Being Open Creates Opportunities for Student Openness, Success, and Growth
Early on in my career in Higher Education, I worked as an admissions counselor. Our main goal as counselors was to begin our conversations with prospective students by finding out what their motivations were for going to school. I would just ask them simple questions like, “What prompted you to reach out for information about your degree options now?” or “What are you hoping to get out of finishing your degree?” and people would respond very candidly.
Some would say that their family has been encouraging them to go back to school. Some would say that they would like to advance in their careers and be able to make more money at their current jobs. Others would say that they would just enjoy the process of learning or that they would simply feel a sense of accomplishment for achieving their educational goals. Most people would express a combination of these motivations, along with sharing their honest fears about not being able to be successful in achieving these goals for themselves because of potential financial, academic, family, or time constraint challenges.
What is Your Motivation?
These motivations are just as important, or more important now, for the students that have enrolled at Vanguard and are now in your courses. Students need to be reminded about why they are at Vanguard, about why they in their Major, about why they are in your specific course, even down to reminders about why they are completing, studying for, preparing for, your assignments, tests, and/or presentations.
The only way they can be reminded of these things is if you know this information to begin with. This goes for knowing their motivations, and it also goes for knowing yours. Take the opportunity often to share your motivations and give students the same opportunity. In talking to individual students face to face or through feedback on assignments, remind them about why they are there, why this assignment is important, why their perspective is important.
Faculty Big Picture to Small Picture
Why are you a professor here at Vanguard? Why do you teach what you teach? Why do you cover what you cover in your courses?
Answering these questions for your students allows them to see your values, motivations, and passion for teaching. In addition to showing your passion for the subject you teach and being clear about why you are requiring your students to read or research something, your vulnerability is essential for their success. It may seem counter-intuitive to reveal your shortcomings to your students, but this models the need for them to be life-long learners and allows them to see you as a real person that cares for them as real people.
An Example of Vulnerability
At the beginning of every course I teach, I share the story about myself as a high school student that was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul – Teacher’s Tales (2010). I let my students know that I was called out by one of my teachers as one of the worst students she had ever had. In addition to many other things, I would advance the time of the classroom clock so we could get out early. I would lock the teacher out of the classroom, turn the lights out and have the class pretend that we were not there. I was horrible.
The reason I share this with my classes is that I want them to know, that the main reason I acted up in class is because I was bored and had no idea why I was in the class to begin with. I felt that this course and many others had no relevance to my day to day life.
I don’t want my students to feel this way about my courses. To counteract this possibility, I constantly remind them of why I am doing what I am doing, and requiring what I am requiring, and try to help them connect their learning to their real lives
Student Big Picture to Small Picture
Why are you at Vanguard? Why are you in the degree you are in? Why are you in the course you are in? In addition to being vulnerable with my students, I always want to give them the opportunity to be vulnerable with me by asking them the questions above in an online discussion (which gives even the introverts an opportunity to share).
Knowing these answers empowers me to lovingly and consistently encourage and remind my students of why they are in my course, in their degree, and at this school. I am not just telling them why they should be motivated to do well in my course, I am reminding them of what they said were their motivations for doing well in my course. Giving them an opportunity to be vulnerable also gives me the opportunity to pray for and encourage my students through the challenges they experience.
Objectives and Expectations
To best set ourselves and our students up for success we must be clear about our course learning objectives and how they link up with institutional learning objectives and down to the individual assignment learning objectives. This helps us know that we are meeting our objectives and lets students know where they are going and why there are going there. Along with clear communication of these learning objectives must also come clear communication of what you expect of your students. These expectations, if clearly communicated, fairly designed, and consistently held to, help students engage in and trust you as their guide through their learning experience.
Even though it may sometimes seem that many of your students want to do as little work as possible to get by in your courses, most truly want to be held to standards by people they trust, and by those they know have their best interest at heart. Trust comes through vulnerability – in a safe caring environment. That is where we come in.
– David Rhoads