Attention 9th graders! KNOWING what to do BEFORE you step foot on your high school campus this school year (5 strategies). By Life Coach Teo Weiner, M.A.

I’ve been a high school education coach for over 15 years and my experience has given me insight to the trends 9th graders display as they make the fear-filled transition between middle school and high school. If you are an incoming 9th grader or the parent/guardian of one then this article is for YOU!

The transition between a middle school campus and a high school campus is often bewildering… and here’s why. In middle school many schools pass kids along even when they fail. Meaning… a student who ditches class, fails to turn in assignments, bombs tests, or gets in trouble is as likely as a student who does everything correctly to get passed to the next grade level. There are no consequences in middle school for low performance. Student accomplishment is irrelevant. Thus, when low performing middle school students transition to a high school campus they can easily succumb to failure… quick to shut down and give up in response to the challenges of school.

In my private practice as a coach an endless number of students and their families come to me with tremendous frustration about 9th grade failures. Many 9th graders fail their first year simply because they are clueless to the importance of trying. In response to a growing need in our school system I’ve developed the following strategies so that negative experiences can be mitigated before they even occur.

If you are, or have, a 9th grade student about to start high school make sure that you attend to the following suggestions.

  1. Get organized. In high school, work production matters. In fact, most all teachers grade students primarily by how much work they complete and turn in on time. Tests are also a factor in grades… however I have met hundreds of teachers in my practice who intentionally structure their grading so that if a students turns in all of their assignments they can still pass the class even if they fail all of the exams. That said it is imperative that students be organized. In general there are 3 items that all kids should have in their backpacks to make sure that they are able to maintain efficiency in the face of a demanding work load. A calendar. Every student needs to have a calendar. I recommend a month at a glance format so that you can see a broad scope of what is to come, however any format is a good choice as long as it supports the user. Think about space, weight, and durability. Calendars should be used to write all assignments down (including projects, tests, quizzes, labs, study sessions, etc.). Doing so creates a go to reference for you if/when you forget about something. A to-do folder. Imagine having to go to a butcher, the farmers market, a cheese shop, and a bakery just to prepare for one meal. Now imagine going to a supermarket where everything is under one roof. Which would be easier? Having one place for all assignments that need to be completed is essential. This means that any worksheet, rubric, project guide, or handout that needs your attention MUST go in this folder. When to-do items are all in one place it allows you to have a fail-safe. Pretend that a you didn’t write down an assignment on your month at a glance calendar… you might discover that assignment in your to-do folder. At that moment you can add a due date for that assignment on your calendar and/or you can simultaneously address that assignment when you find it. Because items that need to be addressed are in one spot it becomes easier to manage the requirements of multiple class. One stop shopping. A turn-it-in folder. Much like a to-do folder, a turn-it-in folder is essential to meeting the many deadlines of a high school schedule. In my coaching practice many students have experienced academic failure simply because they didn’t turn in work that was completed. Parents consistently wonder how this could be. The work is done… they saw it themselves… yet it does not get turned in!? All students need a turn-it-in folder because it allows them to access important documents on demand. Much like the to-do folder, having completed items in one place creates the structure for success. You can check your folders at the start or end of each class to make sure that items are turned in on time. If you forget the folder can also be checked at a later time and you can address any items that need to be turned in. Parent support can be provided to make sure that those (now late/missing) assignments are addressed.
  2. Meet and greet stakeholders.  High school is the first time that many young people dabble in their own adulthood… and so it is important that they learn how to set the stage for success. One way to do this is to hold a quick meet and greet with each teacher (or other stakeholder) that you will be working with. Kids need to begin developing communication skills that will give them access to resources. I recommend that all students take the time to introduce themselves to their adult stakeholders. You should share your name, any strengths or weaknesses you are aware of, and what interests you. This type of introduction is the beginning of a professional relationship between you and your stakeholders and has several important effects. First, an impression is created. A personal introduction is an excellent way to send the message that you mean business and that you are here to get the most out of your experience. And… it is something that places you in an active role. Imagine meeting an important stakeholder as a result of something negative… you’re called into the office for a problem (passive). A meet and greet conversation will put the first impression in your control. It allows you to take charge and make sure that your first interaction is a positive one (active). Second, resources are leveraged. When you share information about your strengths and weaknesses you are actively giving stakeholders information that will allow them to help you. It gives them the chance to refer you to resources like clubs and tutoring opportunities. Introductions like this also put you on their radar. No longer can you be overlooked or ignored. They may be better able to notice a slip in your performance and (perhaps more importantly) they may be better able to notice an achievement. Third, confidence is built. Being an adult is a layered process of discovery. Most teens don’t have the slightest clue about how what they do in a given moment will effect what happens in their future. Engaging in a meet and greet style conversation is excellent practice for positive adult interaction. It is a way that you can begin layering your early adulthood with clarity and self confidence.
  3. Develop a support network of peers. Peers can prove invaluable when working to  keep up with assignment, tests, quizzes, and project deadlines. From a perfection mindset I would recommend that you have at least one friend in every class… but perfection is often a pipe dream and cannot always be achieved. No matter. The goal here is to develop a network of friends who share the same values and habits as you. With success as the assumption you should work to find at least one friend to be your study buddy. Choose someone that seems kind, smart, dedicated, and hard working. You may be fortunate enough to have someone in your life who already fits the bill… or you may need to take action and seek out someone who you can join forces with. If necessary consider asking one or your teachers or other stakeholders for a study buddy referral. If seeking someone on your own, keep your eyes open to how those around you use their time. Gravitate towards the people who are engaging in efforts to maximize their education and avoid those who are disconnected from the process. If it stinks, its probably crap and best avoided. If it shines its probably valuable. You should, without questions, align yourself with people who demonstrate the behavior you want to foster, and at the same time avoid those who evidence resistance to the education process.
  4. Develop a plan for how you want to be with the stress of school, and plan for it in advance. The summer before 9th grade begins is the best time to decide how you are going to be when school gets difficult. Will you be someone who perseveres or gives up? Will you access resources or shut down? Will you try to keep going or will you stop? How you are going to be must align to your goals and values surrounding education… I’ll write from the assumption that you are willing to do the hard work. Consider then… when the going gets tough, what next? You need to be clear about what you will do. The most important thing you need to do in a difficult situation is to take action. You have to be the one to initiate change. Demonstrating the behavior that will support how you desire to be is the only way to “be it”. In school, when classes get challenging… when teachers irritate you… or even when you are bullied… you must be willing to take action about it. If you don’t then the influence of these various outside influences will be what stops you from reaching your full potential. Reach out when help is needed. Students! Parents! You are not alone in the struggle and you need to know that it is perfectly okay to seek support. Part of your advanced plan needs to include clear identification about who can help you and how you will let them know. There is no right or wrong here… rather, you just need to be clear about where you can find help and how you can communicate that assistance is needed. When all else fails trust your gut in finding an adult to ask…  and then, just ask them. The shortest distance between the known and the unknown is a question. It is a catalyst for accessing the information and support that will help you get to the other side of the problem. 
  5. Embrace the urgency in education.  I want to close by highlighting the urgency surrounding student engagement as it relates to the demands of high school. Teachers have a tough job and are often in a rush to work through their curriculum. As a result they cannot always slow down or stop just because their students are not keeping up. Furthermore, many teachers feel that students (and I agree) can do more when it comes to their educational workloads. More paying attention, more studying, more homework. Because of the fast-paced nature of high school curriculum, along with the massive challenges teachers are tasked with (maintaining student motivation being one of them), it is imperative that you commit to being fully engaged in the education process. This means that attendance and daily effort towards your classes is critically important. The job of becoming educated is solely yours and if you think that you can let your guard down for even a moment you are wrong. Missteps like not showing up to class, failing to complete/turn in assignments, not studying for an exam or quiz… those can each be a final nail in your educational coffin. You cannot afford too many mistakes. The pressure is very real when it comes to high school learning because, simply put, the stakes are extremely high. On thing that all students should know is that you have one moment in your life to get a free education that prepares you for whatever your next steps might be. It is unbelievably important that you approach the coming 4 years of high school with as much tenacity and urgency as you can muster. You are the engine driving the car of your education and you cannot afford to crash. The consequences are farther reaching than you can even imagine. You need to be ambitious, ruthless, and hungry for the knowledge that teachers are prepared to give to you because you have one chance (spread out over 4 years) to get what you came for. You must be committed to your success and demonstrate that by working as hard as you can.

One last bit of insight. High school is easy and high school is hard. How you choose to be and what you choose to do is what makes the difference. Have a plan, be organized, access support, and let those around you know that you mean business.

Peace and love,


Teo Weiner, M.A. is a professional Co-Active Life Coach. Teo offers educational and personal development coaching to individuals and groups conveniently over the phone or via video conferencing. For more information visit or text directly to 562-243-9444.

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