Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success
Editor Brad Garner
Faculty as Agents of Student SUccess
Contents Introduction.................................................................................................... 2 Part 1: Perspectives on Encouraging Student Engagement........................3 The Five Voices of Teaching........................................................................................3 The Three Ironies of Teaching..................................................................................5 Reflective Practices and Teaching...........................................................................8 Being There: The Role of Presence in Student Engagement................10 Teaching on Level Ground......................................................................................13 Part 2: Creating Classroom Environments That Promote Learning.................................................................15 Clarifying Perceptions of Students and Learning........................................15 Building Relationships With Students................................................................18 Fostering an Inclusive and Welcoming Classroom Environment................................................................20 Creating Safe Places for Learning.......................................................................23 The Two-Way Street of Civility............................................................................26 References.............................................................................................................................29
Published by: National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition University of South Carolina 1728 College Street, Columbia, SC 29208 www.sc.edu/fye The First-Year Experience® is a service mark of the University of South Carolina. A license may be granted upon written request to use the term “The First-Year Experience.” This license is not transferable without written approval of the University of South Carolina. Production Staff for the National Resource Center Brad Garner, Founding Editor Todd Money, Editor Andi Breeland, Graphic Artist Stephanie L. McFerrin, Graphic Artist Tracy L. Skipper, Assistant Director for Publications
hile the success of students in higher education can be chalked up to a variety of factors, research consistently demonstrates that faculty are a critically important part of the equation. In the course of an academic semester, faculty have numerous opportunities to promote relationships with students, demonstrate interest in students’ well-being and learning, provide meaningful feedback focusing on improved performance, and generally make themselves available to engage with students on a variety of levels. In this final volume of The Toolbox Collection, we will focus on some basic strategies faculty can employ to connect with students in powerful ways. These techniques do not require significant additional effort on faculty members’ part. Rather, they require only that faculty remain mindful of their incredible influence in promoting inspired levels of performance in their students. The words and actions of faculty can make a huge difference in those students’ learning trajectories. As a way of thinking about faculty and student success, we will highlight two key perspectives. First, we consider the ways that faculty can reflect on their own behavior patterns and the level at which certain choices might either encourage faculty–student interaction or create barriers to those connections. These include the voices that faculty (consciously or not) employ in their interactions with students; thoughts about the need to be “present” in the classroom (i.e., emotional presence, awareness); and how faculty can strive to connect with students on level ground by demonstrating care, authenticity, and transparency in their conversations.
The manner that we teach and connect with our students is a key factor in determining the outcomes of learning.
The second way of thinking about faculty’s role in promoting student success relates to the ways that learning environments are organized and delivered, whether online or in a classroom. These include faculty and students’ perceptions in relation to learning; strategies for building relationships; making the classroom a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment; and modeling an expectation for civil interaction. Readers are encouraged to always remind themselves that teaching and learning are interactive.The manner that we teach and connect with our students is a key factor in determining the outcomes of learning. As Albert Einstein observed, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” 2
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019
Part 1: Perspectives on Encouraging Student Engagement
The Five Voices of Teaching I
n their book Make Presentations That Teach and Transform, Garmston and Wellman (1992) encourage teachers to consider several important questions that will guide and direct the nature of presentations: »» Who are you? What is the role that you wish to assume and convey when you engage in teaching? »» What do you care about? Do your message and values come through in your presentations? »» How much do you dare? Are you willing to stretch the limits of presentations to make your point and communicate the message? »» What are your intended outcomes? Can you and do you articulate the goals you have for each lesson?
Garmston and Wellman also cite the work of Margaret Bedrosian (1987), who proposed that any time we step in front of a group, we naturally assume one or more of the “Five Voices of Teaching.” Effective teachers will make use of these varied voices to communicate, to inspire, to challenge, and to motivate the learners with whom they are connecting during the instructional process. Consider the following Five Voices (Bedrosian, 1987).Which would you identify as your primary way of communicating with students? Which would be your primary voice in times of stress or challenge? »» A boss—This voice is based on the authority of your position. You communicate your ideas with the power that comes from the mission, vision, and history of the organization. Audience members responding to the boss voice often listen more to the position than the presentation. »» An expert—The expert shares information from the position of one who knows about current issues and developments in the field of discussion. This method brings direct experiences to the teaching experience.To maintain credibility, the expert must remain abreast of recent discoveries and innovations. »» A colleague—In the role of a colleague, the distance between the learner and the teacher is dramatically reduced as they work and make new discoveries alongside each other. »» A sister/brother—The sister/brother voice communicates caring, concern, and warmth. From this position, the teacher can serve as a coach and encourager to students. »» A novice—In the novice voice, the teacher communicates authentic enthusiasm and a sense of wonder about the field of investigation. Doing so communicates a willingness to teach while also savoring new discoveries and insights.
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success Although each of us may have a predominant voice, it is important that instructors develop a full range. Sometimes, the voice of a sister/brother or colleague will be completely appropriate to the situation. At other times, circumstances will call for the appearance of a boss or expert. As an instructor, it is important to be aware of the voice that is most appropriate for the situation, then engage with that voice in a natural and seamless way. The Five Voices are tools. Proficient faculty will remain aware of the voice that is mostly highly suited to the given circumstance. According to Garmston and Wellman (1992), “Elegant presenters have conscious access to ... personal values and deliver presentations that are unusually powerful because of the congruence of both their message and metamessages” (p. 3). The authors reinforce the importance of presenters (e.g., faculty, administrators, consultants) remaining aware of how they are feeling, the message they are communicating, and the feelings/responses of the audience. Each of these components has a tremendous impact on the presentation’s overall effectiveness. This article was originally published in March 2005.
Who you are, not what you know, is the dominant message in any presentation. Who you are, in relation to what you know, is critically important self-knowledge that helps you make decisions about what’s important to communicate and how to communicate it. This self-knowledge gives your message congruence and credibility. -Robert J. Garmston and Bruce Wellman (1992)
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019
The Three Ironies of Teaching
eaching is filled with confusing paradoxical experiences. The circumstances that surround these ironies, and our responses to them, can greatly contribute to our overall feelings and perspective on the profession, our students, and our level of success. As a starting point for our conversation, let’s consider three of the great ironies common to teaching: (a) knowledge versus pedagogy, (b) valleys versus mountaintops, and (c) public versus private. »» Knowledge Versus Pedagogy: There is a distinct difference between having knowledge (i.e., information, facts, data) and being able to effectively transmit that knowledge to others through pedagogy. As faculty members, just knowing is not enough. Certainly it is always incumbent upon us to be masters of the cutting-edge knowledge and skills in our academic disciplines. At the same time, however, it is equally important that we explore and experiment with varied instructional techniques that will allow our students to share in our knowledge and make it their own, based on the creative and effective ways that we teach. Just knowing is not enough. »» Valleys Versus Mountaintops: Consider the vast range of feelings that so often emerge while teaching. Regardless of how many years you have been in the profession, there are moments that range from “This is the most awesome career possible and I am so fortunate to have these opportunities to be in the lives of college students” to “I have no business being in the classroom and simply cannot ever teach again!” This enormous span of emotions is no accident. Rather, it demonstrates the degree to which teaching becomes such an integral part of who we are as people. Good teachers have strong feelings about what they do. For better or worse, there are always days of great exhilaration and others of utter despair as we reflect on our effectiveness and the responses of our students. »» Public Versus Private: We stand in front of a classroom before the gazing eyes and listening ears of our students—perhaps hundreds of them every year. Our knowledge and teaching skills are on public display for all to see and hear. However, as Parker Palmer (1999) describes in the book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, those in the audience (i.e., the inhabitants of the classroom) seldom include our colleagues. As each academic year begins, we head off to our classrooms and close the door behind us. What happens from that point on is not widely known. The only way that we know (or think we know) who the “best professors on campus” are comes through an informal network of anecdotes and second-hand comments. The teaching that we do, although “public” in many respects, is often a lonely, solitary experience that we don’t discuss with our colleagues.
Addressing These Conflicts Is there an answer to these dilemmas that plague members of the college teaching profession? Can we find a way to improve our abilities to teach effectively, to moderate the peaks and valleys of this emotional rollercoaster that we ride each week, and take the risk of inviting our colleagues to critique our work? Part of the answer to these questions can be found in the collegial experience of peer observation. Consider how this process might help you build relationships with colleagues and improve the quality of the teaching and learning experiences you provide for your students.
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success
Opening the Doors to Peer Observation A growing number of colleges and universities employ the process of peer observation as a faculty development tool. Despite increased interest in the process, faculty express many common concerns about the role that peer observation might play in decisions regarding rank promotion or tenure, and employment. Part of this hesitancy also relates to a lack of knowledge and understanding about how the process works and what it can do to assist in the development of improved teaching skills. Peel (2005) suggests peer observation can serve as a reflective device, help develop collegial support, and improve the overall quality of teaching. It is also proposed that peer observation can help alleviate the tensions and challenges presented by the three ironies of teaching. In this context, we will briefly overview the basics of peer observation to help the reader consider whether this tool might be a helpful component of professional growth.
Making it Work To understand peer observation, it is critical to delineate who will do the observing, what they will choose as a focus, the purpose of the observation in the larger context of university policies, and how this process and the results will be shared, documented, and used. »» Who? One of the first questions to ask relates to the peer observer’s identity and qualifications. While we all would be most comfortable with someone who is known to us and with whom we have a relationship, if the observation is intended to improve approaches to teaching, there is also value in an observer who knows and practices high-quality approaches to classroom instruction. As a participant in the process, it is important that you be comfortable with your observer and believe they can provide useful and effective feedback. Readers are encouraged to begin thinking about colleagues who could effectively meet both of these criteria. It may even be advantageous to consider a small group of three or four colleagues in which all members of the group observe one another. »» What? It is important that the observer and the faculty member mutually understand the variables of the classroom observation. Participants should access one of the many structured observation checklists available commercially or on the Internet. If the peer observation is part of a promotion tenure decision, the institution might also be able to recommend a format that specifies what is to be included or serves as a focus in the process. »» Why? A successful peer observation process should result in feedback that will improve the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom. This assumption, however, is based on the belief that the observer is poised and ready to provide feedback on positive attributes of the classroom as well as some areas that may need to be improved (slightly or dramatically).This assumption goes back to the tension between expertise and relationships. Do you want an observer who will only tell you nice things about yourself? Or, do you want an observer who will go to the next level and make specific, understandable, concrete recommendations on how to improve the teaching/learning process in your classroom? The professional literature (e.g., Cosh, 1998) generally suggests a three-step approach to peer observation: 1. A pre-observation conference, designed to gain an understanding of the focus and direction of the class/lesson to be observed (e.g., reviewing the syllabus, identifying critical issues that might be a focus of the observation). 2. The observation itself, which could include one or multiple visits to the classroom; and
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019 3. A post-observation conference to discuss the results and possible approaches to remediation of certain techniques or processes. The faculty member and the observer should agree on how the observation will take place (e.g., announced, unannounced) and how the results will be communicated (e.g., written report, face-to-face meeting, or both). Making these agreements in advance should make the process more efficient and useful. Consider inviting trusted colleagues to engage in peer education. This article was originally published in March 2008 as “Three Ironies of Teaching.”
In the end, we know what makes us happy. We also know what makes us unhappy. That’s the irony. We know and yet we still mess it up. That’s part of the human condition, no, and why we need to work on it. -Harlan Coben, American novelist
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success
Reflective Practices and Teaching
nother semester ends. For many, it may have been a blur from start to finish: classroom presentations to prepare and tweak, papers to grade, book chapters to revise or articles to finish, countless advising sessions to complete, innumerable emails to send, and an excessive dose of faculty and committee meetings to attend. But now it is done! While a brief respite and time for relaxation lie ahead, before the cycle begins again, one task remains: reflecting on the semester and considering ways to improve your teaching and the level of your students’ learning. Far too often, when the semester ends, instructors find themselves mentally exhausted, and engaging in personal reflection may seem an insurmountable task. Yet, incorporating reflective practice in teaching can be re-energizing. Following are ways to accomplish this task and make reflective practice a regular part of a teaching regimen.
Integrating Reflective Practice Reflective practice in teaching is not a new idea (Dewey, 1933), and it has taken on a variety of forms (Gibbs, 1988; Kolb & Fry, 1975; Schön, 1984). The steps in the process vary slightly, but each one calls on us to think about the activities and experiences of our lives, followed by adjusting and recalibrating the activities we choose and the decisions we make. In general, reflective practice in teaching involves: »» making specific, concrete observations about events that occur during the process of teaching (e.g., classroom discussion did not generate the expected level of enthusiasm and response); »» drawing conclusions about the experience and creating hypotheses (e.g., unclear questions and prompts may have contributed to students not being prepared for a discussion); »» setting a new course of action (e.g., considering an online learning experience during the next semester); and »» implementing an action plan (e.g., leading an online discussion and observing students’ responses). Engaging in reflective practice can be done after teaching an individual course or on a regular, ongoing basis. Practical and painless ways to accomplish this include: »» becoming a participant and an observer in the class. Instructors should strive to be mindful of how and what they are teaching and the manner that students are responding and learning. »» making personal notes. It is helpful to have a manageable and convenient strategy (e.g., paper and pencil, smartphone or tablet app, computer Sticky Notes) to record one’s thoughts and feelings about the teaching process and to document in the moment. Random flashes of insight can disappear as quickly as they appear. »» making adjustments in midair. By maintaining a high level of awareness while teaching, instructors can make on-the-spot adjustments to the original plan (e.g., if students are not responding, instruction delivery can be stopped and students asked what they are feeling and thinking). »» finding a friend. It is a wonderful gift to be able to share ideas about teaching with a trusted colleague. Exchanging ideas and receiving feedback can help any faculty member grow as a teacher. 8
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019 Teaching is a complex process. Part of the experience requires making innumerable decisions on a daily basis (e.g., content, presentation, and assessment choices; course management alternatives; classroom or student conflict resolutions). Engaging in reflective practice allows us to evaluate the extent to which we are living and teaching in accordance with the things we hold to be most important. More significantly, reflection opens the door for us to make corrections and adjustments and hopefully improve our own performance. Reflect. Make a plan. Put that plan into action. Continually grow in your teaching! This article was originally published in January 2015 as “Reflective Practice and Teaching.”
There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge ... observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination. -Denis Diderot, French philosopher (1713-1784)
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success
Being There: The Role of Presence in Student Engagement I
magine that you and a longtime friend are talking. What are the observable cues that indicate whether they are actively engaged in the conversation? Are they making eye contact? Listening to what you have to say before responding? Asking questions and waiting for the answer? Sharing affirmations, challenges, insights? Looking at their cellphone throughout the conversation?
By the same token, we can easily flip these indicators to show our own lack of interest in the conversation (e.g., looking through or around someone, talking but not listening, showing interest in sharing our own stories only, showing no visible responses to the discussion, creating the feeling that we would rather be somewhere else or with someone else). We all hope for conversations with friends and colleagues that highlight engagement and a lively exchange of ideas. Sadly, this does not always occur. Think for a moment about behavioral indicators of engagement in a conversation. Now consider how we might reassign these qualities to describe how students perceive faculty and their level of engagement while teaching their courses. For example, how do students know, inside and outside the classroom, whether faculty are engaged and connected with them and their learning? Rodgers and Raider-Roth (2006) described this sense of connection between faculty and students as presence, which they defined as … a state of alert awareness, receptivity, and connectedness to the mental, emotional, and physical workings of both the individual and the group in the context of their learning environments and the ability to respond with a considered and compassionate best next step. (p. 265) The authors also cited the work of Nouwen (1986), who described presence as a form of hospitality: … the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. (p. 55) Whether teaching in a classroom or online, faculty should strive to invite students into the process of learning, where mistakes can be made and explorations of content can be celebrated through a collaborative relationship. A rich body of interdisciplinary literature (e.g., psychology, religion, philosophy, education) examines the concept of presence. The common denominator in these explorations is an invitation for faculty to move beyond simply being the “expert in the room” and the primary purveyor of knowledge to the role of an active partner focusing on the needs of students. Faculty members, as part of this process, can communicate their presence in a variety of ways (e.g., words, actions, dispositions). Rodgers and Raider-Roth (2006), in an effort to make the concept of presence more observable and practical, delineated four components directly related to teaching in higher education: (a) selfawareness, (b) connection to students, (c) connection to subject matter, and (d) pedagogical knowledge. 10
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019 In this edition, we will examine each of these components of presence, along with potential ways to bring them to life in our role as instructors. Self-awareness refers to the level of faculty members’ ongoing knowledge of the things they do well in teaching and those that could be improved. Here are some strategies for enhancing self-awareness: »» Make the effort to regularly reflect on personal teaching practices (e.g., individual class sessions, resources, discussions, online engagements, assessments) and the types of responses they elicit from students. »» Invite a trusted colleague to drop in and observe one or more scheduled classes. These informal observations could focus on teacher–student engagement and the evidence of presence on the part of the faculty member, for example. After each observation, discuss with your colleague what was seen and experienced in the classroom. Such exchanges typically result in great insights and a clear direction for improvement. »» Arrange to observe your colleagues as they teach. Look for things others do to bond and connect with their students. Connection to students refers to how a faculty member communicates and engages with students inside and outside the classroom. Strategies to boost this connection include: »» Scheduling time before and after class simply devoted to being available for students (e.g., questions, concerns, informal conversation), if possible. »» Requiring students to schedule a one-on-one conversation to discuss the course and what they are learning. These sessions build relationships, as faculty and students also tend to share parts of their personal stories (e.g., decisions to pursue a certain major, post-graduation plans and expectations). Obviously, this cannot be done in every class, every semester, so faculty might, for example, choose a course that is part of their academic major or where several students in the class are part of their advising load. »» Using a variety of tools to connect with students outside the classroom, including: »» being available by phone through an office number or, if faculty choose, a personal cellphone number; providing notifications and opportunities for dialogue through a variety of free, webbased tools (e.g., WhatsApp, Google Voice, Remind Me) if faculty do not wish to share their cellphone number; »» emailing to show concern about individual student progress or share words of affirmation and encouragement for a job well done; »» arranging synchronous video sessions to provide additional assistance on course-related skills or to simply converse about important course content; and »» embedding videos into the learning management system that include highlights and summarize upcoming content and assignments. Connection to subject matter refers to how conversant and passionate faculty are about their academic discipline, including current trends and issues. When thinking about this connection, remember: »» Students appreciate faculty members who are passionate about what they teach. What are some ways to alert students to your personal passion and ever-expanding interest in the content of your courses?
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success »» In every academic discipline, current events can be connected directly to course content. Find ways to make these connections (e.g., TED Talks, discussion questions, video clips from the news) and make course content more relevant. When faculty make an effort to find these resources and connect to the real world, they demonstrate presence in a powerful way. Pedagogical knowledge refers to an awareness of multiple tools that can be seamlessly embedded and aligned with the instructional process. Strategies for faculty to enhance this knowledge include: »» staying up-to-date on research and trends in their academic discipline. At the same time, faculty should devote time to thinking about how to effectively teach that content in a powerful manner. »» attending at least one workshop or seminar per year that focuses on teaching and learning practices. »» taking advantage of discipline-specific professional journals that contain articles on innovative ways to teach. Through words and actions, strive to be present for your students.
This article was originally published in July 2018 as “Being There: The Role of Faculty Presence in Student Engagement.”
Your true home is in the here and the now.
-Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peace activist, and author
Teaching on Level Ground R
esearch consistently reinforces the important role faculty play in influencing students and their perceptions of the college experience (Brookfield, 1996; Donohue, 2004; Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Whitt, 2010; Tinto, Goodsell-Love, & Russo,1993). Relevant for all students, this role becomes particularly critical in creating places and spaces where first-generation students and students of color can develop a sense of belonging and succeed in college (Braskamp, Braskamp, & Glass, 2015; Lundberg & Schreiner, 2004). In this regard, it is important to become aware of customs and practices that may inhibit faculty–student interactions and relationships. For example, faculty and students often interact on unlevel terrain. Higher education has a longstanding practice of bestowing titles and roles (e.g., doctor, dean, instructor, professor) to members of the academy. These titles communicate subtle messages related to intelligence, experience, expertise, and influence. Such messages acknowledge the hard work of faculty; however, they also may be intimidating, lessening approachability and negatively affecting interactions and relationship building with students. Many students may be reluctant to approach faculty, initiate contact, or ask questions because of the aura created by their titles. Ellis and Travis (2007), examining the role of titles in higher education, observed:“One could argue that having students perceive goodness from an educator is more important than having students perceive power and competence” (p. 1180).This observation is not intended to suggest power/competence and goodness cannot occur simultaneously. Rather, it asserts the importance of focusing on goodness as a pathway to creating relationships with students in authentic and transparent ways.
The book Road to Character (Brooks, 2015) illustrates a way of thinking more deeply about teaching on level ground. The author describes two types of virtues. Résumé virtues are “the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success” (p. xi). For faculty, résumé virtues are reflected by academic degrees, schools attended, presentations, publications, and professional honors.
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen. -Brené Brown, social worker, author, public speaker
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success On the other hand, eulogy virtues “are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed” (p. xi). Eulogy virtues are demonstrated through purposeful efforts to build relationships and engage with students in meaningful ways. All of us can do some basic things to assure that we are teaching on level ground. Strategies for emphasizing goodness or eulogy virtues in relationships with students include the following: »» inviting students to share a meal at your home; »» learning the names of the students in your classes and calling them by name; »» refraining from touting personal accomplishments and evidence of professional expertise; »» taking time after class to be available for conversation and answering questions, when possible; »» engaging in collaborative research with students; »» admitting when you make a mistake; »» connecting with your students outside the classroom over a cup of coffee; »» holding office hours in a neutral location away from your actual office (e.g., campus coffee shop); »» greeting students as they arrive for class; »» maintaining lines of communication with students; »» listening; »» expressing excitement and enthusiasm when you learn something new during classroom conversations; »» valuing and embracing your students’ unique differences; »» embracing transparency by sharing parts of your own story; »» giving positive feedback for classroom participation and contributions; »» responding to student emails and inquiries in a timely manner; »» noting individual student improvements in performance or successes with an email, text, or face-to-face encouragement; and »» disagreeing respectfully with students in class, as appropriate, without flaunting your position, title, or role. Consider the advantages of teaching on level ground.
This article was originally published in March 2017.
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019
Part 2: Creating Classroom Environments That Promote Learning
Clarifying Perceptions of Students and Learning A
s research and practice related to student success continue to emerge, it is refreshing to learn about new perspectives that have potential for shaping the ways faculty perceive, think about, and interact with their students. These developments can sharpen the lenses through which instructors view their students’ abilities and the challenges they face.
Growth Mindset Historically, intellectual performance and other abilities have been conceptualized as a fixed quantity of potential that each individual possesses at birth. Psychologist Carol Dweck differentiated between a fixed and a growth mindset: In a fixed mindset students believe … they have a certain amount [of intelligence] and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence.They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.” (Morehead, 2012) Students, according to Dweck, can grow and change under the right conditions, even those who experience the greatest challenges (Morehead, 2012).This way of thinking about students and their learning has translated into very practical interventions. For example, exposing first-year students to essays written by their upper-division peers, many of whom had the same challenges and feelings, can foster a sense of belonging in college, encourage conversations about what it means to be successful, www.sc.edu/fye/toolbox
We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. -Abraham Lincoln
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success and reinforce the idea that growth is possible and challenges can be overcome (Yeager et al., 2016). Another strategy, in the day-to-day classroom environment, is to reinforce student accomplishments and pay particular attention to those that may seem rather simple, yet have been shown to have potentially long-lasting positive effects on how students see themselves as learners (Yeager & Dweck, 2012).
Mindfulness Mindfulness, according to Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, “is the process of actively noticing new things, relinquishing preconceived mindsets, and then acting on the new observations [i.e., living in the moment]” (Feinberg, 2010, para. 9). Mindful people consistently observe novelty and uniqueness in the things around them; actively engage their minds in what they are currently doing; create novel solutions to observed challenges; and remain flexible to change, growth, new experiences, and learning opportunities. One of the best ways instructors can encourage students to be mindful is to actively model this process both in and out of the classroom (e.g., being engaged, flexible, and ever aware of new opportunities for learning and growth; always seeking new solutions). Faculty can let their students know they are also learning new things and making new discoveries every day, which not only demonstrates mindfulness but can also strengthen the faculty–student bond.
Grit What is it about some individuals who persist against great odds and who are always striving to be better and reach higher levels of performance? Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly (2007) identified this personal characteristic as grit and defined it as … perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course. (pp. 1087-1088) The research of Duckworth et al. (2007) led to the development of the Grit Scale, a short, simple 12-item survey capturing the essence of grit in daily life (e.g., setting and keeping goals, dealing with setbacks, working hard, finishing, never giving up). This tool (see box on page 16 for link) can be a great discussion starter with students in first-year courses to raise awareness for persisting in the midst of challenge. Faculty can model grit through their interactions with students. Quite often, students are surprised to learn that their instructors have faced similar challenges in learning and in life. Through their own examples, instructors can encourage students to stay the course amid those inevitable obstacles that are part of every pursuit.
Summary The ways in which faculty engage their students, and their perspectives on students’ abilities as learners, can have a powerful impact on their success. As instructors, we need to see and communicate the learning potential in each student (i.e., growth mindset); provide students with the tools necessary to maintain focus on the tasks and learning at hand (i.e., mindfulness); and encourage them as they struggle, persist, and achieve (i.e., grit).Take the time to view your students in a fresh light. They can grow, they can invest, and they can overcome—with your help and encouragement. Promote positive learning mindsets in your students! This article was originally published in July 2016.
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019
Additional Resources »» Carol Dweck’s TED Talk on growth mindset: https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_ of_believing_that_you_can_improve »» Mindset Kit Resources and Lessons: https://www.mindsetkit.org/ »» The College Transition Collaborative: http://collegetransitioncollaborative.org/
On Mindfulness »» Ellen Langer’s “Mindfulness Over Matter” YouTube presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XQUJR4uIGM »» The Langer Mindfulness Institute: http://langermindfulnessinstitute.com/
On Grit »» Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk on grit: https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_ power_of_passion_and_perseverance »» The Grit Scale: http://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/ »» Angela Duckworth webpage (with other links to a multitude of resources): http://angeladuckworth.com/research/
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success
Building Relationships With Students T
hink back over your school career. Which teachers had the greatest impact on your life—those who left an indelible impression that continues to impact the person you have become? It is very likely that this impression was made as the result of a relationship rather than demonstrated expertise in a particular subject or discipline.
In the book Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation, Frederick Buechner (1983) describes his experiences as a seminary student. He reminisces about being permitted the privilege of studying under some of the greatest theological minds of the 20th century. Looking back on that experience, he observed: In the last analysis, I have always believed it is not so much their subjects that the great teachers teach as it is themselves. … Though much of what these teachers said remains with me still and has become so much a part of my own way of thinking and speaking that often I sound like them without realizing it, it is they themselves who left the deeper mark. (p. 12) If Buechner’s observations are correct, what are the factors that contribute to being the kind of teacher who leaves a “deeper mark” in the lives of students? Let us consider three basic ingredients: »» One of the first is the quality of transparency. Teachers who exhibit this characteristic allow their students to see and feel the content through their own enthusiasm and passion for the materials and strategies they are sharing and using. »» Second, it is important to let students know that you care about them as individuals and as learners. Not only do you value their acquisition of new and important content material, but you also strongly value their growth as people. »» Third, your personal commitments are central to who you are as a person and as a teacher. What are the values, beliefs, and character traits that are not only a part of your conversations, but also play a central role in determining your actions, decisions, and choices? Your character counts!
Finding Your Own Way of Connecting With Students: A Top 10 List 1. Consciously seek to build relationships with your students. As a starting point, these relationships play a vital role in student learning. Make them a priority. 2. Share your story. Each of us has a unique story to tell about the many paths our lives have taken on the journey to our present location. As appropriate, and with discernment, share some of your story with your students. 3. Share a meal.There is no better way to get acquainted. In this informal setting, you and your students will have opportunities to learn more about one another. 4. Send a note, card, or email. Share a word of encouragement with a student regarding participation in class, a test score, a birthday, or some accomplishment outside the classroom. 5. Serve together. Create opportunities to serve the community alongside your students.
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019 6. Set limits and show compassion. As part of your relationships with students, you will be required to make and enforce instructional demands and requirements. Clearly specify those requirements and enforce them, but do so with compassion. 7. Sip some coffee. The next time you have a series of advising sessions with students, hold your meeting in the student center over a cup of coffee. This adds a sense of informality to the conversation and opens the door to some real advising and mentoring. 8. Selectively apply instructional strategies. Promote opportunities for honest, open discussion about the “big questions” that are part of every instructional discipline. Share your thoughts and feelings, but be respectful of the opinions expressed by your students. Through this process, they are learning to work with new content and apply it to their lives. 9. Say their names. Nothing shows interest in another person like the fact that you know and say their name when you have a conversation. It takes practice and effort, but it is well worth it. 10. Be there. Make an extra effort to be available to your students—even at the cost of inconvenience. It sends the message that you care. Connect and build relationships with your students as a pathway to learning.
This article was originally published in October 2003.
I am dealing with people and not with things. And, because I am dealing with people, I cannot refuse my wholehearted and loving attention, even in personal matters, where I see that a student is in need of such attention.
-Paolo Freire (1921-1997), Brazilian educator and philosopher
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success
Fostering an Inclusive and Welcoming Classroom Environment by Kevin C. Clarke, Loyola University Chicago
tudents need to feel safe, valued, and respected to maximize their learning potential. They need to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom and that their instructor and peers care about them as individuals. This is particularly important for new students and those with marginalized identities, as they may be struggling to find their place on campus. Instructors play a primary role in creating welcoming, positive, supportive, and inclusive learning environments for students. Here, I identify strategies instructors can use to create an inclusive classroom. 1. Acknowledge how your identity, experiences, privileges, triggers, and biases may play out in the classroom and share them with your students as appropriate. This type of self-disclosure demonstrates authenticity and vulnerability, lessens the distance between instructors and students, and opens the door for authentic dialogue. It is also a valuable model for students, especially when instructors demonstrate a willingness to own and rectify their mistakes, creating space for students to do the same. Ask students to engage in the learning process with you and to hold you accountable for any behavior or language that may exclude or minimize the experiences of others. 2. Review the tone and language of your syllabus, as it sends strong signals to students regarding the inclusive nature of your course (Erickson, Peters, & Strommer, 2006). Does the syllabus demonstrate your commitment to creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students and to engaging across differences? Ask trusted colleagues and students to review the syllabus with this goal in mind. Specific strategies for making the syllabus more inclusive include: »» using second-person language (i.e., you) versus third-person (i.e., students); »» including statements about expectations around classroom interactions and strategies for addressing and reporting incidents of hate/bias; »» providing information about academic support resources, accommodations for students with disabilities, and mental health resources; and »» ensuring your statement on office hours is welcoming in terms of language, tone, and meeting locations.
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019 3. Consider whether the design of your course (i.e., assignment prompts and instructional strategies) clearly communicates the importance of difference and inclusion. For example, do the readings, daily topics, and assignments address difference, diversity, and social justice issues? Are readings by authors with marginalized identities or differing viewpoints on an issue included? Are the assignments accessible and engaging for all students? What opportunities are available for students to customize their responses to assignments in order to build on different learning styles and strengths and ensure they get what they want and need from the learning experiences? 4. Examine the physical classroom environment. Can each student sit comfortably in the room, see the board, and hear you? Is the classroom conducive to positive interaction among students? If not, what accommodations can you make or request on behalf of your students? 5. Use the first class meeting to set a tone that each member of the classroom community is valued and that their voice will be heard. Demonstrate your commitment to creating an inclusive community by encouraging students to get to know their classmates through introduction activities and ice breakers. Help students learn one another’s preferred names (and how to say them correctly) and gender pronouns. Addressing students by name and asking for their pronouns sends a strong message that you care about them as individuals and plan to treat them respectfully. 6. Establish mutual expectations. Ask students to write down what they need to be able to engage in authentic dialogue, contribute to classroom discussions, feel valued and heard, and how they want to see conflict and microaggressions addressed when they happen. Students can discuss their expectations in small groups and then share with the large group, but the instructor should collect each student’s responses to ensure no one’s voice is lost in the process. Students should also determine a class policy for how to hold one another accountable for these expectations.
Many pass through the doors of education. You have gained a knowledge and foundation to pursue a dream of worldly success, but remember life is not just in what you know, but in the truth you know and walk in. -Ritu Ghatourey, Indian author
7. Focus on instructional strategies that model inclusion, such as speaking from your experiences and identity by using I statements and asking www.sc.edu/fye/toolbox
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success students to do the same (without asking students to speak on behalf of an identity group to which they might belong): »» sharing varied, multicultural, and relevant examples and perspectives when appropriate; »» highlighting contributions of scholars with marginalized identities and noting when their voices are not available in the literature and why that might be the case; »» creating space for students to express their experiences, perspectives, and beliefs related to course topics and apply the material to their own lives; »» encouraging students to work together in small groups and ensuring students get to know each member of the class, thus downplaying the influence of cliques and unconscious biases by varying group and seating assignments throughout the term; and »» using “multiple instructional methods to engage the various learning strengths and styles present in a diverse classroom” (Erickson et al., 2006, p. 207). 8. Pay attention to what is happening in the classroom and in the lives of your students. Specific strategies include: »» choosing your words carefully, asking students to do the same, paying attention to how students react to what you and other students say, and addressing those reactions by discussing what you notice without judgment (Martinez, n.d.); »» observing whether certain students or groups of students over-participate or do not participate and using strategies to ensure each student feels comfortable engaging in class discussions (Martinez, n.d.); »» checking in with students about class climate individually throughout the semester before and outside of class time or through an anonymous midterm evaluation; »» revisiting mutual expectations for the class or changing instructional strategies when classroom climate seems to be getting in the way of learning; »» acknowledging major local, national, and international events that impact your students and spending time discussing those events (even when they are not directly related to class content); »» providing students support in times of challenge and communicating a desire to understand their point of view; »» believing students if they say they do not feel included or supported in your class and helping to rectify that situation; and »» refusing to ignore incidents of bias, hate, ignorance, microaggression, or exclusion by addressing them in the moment or after class as appropriate. As an instructor, you have a tremendous opportunity to ensure that your classroom is a space where students can be themselves and fully engage in the process of learning. Welcome and engage with your students. Provide an inclusive place for learning. This article was originally published in January 2017.
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019
Creating Safe Places for Learning Y
ou are a college student sitting in a classroom, probably in an uncomfortable chair, waiting for the professor to arrive. You look around, only to see the unfamiliar faces of fellow students. Who are they and what are they feeling and thinking? Some show their anticipation and a sense of anxiety about the coming semester, others hide those feelings behind laughter and idle conversation, while others are preoccupied with a text message or the safety of a laptop screen. No one dares tip their hand in the game of classroom charades. A subtle sense of tension fills the room. The door opens, and in walks the professor who will guide and direct your learning over the next 15 weeks. What are your first impressions? What is the word on the street? How will you do in this class? Are you capable of performing the tasks that lie ahead? Questions flood your mind as you also try to gauge how you are feeling as you anticipate the first words of wisdom for the semester. The “ceremonial first pitch” of any semester is a recitation from the syllabus. In these first few minutes, you begin to wonder about this person who speaks so eloquently about learning outcomes, due dates, and the importance of class attendance. These factors are all very important, yet you find yourself wondering whether the professor is married, has children, has a favorite flavor of ice cream, and the names of the professor’s favorite books and movies. All these questions cluster around the theme, Who is this person that I will listen to and interact with over the next several months? Secondarily, there is a tendency to unconsciously assess the sense of whether this classroom is a “safe” environment: a place where you can take risks in the learning process, make mistakes without fear of embarrassment, express opinions with the expectation of dialogue rather than reprisal, and ask questions about areas of confusion without hesitation.
That was like my safe place, with great teachers where everyone could let down their guard and not feel judged. -Lakeith Stanfield, American actor
Setting Expectations For students, these first few minutes of the semester are when learning begins. Are they learning that this is a space where they can take risks, or one where they need to settle back and remain www.sc.edu/fye/toolbox
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success as invisible and passive as possible? The answer to that question has great significance and will guide their level of investment in what happens in the classroom. Let’s explore some of the dimensions for creating safe spaces for learning. To begin, consider the following questions about the atmosphere, culture, and expectations for your own classroom: 1. What would my students say about my willingness to engage in dialogue about issues that I feel strongly about, but that also invite a variety of opposing opinions and perspectives? 2. Are there times when I have responded to a student’s question or comment in a way that was unintentionally hurtful or minimizing? Did I make an effort to reconcile that relationship with a follow-up conversation? 3. Is my classroom a place where I take risks in learning and encourage my students to do the same? What are some ways this approach to learning is evidenced? 4. When the time comes to talk with a student about a classroom issue (e.g., excessive absences, plagiarism, poor overall performance), do I engage in that conversation in a manner that sends the message of concern while also respecting the student’s personal dignity? 5. What are some of the other possible indicators and criteria for a “safe” learning space? Following is a description of ways that faculty can begin to think about and implement classrooms that are safe places to learn and grow. What could be better than a safe classroom?
Fellow Travelers Sharing the Load It would be a mistake to talk about safe spaces for learning without invoking the wisdom of Parker Palmer—the prototype of an educator who not only speaks the words but lives the life. Consider for a moment the picture of a semester-long class, and the relationships that begin to grow and emerge as a journey of both the heart and mind. Palmer (1999), in his book Let Your Life Speak, offers the following advice on what can emerge as teachers and students collaborate and learn from one another: The gift we receive on the inner journey is the knowledge that ours is not the only act in town. Not only are there other acts out there, but some of them are even better than ours, at least occasionally! We learn that we need not carry the whole load but that we can share it with others, liberating us and empowering them. We learn that sometimes we are free to lay the load down altogether. The great community asks us to do only what we are able and trust the rest to other hands. (p. 89) This picture requires that we rethink the dynamics of the classroom. Certainly the professor carries a major responsibility for creating the space for learning and for sharing knowledge in the field of discussion. At the same time, however, the master teacher will create places and opportunities for students to step into a role of leadership, facilitation, and shared responsibility for what happens in the classroom. How might you share varied aspects of the learning that occur in your classroom?
Owning the Space Part of our human DNA is a strong tendency to repeatedly return to the same seat every time we enter a room for a specific purpose (e.g., classroom, church, meeting room). We look at the room from one perspective, stare at the backs of the same heads, and talk with the same people week after week. One way of demystifying the learning environment is to create opportunities for students to sit or stand in different parts of the room and talk with multiple groups of people. This can be done in a variety of ways (e.g., stand-up “parking lot meetings,” small groups of various sizes, assigned learning partners that differ for each class session). Physically moving to various parts of the room will help encourage a sense of physical and emotional safety. 24
The Toolbox Collection â€˘ March 2019
Encourage Risk Taking In a safe learning environment, participants feel a freedom to spread their wings and try on new ideas, new ways of thinking and communicating, and even, perhaps, new ways of failing in the process. I had the privilege of working with a group of students who were totally on fire to move out of the classroom into real, get-your-hands-dirty work in the community surrounding our campus. Their enthusiasm was contagious. At the same time, their innocence about the nature of the work was painfully obvious. My job became one of helping them to take risks, make some mistakes, correct their path, and move forward toward their goal of helping others in need. They learned some valuable but difficult lessons as they began to talk with people who might not have wanted their help, those who might have seen them as an intrusion, or as â€œdo-goodersâ€? who might be here today but gone tomorrow. They also talked with and helped people who could become lifelong friends and mentors. Such lessons will make the students stronger as people and help them think about the realities of serving their community. Part of the learning process is taking risks with new information, passions, and ideas. In a safe learning environment, students feel the freedom to share their dreams, talk about their fears, and propose extreme responses to the circumstances of our world. As teachers, we have the privilege of creating learning experiences that help students focus their energies, refine their skills, and learn lessons that will make the next risk-taking opportunity seem less formidable. This article was originally published in February 2008.
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success
The Two-Way Street of Civility T
o begin, a pop quiz: 1. When responding to an email from a student, something that may seem off-task or tedious, do I respond with the same level of courtesy that I would extend to a colleague asking a similar question? 2. When I am in a meeting I find boring, do I text or answer emails on my laptop or smartphone? 3. If I am unable to complete an assignment made by my department chair or immediate supervisor, do I justify my late submission with excuses (e.g., too busy, computer problems)? Do I tend to accept the same justifications from my students? 4. In class, if a student disagrees with aspects of a presentation I am making on a topic about which I am fully knowledgeable, do I tend to become somewhat defensive and respond in an unkind or abrupt manner? Would I do the same to a colleague? 5. If I am scheduled to attend a professional conference related to my discipline, I will cancel my scheduled classes. Under what conditions am I willing to approve a student’s request to miss class for what appears to be a valid reason (yet one that is not part of my attendance policy)? 6. Do I grade and return student work with the same level of timeliness that I expect from them? 7. Do I share anecdotes about my students with colleagues or other students that cast a negative light on their abilities, classroom performance, personalities, or integrity? Would I be offended if the same types of stories were being shared about my teaching? 8. Am I usually on time to the classes I teach? How do I respond to late arrivals by students?
How did you do? Did some questions, which all focus on classroom civility, prompt a level of unease? By exploring these questions, we can sharpen the consistency with which we approach the issue of civility and the extent that we hold our students and ourselves accountable. There are a variety of definitions for civility and its semantic counterpoint, incivility. Civil behavior is often defined by politeness, good manners, decorum, the ability to reasonably disagree and resolve differences, and sensitivity to the needs of others (Peck, 2002). On the flip side, Feldmann (2001) defined academic incivility as “any action that interferes with a harmonious, cooperative learning atmosphere in the classroom” (p. 137). This definition opens the door to a wide variety of behaviors and interactions that could originate from either students (e.g., leaving class early, dominating discussions, issuing hostile verbal attacks, using vulgarity, sleeping in class, voicing disapproving groans) or faculty (e.g., condescending negativism, inattentive planning, or personal disregard; Braxton & Mann, 2004; McKinne & Martin, 2010). The issue of civility is gaining increased attention and interest in a variety of contexts (Peck, 2002; Trudel & Reio, 2011). Twale and DeLuca (2008) asked readers to consider whether academia is a culture that promotes incivilities among 26
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019 faculty in the form of a bully culture (i.e., where senior faculty, or those with greater levels of academic status, exert their power and influence over junior or inexperienced faculty members). Another reasonable question would be, To what degree does this bully culture extend to the relationships between faculty and students? In all of these proposed scenarios of incivility (i.e., faculty-to-faculty, faculty-to-student, student-to-faculty), the goal should be for each of us to do our best to model relationships that promote not only accountability but also politeness, decorum, and sensitivity to the needs of others.
Strategies for Promoting Classroom Civility Instructors can play a major role in setting and promoting the standards for civil behavior in the classroom. Consider the following approaches to creating a classroom climate where both faculty and students actively choose to treat one another with civility: »» Clearly delineate classroom expectations. This step begins the process of classroom civility (McKinne & Martin, 2010) and can be accomplished through classroom discussions and the content of the course syllabus. Although the syllabus cannot reasonably outline every possible scenario of civility, it can set the tone for the semester and reduces the likelihood of later misunderstandings. »» Consistently enforce expectations—without hubris. Rules and expectations of civility should be designed to enhance the safety and collaborative spirit of the classroom. When you find it necessary to advise a student of times when their behavior is outside these expectations, do so privately, in a nonthreatening manner. »» Actively model behavior. Instructors need to consciously commit to demonstrating the civil patterns of behavior they wish to observe in their students. There will be times when it would be easy (and immediately satisfying) to lash out or to make a rude comment that expresses your feelings but also has the effect of hurting someone else. Students will pay particular attention during these times to see how you respond and communicate. Make the most out of demonstrating the civility you wish to promote.
It’s too much to expect in an academic setting that we should all agree, but it is not too much to expect discipline and unvarying civility. -John Howard, Australian prime minister (1996-2007)
The Toolbox Collection • Volume 5: Faculty as Agents of Student Success »» Establish a personal accountability process. To maintain consistency between what we say (i.e., the things we expect from our students) and what we do (i.e., our behaviors in relation to our students), it is necessary to (a) develop an individual set of parameters to evaluate our actions and words and (b) engage in assessment. Self-reflection or feedback from a trusted colleague can be useful in this appraisal. Travel the two-way street of civility: Demonstrate and practice the level of civility that you desire from your students! This article was originally published in March 2012.
The Toolbox Collection • March 2019
Faculty as Agents of Student SUccess
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Published on Mar 14, 2019