Struggling in a class? Here are 4 steps you can take!

Posted on December 11th, 2021 to Student Success by

I recently had a conversation with a student who is having a difficult time in her art class. The first quarter marking period just ended, and she earned a grade that she felt was unfair. She came to me to see how dropping the class might would impact her college applications. While we both acknowledged that dropping the class was a possible option, we also agreed that there were some other steps she should to take first. Steps that she was clearly uncomfortable with because it would require her to do something she had never done before–confront a teacher and engage in a difficult conversation. Now with a quick google search just about anyone can find some helpful information about how to approach difficult conversations. Here I will outline some steps that are more specific to the student experience.

1. Identify Your Support Network

We all have “people”–a close circle of friends, family, and professionals who are ready and willing to provide us with support. Sometimes it can be hard to know who is in our support network and what role is fit for them. Take a moment and think about who your “people” are (writing it down is helpful). What role does each person play in your life? Think through their strengths and expertise. For instance, would you go to a close family member for advice on your class selection? Probably not, though they might be suited helping you plan out personal goals or dealing with personal challenges. Once you have thought through who your “people” are and what role they can serve, then go talk to the appropriate person about the situation you are dealing with.

2. Role Play The Conversation

Your support person (or people), hopefully, can serve as a great resource to talk through the different solutions to your situation. Helping you think through how to navigate those different solutions and where they might lead. Assuming that, regardless of which solution you choose, you will need to have a difficult conversation it will be helpful to role play the conversation. Role playing can feel a bit silly, yet it can serve as a crucial tool in ensuring your success in having a difficult conversation. It’s a safe space where you can work out your nervousness and think through what you want to say and (more importantly) how you will say it.

3. Have The Conversation

Once you have talked the situation through with your support network and practiced the conversation, it’s now time to have the actual conversation. Contact your teacher/instructor/professor to request some time on their calendar to talk about the class. While I hope they are happy to oblige your request, they might also be curious to know why you want to chat. That’s ok..tell them. You certainly don’t have to share everything, but I think something along the lines of: “I feel like I am having a hard time being successful in your class and I wanted to talk that through with you” works perfectly.


Now, when you go into the conversation be sure you have everything you need. If you need copies of old tests, quizzes or papers be sure you have them; if it is helpful for you to have an agenda and take notes, be sure to bring a pen and notebook; if you need to log-in to your school account, be sure you have your laptop/tablet at the ready to do so. Whatever you need to have constructive and productive conversation, bring it!

Set your mindset

Lastly, be sure that you have your mind set appropriately. Meaning, its important that you be ready to receive whatever the teacher or professor is going to say. Naturally they may have some criticisms that will be difficult to hear, yet may be key to understanding how to achieve success in their class. It’s only natural to be defensive, yet it is not helpful in this kind of conversation. Also remember, if the conversation is neither productive nor constructive it is not a last step–you have additional steps you can take to ensure you find a resolution (and remember that a resolution doesn’t mean you get YOUR way!).

4. Identify Next Steps

Assuming the conversation is helpful, be sure to end it with identifying the next steps. You want to solidify what each person will be doing to move forward. This step is important because it doesn’t leave anything to mystery or missunderstanding. While this should be done to close out the initial conversation, I also think that it’s helpful to send this information in a follow-up email too. Documenting it can help ensure clarity and also be a useful reference if there is any misunderstanding. I would also strongly encourage you to schedule a follow-up conversation–an opportunity to briefly check-in with each other and see how things are going.


I hope you find this approach helpful, I know the student I was working supporting did. At the end she did an awesome job advocating for herself, hearing some difficult criticism from the teacher, and identifying an agreed upon path forward. Situations like these can prove to be incredible learning opportunities for us. At any given moment you have the choice to either run away from a challenge or run towards it. Sometimes we learn the most about ourselves when we run towards the challenge.


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