Providing Time and Attention to Every Student

There is no question that every student is deserving of an instructor’s time and attention. Even during the busiest of class weeks, and a time when the list of papers to review never seems to end, it is possible to demonstrate to students that their instructor has time for them and is concerned about their progress – regardless of how well-developed or under-developed their academic skills may be. From my own experience, I believe there are four key areas within an instructor’s teaching practice that can be leveraged to demonstrated availability for their students.

1. Interactions and Communication: Every interaction with your students is important. It helps to establish a working relationship that can become productive, leading to greater cooperation and acceptance of your feedback on the part of every student. Your interactions should be professional, rational, and warm. All communication should be thoughtful, with a tone that is responsive rather than reactive and emotional. Students will sense or perceive your disposition based upon the tone of the message. If you encourage them to ask questions, and you provide helpful assistance in a welcoming manner, your students will feel valued. This is also an opportunity to demonstrate appreciation, which can boost their morale and self-confidence.

2. Feedback for Written Assignments: I understand that an easy to read paper, with strong academic writing, may seem like an opportunity to save time; however, every paper should take the same amount of time. I start by looking at the content and after reading through the paper once, I try to understand the student’s perspective. Then I consider what the assignment parameters are and the topics that need to be addressed, along with the required learning objectives that students are expected to meet. After evaluating an assignment often enough you will have a good idea of what is acceptable and what you expect students to address.

I attempt to interact with students through the content of what they have written by inserting comments and asking questions. The goal is to engage them further in the topic, while providing my own insight to help them expand upon their perspectives. At the very least, it will affirm that they are on the right track but often it helps them understand the topics better. As to the expected academic writing standards, I have learned to make suggestions rather than correct what was written or demand compliance. I also try to coach students by prompting them to utilize the available resources, including any supplemental sources I may share to address specific needs.

3. Sharing Your Experience and Perspective: A challenge for instructors who work with pre-developed courses is that their voice may not be present in the structured materials. I have found methods of sharing my experience and perspective through the use of course announcements and crafting substantive discussion responses. Through the inclusion of course announcements, I can summarize weekly topics, provide a preview of upcoming topics, and share supplemental materials and resources. More importantly, I am sharing my expertise through these strategies. When online students “see” an instructor actively involved in this matter, it creates an appearance (and perception) that they are truly involved in the class. It also demonstrates that the instructor has devoted the time necessary to create optimal conditions for learning.

4. Being a Mentor to Your Students: The most engaging instructional practice an instructor can implement is to act like a mentor and coach for their students. The amount of time this requires depends upon the instructor and his or her willingness to create optimal class conditions. Some of the methods I have utilized, beyond the feedback methods described, is to send check-in emails to students on occasion. This helps to create a sense of connection with my students. If a student is struggling, or hasn’t been present in class recently, I will email and/or call the student – depending upon their availability. This lets them know that someone cares and that can often make a difference with students and their ability to persist whenever they feel challenged. I want to mentor them by being a support system and coach, helping to nurture their academic development, which in turns creates positive feelings that are internalized.