As one term comes to a close, and you begin to prepare for the next, you may be reflecting on things you can do to get your new year off to a great start. Among the many things you might consider, you may be wondering: how can you build, or continue to build, effective and engaging interactions with students?
We’re always eager to seek and share instructors’ ideas on such topics; so, in our recent Instructor Engagement Insights survey, we asked: If a fellow instructor asked you how to get more out of interactions with students, what would you suggest? We received a number of responses, and they gave us a great deal of insight into your best practices for the classroom.
Below, we’ve shared just a slice of what some of those instructors had to say about enhancing your interactions with students. We’ve organized their ideas into five themes.
Would you like to add your own strategies for successful interactions with students? Continue the conversation by sharing them in the comments!
Five ways to make the most of your interactions with students
1. Be available and approachable.
“Be approachable and listen to students. Show them that you care about them as individuals. Learn their names as much as possible even if your classes are large (mine are).”
—Bonita Austin, University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)
“Make the time to be available, even if it’s just the 30 seconds needed to answer a text or email. Meet the students where they ‘are,’ meaning their digital world.”
—Lydia Thebeau, Missouri Baptist University (St. Louis, MO)
“…[A]lways listen first, to reflect what the student seems to need, and to build strong relationships with students so they are more likely to benefit from interactions as well as respect your time.”
—Kristen Munger, State University of New York–Oswego
“Talk with them, get to know them. Get a sense of their life experiences and challenges!!”
—Mimi Folk, Florida State College at Jacksonville- Downtown Campus
“Listen to the student and engage them in solving the problem/question rather than just stating the answer.”
—Elizabeth A. Kirk, Ph.D., R.D., University of Washington (Seattle, WA)
“Be open and honest with them. Physics is difficult for all of us and that is the reason some of us dedicate our lives to it.”
—Kenneth Purcell, University of Southern Indiana (Evansville, IN)
“A little humor never hurts. Step out of the box occasionally and show them that you’re human.”
—Hal Assael, University of La Verne (La Verne, California)
2. Establish your classroom as a space for learning and dialogue.
“Simply talk to students and allow them to talk, while affirming their contributions.”
—Robert Postic, The University of Findlay (Findlay, Ohio)
“Be interactive. Move around the room. Take the time to speak to each of them.”
—Pamela Larkin, Jefferson Community and Technical College (Shelbyville, KY)
“Work on small talk before and after class and encourage discussion in class. Get them talking and keep them talking.”
—Donald Schwegler, Elmira College (Elmira, NY)
“Try to learn their names, have them stop by just to say hello (I made this a requirement one semester), and get them to discuss material in small groups so they feel more comfortable with what they are reading, seeing, etc., in the course.”
—Shirley A. Jackson, Southern Connecticut State University (New Haven, CT)
“Stop filling in the pauses in the classroom so quickly—let them answer questions, even if they take a while to do so.”
—Marsha Shields, University of Louisville (Louisville, KY)
“Say, ‘What questions do you have for me?’ in class and wait until someone says something. It always works.”
—Christopher Godfrey, University of North Carolina—Asheville
3. Make sure students understand your expectations.
“Be clear and direct in your expectations of how students can successfully interact with you—how to address you, how you like to be contacted (email, etc.)”
—Jill Thomas-Jorgenson, Lewis-Clark State College (Lewiston, ID)
“Develop your facilitator’s skills when it comes to discussions. Set simple but firm respect rules.”
—Michael Hashek, Gateway Technical College (Elkhorn, WI)
“Remind students during class time that they can always contact you for help/questions, and remind them of the ways.”
—Marilynn Bartels, Black Hawk College (Moline, IL)
“Follow a structured lesson plan, but be able to improvise and read an audience. If you are losing them, change the method of delivery.”
—Susan Smith, Bryant & Stratton College (Orchard Park, NY)
“At the end of the meeting, summarize the topics discussed and make a plan for a next step of action.”
—Jerry Miner, Knox College (Galesburg, IL)
4. Build active, engaging activities into class time.
“Make the class materials relevant, topical, and sometimes controversial.”
—John M Tomich, Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS)
“Active learning exercises in the classroom. I regularly break into small groups, have students discuss a question/topic, then bring it back to a full-class discussion.”
—Paul Croll, Augustana College (Rock Island, IL)
“Set parameters before class, explain what today’s objectives will be and how we plan on meeting those objectives at the beginning of class. Allow the hands-on learning to give a demonstration of what they think the topic means in 60 to 120 seconds. The visual learner must sum up what they received from the demonstration in 60 to 120 seconds. The less advanced learner is still able to follow along. This opens a discussion and allows everybody to participate as I strive to meet the daily objective. I also follow the ten (10) minute lecture, stop, everybody takes a cleansing breathe or in fifteen (15) minutes, have them turn to their neighbor tell him/her one thing you got from this portion of the lecture, and write it down. At the end of class (last five minutes), what did you write down? I share with the class, “See how much you and your classmates have in common regarding this subject?”
—Kimberly Beaumont, Remington College (Memphis, TN)
“I would suggest going to class early to mix and mingle with students. I would try to ‘win’ over some key students in class & then encourage them to discuss during class (so others had good examples). I would also make course content relevant to their lives! Throw in some video clips, share personal examples—or industry examples–ask them for their perspective, experiences, and really listen.”
—Jennifer Ott, Kalamazoo Valley Community College (Kalamazoo, MI)
“Post news items on the LMS system several times a week to keep students thinking about the course subject. Use current events.”
—Julie Seiter, Oakland Community College (Farmington Hills, MI)
5. Let students know you’re an advocate for their success.
“Make sure the students know you are on the same side—you want to the student to succeed and believe they can. It does take work, but they can do it.”
—Kimberley Brush, Kean University Ocean Campus (Toms River, NJ)
“Stay professional, but be approachable. We have a small campus and we know each student on a personal level. We can’t treat them as a number. It’s important to remain their ‘instructor’ and not their ‘friend,’ but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friendly. We are their teacher, therapist, social worker, mentor, motivator, and sometimes their only support system.”
—Dawn Bellotti, Laurel Business Institute (Uniontown, PA)
“It is imperative to truly care, to be a good listener, and to respond effectively.”
—Dr. Gina Bittner, Peru State College (Peru, NE)
“…[T]ake the time to get to know students as people so that the student feels that the experience really matters, and that it’s not just another class.”
—Thomas Notton, University of Wisconsin-Superior