role which was brilliant. It’s great that now agencies like Prospero are involved, it feels that there are clearer pathways to enable dedicated tutors to be able to support students who have reached out for support.
What appeals to you about supporting students at university level?
It’s a case of getting to work with really knowledgeable young people who have bright futures ahead of them. They just need that extra push to get where they need to be. I find that really inspiring. I love the fact that I get to dip in and learn about all the fascinating topics and modules that my students are covering. It feels like I’m learning just as much as they are sometimes!
What must you take into consideration on your first meeting with a new student?
The main information I start off with is their subject and their year group. I’ll then plan the first session to include a discussion around what the students wants to get out of their sessions. I want to empower them to be in charge of what they want to achieve. We then work together to reduce any barriers to reaching their goals.
What personal qualities do you think makes a great student support tutor?
Well, number one is to have excellent listening and communication skills. Then, it’s about having the ability to plan ahead to facilitate a supportive session. The thing with supporting adults and learners at university is they are so very capable. So you’ve also got to be very flexible to move at their pace.
You also need to have the empathy to fully understand each student’s needs. Using these skills, you can unpick the strategies that will help them to increase their confidence. The key to this is to help your students maintain their long-term goals for those times when they may feel they are losing sight of them.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience so far with one of your students?
I have one student who has so many strengths, she’s really talented and is a joy to work with. She is really strong at planning out what she wants to achieve and putting her plans in place. However, sometimes she gets quite overwhelmed and can get quite bogged down in the details. She finds it really helpful to have someone to be able to guide her back to her plan and keep her on track to keep achieving.
What would you do if your student had become quite overwhelmed and anxious about their studies and were finding it difficult to maintain focus?
I would start by looking together at the student’s long term aims and goals, something that we would have discussed throughout our sessions. I would then break this down into smaller chunks – SMART targets (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based).
Offering encouragement with today’s target is helpful as the student can gain focus and perspective rather than worrying about lots of things all at once. I would also speak with the course tutors at this stage, to see if they can offer extra support to break objectives down for the student.
What advice would you give to a young person at university who is facing difficulties accessing their studies?
I’d advise them to reach out and say something immediately. Have the courage to reach out for support, otherwise, frustration will only build and it could become more of an issue later on. If you reach out straight away, you’ll find there is support out there to ensure you keep on track with your studies.
What advice would you give to a teacher or tutor who is interested in working in Student Support Services?
If they hadn’t supported university students before, I would reassure them that listening to the students is the most important part of the role. Meaning, the learning processes you are experienced with can be applied to any age. As long as you are able to guide students towards reaching their goals, it’s a brilliantly rewarding role.
I’d also recommend the ‘Study Skills Handbook‘ by Stella Cottrel. It’s full of practical study skills – perfect for anyone who’d like to brush up on tried and tested techniques for learners at this level.
We hope you enjoyed reading our interview with Nikkie, a Support Services Tutor and dyslexia specialist working with University students.
If you would like to find out more about working with Prospero Student Support Services, then get in touch with the team here.