Improving Performance

Working with an EL student is different from working with a regular employee. When trying to improve and manage a student’s performance, there are some important considerations to keep in mind.

General Tips

  • Discuss and set expectations before the EL opportunity begins. This is a crucial part of ensuring the experience is successful and positive for everyone.
  • Be flexible with students. They are juggling academic responsibilities, social and family obligations and sometimes part-time work in addition to their EL opportunity.
  • Recognize that a student’s priority is school.
  • Remember that students are not regular employees. Their performance may require more supervision and management.
  • Students are often shy or uncomfortable asking questions or admitting mistakes. Encourage them to keep an open and honest line of communication with you.
  • Help students feel valued by including them in meetings and other activities both inside and outside of the workplace.
  • Express interest in their academic career, extracurricular activities and hobbies.

Steps to consider for effective performance management1

It is important to have mechanisms in place to ensure that students are getting the feedback they need about their performance and how to improve it. When designing an EL position, review the steps below and make sure they are incorporated into the management strategy.

  • Communicate expectations and performance standards.
  • Provide proper training and coaching.
  • Monitor performance.
  • Give feedback.
  • Evaluate performance.
  • Develop a plan for the future.

Improving performance

Students will sometimes make mistakes or perform below expectations. This is a normal aspect of any EL partnership. The following best practices can help you engage in a positive and productive conversation with a student about correcting mistakes or improving their performance.

  • Review expectations. Go over the original expectations and performance standards set at the beginning of the EL opportunity. See if anything is unclear or has changed.
  • Highlight performance. Be specific about where the student has fallen short. Make sure you have a mutual understanding about the problem, its causes, and its implications.
  • Use effective communication skills. Discuss the issue in a way that invites the student’s perspective. Emphasize that this conversation is about helping them feel more confident and comfortable in their role.
  • Make an action plan. Work with the student to create a plan for improvement and set a timeline for follow-up. Be specific and clear about revised expectations.
  • Monitor and support. Give continuous feedback to the student. If performance improves, highlight this to them. If challenges persist, contact your university partner to discuss next steps.

Encouraging student reflection

Engaging students in continuous reflection will help them get the most out of their EL opportunity. Encouraging reflection starts by modelling it yourself and fostering an environment within your organization that supports reflective practices. There are a variety of tools and resources available to support reflection not only for EL students, but for your organization more broadly. Speak with your university partner to determine what reflection resources and supports they are able to offer.

You can help students develop their reflective thinking by engaging them in conversation about their EL experience, how it is impacting their career goals and objectives and what have been the unexpected challenges they have encountered. A good way of doing this is by leveraging a reflective method known as What? So What? Now What?

  • What? Ask the student to objectively describe their experience by reporting the facts.
  • So What? Ask them to analyze the experience they went through.
  • Now What? Ask them to consider the future impact of the experience on themselves, and what they might do differently next time.

Examples of these questions include:

  • What is your role at this organization?
  • What were your initial expectations? Have they changed? How and/or why?
  • What skills have you used at this organization?
  • What are the most difficult parts of your work? Why?
  • Have we provided you with sufficient support, training or tools to achieve your goals?
  • Has this opportunity helped expand your career options?

[1] Adapted from Tips for selecting and supervising student employees.  University of Minnesota 2010.  See