I can recall teaching at an elementary school several years ago. The principal was deliberate in scanning children up and down with her eyes and asking, “How are you?” I thought that was very considerate that an administrator would take the time to wonder how the students were doing daily. As the school days went on, I found myself feeling a little down one morning. After preparing my classroom for the day’s activities, I decided to take a walk down the hallway. Walking aimlessly up and down the hallway usually returned me into happy-teacher mode. It was in the hallway that I met my supervisor—the principal of the school—the same inquisitive principal. She stopped me and asked, “How are you today?” (as she scanned me up and down). Remembering how sincere I found her to be with the children, I responded honestly. “I am not doing too well today”, I sighed. She responded, “that’s great” and continued walking down the hallway. I recall this event to this day. I felt very uncomfortable in the false-sense of concern she expressed. From that day moving forward, I made a point to “scan” my students to check in with them. This practice occurred when I was an elementary school teacher and even now. During a semester, I get the pleasure to know my students and have an idea of when something is not right or when something is going really well for them. Making students feel connected to me as an educator and another human being is crucial for a positive academic environment. I understand that “How are you?” is a common phrase that people say as “hello” etc. However, I have seen first-hand the effects of truly meaning that question and being prepared for a “not doing too well today” response.
What about you? Have you ever taken the time to check in with your students? Have you ever taken the time to notice something was going really well or not too well for your students? As you consider these questions, I propose some suggestions for to consider to connect to students in your practice:
1. Arrive a few minutes before your lecture to greet students personally as they enter the room.
2. Greet the entire class with a warm welcome before you begin your lecture. At this time scan the room and take notice of anyone who may appear out of their usual character.
3. Let the students know that you are aware that they are enrolled in many classes and have outside factors which could contribute to their academic life. Express feelings of concern and sympathize with them. If you did the same at one point, share that—show your human side.
4. When applicable share brief relatble experiences to your lecture from your own life.
5. Wait a few moments after class and ask students, “How are you?” and be ready for a “not doing well today” response. Listen and express words of sympathy and encouragement.
By the end of the semester, I have asked at least 75% of my students at least once—“How are you doing today?” Most importantly, I take the time to listen to their responses and offer words of congratulations for their success stories and words of encouragement for their struggles.