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Give Students a Reason to Feel Hope and They’ll Succeed
Have you ever felt so completely overwhelmed by the external circumstances around you that it seems almost impossible to stay calm and steady when you need to be present in class? Did 2021 start with a sense of renewal but quickly give you a sense of dread and cause for concern?
A new year is upon us, and you’ve already felt the emotional pull of the year we all hoped to leave behind, along with the constant drama that fills the news almost every day. As an educator, you need to somewhat separate yourself from the emotional reactions you may be experiencing if you want to have a clear mind and stay focused on your students. But that’s not always easy to do, especially if you keep paying attention to the news and social media. It can leave you feeling emotionally drained.
However, consider your students and what they expect from you as their teacher. You are expected to be focused on their needs and willing to guide them through the learning process. Instructors really aren’t “concerned” about feeling overwhelmed and having a less than perfect day. When you are involved in your teaching role and are supposed to be focused on the developmental needs of your students, there is no downtime. This means that you either need to be mentally connected and fully available to provide quality guidance, or you need to ask someone for help.
Why is all this so important? If all these circumstances are so challenging for you as an instructor, think how much more challenging it must be as a student. I am an online instructor and my students are typically non-traditional learners who work full time while also attending school. Not only are they balancing work-related issues, most are also dealing with pandemic-related issues, which can include financial challenges, homeschooling, remote work, and the list goes on. These students are feeling the impact of significant stress while also attending school.
As an instructor, you must put aside the events of the day and focus intently on your students. If your students needed your attention before and your help to keep up, they need it now more than ever. In fact, many students need to feel a sense of hope in order to continue in their academic program. There are many students who are internalizing the negative feedback they experience and absorbing negative emotions from those around them, and the result is a feeling that their hard work may or may not pay off in the end. Your encouragement as they work is vital to their success.
It’s as simple as: I’m here to help
The first key to building a relationship with your students is availability. It’s about being accountable and demonstrating your appreciation for their effort, contribution, and effort. Even if they can get it wrong or get everything wrong with a written assignment, there was an effort. The point is that they showed up to class and were present. You should also reflect that presence with your willingness to be available and ready to help them. This readiness can be developed in many ways. Just make sure your students know it will be consistent from week to week.
I am “old fashioned” in that I offer Office Hours during the week, which include daytime and evening hours. I also offer Saturday Office Hours, which I realize seems out of the ordinary and a significant investment of my time; however, we now live in extraordinary times. If I can help and resolve a student’s concern with five minutes of my time, it’s time well spent. When I started teaching online over 15 years ago, the institution I worked for required weekly Office Hours, and this was ingrained in me as to the value and benefit it could provide to students. I have never forgotten it and even know what it was like from the perspective of being an online student when the instructors offered it.
What can also be transformative is your attitude toward your students. When you’re in the classroom, engaging with students via email or classroom messaging, be careful with the words you use. A simple statement in response to a class text or email, such as “I’m here to help,” can change the mood of a struggling student. I also include this statement whenever I give feedback, whether it’s formal feedback for assessment, or informal feedback to help guide and guide a student. These words let the student know that I am a resource and available to them.
Give students a reason to feel hopeful
If you’re teaching online, it won’t be easy at first to determine if your students are adjusting well to the classroom or if they’re facing challenges related to the current outdoor environment. As the class progresses, you may receive emails or messages informing you of their status and challenges. The most difficult aspect of teaching online right now is watching students struggle, and I don’t know if it’s due to lack of academic skills, motivation, stressors, pandemic-related issues, or any number of other reasons. During a “normal” or pre-pandemic time, you can provide resources related to the specific academic problem. But now there can be a number of factors that interfere with student progress.
This is when your relationship with students becomes even more important. In addition to the availability and use of calming words, students will benefit from something beyond the scope of your teaching practice. This is developing a mindset of hope. It does not mean hope for a better life, career or future, which is beyond the scope of the class. It is hoped that their effort and time devoted to classroom work will mean something in the long run. If they feel hope and continue, then completing one course will lead to the completion of another. Eventually they will complete their degree and be well on their way to completing their goals.
How do you nurture a sense of hope in your students? You can implement at least one or more of the following strategies within your teaching practice to accomplish this goal.
Hreadiness as a disposition: Students develop a sense of how you feel, whether you teach in the field or online. This is reflected in the tone of your posts, messages and emails, simply by the choice of word used. My recommendation is to make happiness a choice, every day decide to interact with students. You can be happy regardless of the circumstances around you and maintain an authentic happiness, simply because you are able to learn. I look forward to interacting with my students, even when I feel most challenged, and during the pandemic I was challenged. But I was determined to still maintain authentic happiness and you can too, just by the power of your intention.
Ooptimism as an outlook: If you are going to help students feel a sense of hope as they work, then somehow you need to have an outlook that is optimistic. This may go against any personal beliefs you have, and yet, as an educator you need a different perspective during your learning interactions. This is a time to promote a sense of what may come or what is yet to come, otherwise, why should students continue to work on their degree program? Keeping your beliefs outside of the classroom and remaining neutral can be challenging, but it’s necessary if you want to engage in intellectual discourse with students. You need an objective lens from which to frame your discussions, based on research and data, rather than biases and subjective opinions.
Ppositivity to drive change: While happiness is a trend, positivity is a specific strategy to implement within communications, posts, and feedback. There is quite a difference between a reply that starts with “Student” versus “Hello Student”. A positive approach is one in which you, as the instructor, are seen as approachable and easy to interact with, rather than fearful and avoidant. When students feel comfortable interacting with you, from the perspective of being able to send you a message or contact you, then you have an opportunity to make a difference. This is when you can learn more about their background and the unique challenges they may face. I heard about many people who were facing challenges related to the pandemic, which allowed me to work with them.
EEncouragement to Develop Success: There is one aspect of teaching that I always believe in, regardless of social conditions, and that is the use of encouragement. If I acknowledge a student for an effort or an effort, there should always be some form of encouragement within the feedback given. I know all too well, especially being an online learner and not physically present to interact with my instructors, what it’s like to receive cut-and-paste comments that offer nothing more than rote statements. But a few uplifting words can make all the difference in the next attempt and the decision of whether or not the student will use the feedback provided. It all becomes a matter of building the confidence of the student so that they are able to become successful.
You are a beacon of hope
This is a challenging time for you and your students. I do not want to minimize the potential for stress that you, as an educator, are likely to experience. My intention with this post is to bring awareness to the potential impact you have on students, along with your ability to help them during a time when they need your guidance the most. Somehow, you need to be able to manage the stress and emotions you are experiencing so well that you can become a source of inspiration and hope for your students. They may or may not look up to you now, but they expect you to be available to help them, especially when they get frustrated.
A positive attitude can become quite challenging to maintain at times, especially given how long the pandemic has been going on. However, if you can shine a beacon of happiness, optimism, positivity, and encouragement, you will help create a sense of hope for students, especially those who are struggling to stay engaged and motivated. I have found that this can be transformative not only for my students, but also for myself. As I see my students feel uplifted and develop a sense of accomplishment or improvement in their mood, I too feel more empowered to manage the stress of my day. Even if you only help encourage one of the most discouraged students this week, that sense of hope you’ve helped instill in them will lead them to success in your classroom and beyond.
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