In the first chapter of The Handbook for Adjunct/Part-time faculty and Teachers of Adults, I was first drawn to the section titled: Establishing a Teaching Environment. The shift from an instructor-centered learning environment to a student-centered learning environment continues to be a very important one in higher education. I am returning from the POD conference (Professional Organizational Development), where the focus on student-centered learning environments was very prominent. Several of the sessions addressed this topic.
One key component of developing a student-centered learning environment is to build and foster a positive teacher-student relationship. The basis of that teacher-student relationship is trust and honesty, just like it is for any other human relationship. But what does it look like in the classroom? Here are some things to keep in mind as you work on developing a relationship with your students.
Your classroom expectations need to be clearly specified for students. Students need to know what they need to do to be successful in your class. Building a relationship with students does not mean that you lower your standards. It simply mean that you are transparent about those standards and expectations, but even more importantly, that you explain to students why you have these specific expectations for them. Why is this class goal or learning objective important? Helping students understand why you do what you do in the classroom and the decisions you make will greatly contribute to the creation of a positive teacher-student relationship. The provision of a rationale for tasks that are hard or difficult or that seems unnecessary to students will allow them to see the connections between what they are asked to do and the course goals. In return, the students will feel they can trust you and will be more likely to want to work harder for you in your class.
Building a relationship with students also means that you make it a point to get to know them. Learning students’ names goes a long way in signifying to students that you care about them. On the first day of class, I ask the students to write a one-page paper on why they are taking my class or why they are in college. This allows me to learn something about each student and use this personal knowledge when giving them feedback on assignments or papers. It’s very powerful for students to receive feedback that is personally meaningful to them and that helps them grow and develop.
In addition, don’t forget that students will appreciate getting to know you better. Talk about your journey as you developed as a scholar and a teacher. Discuss with them your successes and also your struggles. Students often get intimidated by what the teacher represents as an authority. Knowing that you had to work hard to get where you are will provide them with a model to follow. Next time they find themselves struggling on one of your assignments, they will be more likely to seek help because they will see you as able to understand them and their challenges. This will give you an opportunity to help them succeed, which will also contribute to building a positive teacher-student relationship.