This blog is dropping later than normal because I’m wrapping up two 5 week summer WIT courses which can be…intense. This post is also Part 1 of a three part series designed to help you have a better relationship with your students. I find that a lot of issues in the classroom are rooted in communication fractures. A big part of managing expectations, setting healthy boundaries, and fostering student learning is being somewhat transparent with students. Of course it isn’t always clear exactly how transparent we should be. I would argue there is a line and that line looks different for some faculty (especially for women and people of color).
My own one-sentence teaching philosophy is: give students every opportunity to succeed. And integral to this is telling them WHAT I’m doing. This manifests in different ways throughout the semester. For example I tell them what kind of feedback they can expect for a given assignment. In an announcement I might say, “In order to get this feedback to all of you quickly, I am going to keep it brief. If you’re on the right track, I’ll say ‘Looks good! Keep going!’ If you need to make some adjustments I’ll state explicitly what I recommend.” In the past I’ve said, “sometimes my feedback may sound abrupt, but that’s only because I have 100 of these to read and I want to get you what you need as fast as possible.” It really helps them to see our work from my perspective and helps them feel better about the feedback instead of potentially defensive. If I’m teaching multiple sections of the same class, I’m transparent about my feedback system which rotates the sections each week so as not to give one section priority over the others. This approach can and should extend to whatever actions you plan to take in the class (releasing content in a module, setting up peer groups, etc.). Every class is different, but I suggest finding ways to tell the students what exactly you’re doing so they can adjust their expectations accordingly.
This extends also to my personal life. In an asynchronous online course (but really this goes for all types of courses), it is important to find ways to build community. One of the ways I do this is sharing small tidbits about my life in my announcements. I might tell them what we did over the weekend or what we plan on doing. I share funny pictures of my cat 🐈⬛ or links I think they’d like. Some of the best conversations (in person and via email) have come from these brief comments. The effect is to make me a whole person in the students’ eyes and to encourage them to share pieces of themselves with me. It does make me “approachable” which I know is a fraught concept for women in academia, but, after all, we are teachers. The least we can be is approachable to our students. The point is, knowing a little about WHAT I’m doing with my life is beneficial for a number of reasons. Students are both more likely to seek out my help if they can relate to me as a person AND to respect my boundaries because they understand I have more going on than checking their emails.
This quest for more transparency is difficult. We do not want to turn our classes into our therapy sessions. Neither do we want to come off as Oz behind the veil. If your tendency is to maintain your authority over making connections with students, it might be time to consider why you feel this is the best approach. Does it really foster respect? Learning? Good behavior? It didn’t do these things for me when I was a new teacher and trying to compensate for my age and gender with distance and mysterious, arbitrary rules. I doubt it’s really working for you either.
Tell them what you’re doing and see what happens!
Do you tell your students WHAT you’re doing? Leave a comment below!
Also, I am thinking of launching a biweekly newsletter which would contain a post roundup and Links I’m Loving. Would you subscribe to such a letter? Let me know in the comments!
Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page).