~brought to you by the Student Success & Completion Committee~

When the days of icebreakers and warming-up exercises have transitioned into deadlines of first major projects and/or tests, we have officially exited the honeymoon phase of the semester. So, when things get real, how do we cope? How do we help our students cope?

The first few weeks of classes have an energy and excitement of the unknown, for students as well as instructors. No matter how many times we may have taught the class, there are always the unpredictable events and personalities that create new energy, laughter, and enthusiasm. Come week 4 we are in a routine; we (generally) know who participates and who doesn’t, and we’re getting to know each other’s personality. And then comes the first major due date followed shortly(ish) thereafter with a respective evaluation. Suddenly the dynamic shifts again, and we’re left sailing potentially bumpy seas. 

Here are a few strategies that might help us navigate this new phase in our relationship with students:

  1. Temperature check: At this quarter point, it might be helpful to bring in a personalized check-in assignment for students. At the start of the semester, they’re accustomed to sharing information about themselves, and more often than not this information isn’t touched on again. A quick Canvas assignment can be a great way to see how they feel they’re doing in the class, what they’re struggling with, and how we might be able to further assist them. This assignment can be assigned at the start (warm-up), or end (exit ticket), of class, but an in-person offering might be best. The prioritization of their self-reflection in lieu of minutes in a lecture can inspire feelings of trust and worthiness. 
  1. Do-overs: Historical enrollment data illustrate that most students still in the class at the quarter point will persist until the end of the semester. With this information in mind, we can assume we’re in this relationship for the long-haul (full semester). So, a motivating and efficacious idea would be to allow students a revision of a previous assignment for the purpose of boosting their skills, confidence, and, yes, grade. This good-faith opportunity demonstrates to students that growth and learning are recursive processes, and we as their instructors are more interested in facilitating their emerging knowledge and confidence than we are sticking to an early grade. 

A final suggestion is for when, after other interventions, we’re still navigating tension or we’re at an impasse, and this one more instructor-based:

  1. Control of self: GCC’s very own Trisha Lavigne has created a helpful handout (“Workplace Conflict Competency Tips”) on ways to deal with potential conflicts, which can easily arise if a student is disappointed in their grade or feels intimidated by the information, pace, or expectations of an instructor. In response to a potentially heated question, comment, etc., from a student it’s best to “Stay clear, calm, and concise! Detach and avoid personalization.” We can do this by taking a breath, practicing go-to responses such as “I’ll look into it and will get right back with you,” etc. As our buddy Don Miguel Ruiz reminds us in the Four Agreements, we shouldn’t take anything personally. (Easier said than done, we know, but if we can remember that a student’s complaint or dysregulated behavior might be based in fear or insecurity, we are less likely to be defensive and be better able to help.)

What about you? What are some strategies you utilize at this stage in the semester to reinvigorate the classroom environment and student relationships? Please comment!

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