“You cannot interact with students and be devoid of emotions.” – Dr. Bruce A. Johnson

Emotions are present in every aspect of our communication, whether or not we are aware of the existence of it. For example, you are having an emotional reaction right now as you read this opening introduction. You either feel a sense of connection to what you are reading, and want to continue on to learn more, or you believe you already know enough about the subject and feel it would not be worth your time.

When I refer to having emotions present with all communication, both written and spoken, it does not mean you are having an extreme emotional reaction. Rather it means you are reacting in a particular manner about what it is you are feeling or hearing, and you are responding accordingly. Now there are instances in which the words, spoken or written, are so provocative or inflammatory that it does in fact prompt a strong emotional reaction from you. Those are the moments you must carefully chose your response.

As an educator, and someone who teaches online, my interactions and communication occur with students most in written form, which means I’m receiving classroom messages, emails, and written classroom posts. The reactions I experience occur the moment I read something that has been posted or written and sent to me. My response is often immediate, unless I feel something negative and I am aware of the need to wait and process my reply. I may also have to wait and conduct research for an answer, which requires me to wait before I provide an answer.

I realize there has been much written about the subject of emotional intelligence, and there is an established definition of this topic as well. However, my view of becoming emotionally intelligent is somewhat different, especially as it is related to the work of an educator. I want to expand upon the idea of recognizing and managing emotions, by viewing the reactions and responses to what we read as levels of mental processing. I want to discuss the importance of moving past Level One or reactionary responses to our students, which is where emotional responses occur, and move into Level Two or the place within the mind where well-informed and emotionally intelligent responses are formed.

Level One: Emotionally Reactionary Responses

How I view the mind’s ability to process information, for the purpose of what I’m writing, is through the distinction of two different levels. Level One processing occurs when information or input is received. At this level, information is received and processed through filters that include biases, beliefs, opinions, perceptions, and so on. At Level One, processing occurs automatically. Rarely do we ever consciously think about the influence of our biases, beliefs, and opinions as we are reading or listening to information received. It’s within this initial level that our responses to requests received tend to be more immediate, sometimes reactive, and even emotional when provoked.

Because Level One responses occur so quickly, these reactions would not be considered the most emotionally intelligent. Consider the last time you received an email or message from one of your students. How quickly did you respond? Did you stop and think about how you felt or the emotions you experienced?

More than likely, you realized how you were feeling but did not recognize the impact of those emotions on the actions you were about to take and instead, you immediately addressed the message. If the response was not communicated in the most appropriate manner, you may also later regret how you responded in a reactive manner or wish you would have chosen a better reply. This is the value of hindsight and looking back after actions have already been taken.

Level Two: Emotionally Intelligent Responses

I consider this level of the mind’s ability to process information to be the heart of where logic, reasoning, and rational thinking occurs. A Level Two response is more proactive in nature, which means there is time taken to intentionally consider what has been stated or requested, prior to formulating a response. This does not mean every communication request received by a student needs to be processed in this manner. However, as an educator I’ve found it is important for my instructional practice to be more mindful of how I respond to student requests, as a means of becoming emotionally well-developed.

As an example, when a student sends a classroom message or email and expresses their unhappiness with his or her grade, and the tone of the message conveys extreme frustration, what is your immediate response to this situation? There are a number of possible answers to choose from for this scenario, beginning with an immediate or reactionary Level One response that informs the student about the grading scale and feedback provided. The next possibility is to provide a Level Two response and explain at length the justification for the current grade, which may lead to an ongoing series of lengthy email exchanges.

There is another option, one I have learned through time and practice, and it embodies Level Two as an emotionally intelligent response. This response takes time to empathize with the student, not offer explanations or justification, and instead, request a telephone conversation. As an online educator I realize there may be obstacles for trying to make this strategy work, especially if you are working in an adjunct role, yet an ability to communicate one-on-one with a student for this type of situation can help to relieve their discomfort and continue to build a productive working relationship.

I’ve had success with this approach, despite scheduling challenges which occur at times, and students discover someone cares about their progress, which is extremely important for distance learning. If you are going to try this approach, you can decide upon the specifics, such as days and times for telephone contact, and this will help to overcome any potential availability barriers.

How to Become an Emotionally Intelligent Educator

It is likely most of our responses to classroom communication occur from a Level One perspective, which means we are receiving information and requests and responding fairly quickly, unless otherwise required. This means our daily communication is being processed as a matter of routine and we are relying upon our built-in filters to help us address what we are receiving. Included in those filters are emotional reactions, which can range from minimal feelings to extremely negative feelings.

If something received from a student causes an emotional reaction, do you know how to process what you are feeling in an effective manner? This is where becoming an emotionally intelligent educator becomes important. To respond immediately is to remain at Level One and allow yourself to be reactive. But to wait and give yourself time to think more logically and rationally about the communication and information received, along with what was felt and the most effective way to respond, is to move into a Level Two response.

The following strategies can be used to elevate your responses from Level One to Level Two.

Strategy #1: Read and Critically Assess Responses Received

When information is received from a student, whether by email or classroom message, it needs to be read from an assessment point-of-perspective. Is this something you can or should address as a matter of routine? Did you experience any form of emotional reaction?

If this is a relatively routine request, and something you can address quickly without any emotional reaction, there is no need to move beyond Level One. If the student has made a request and it is more involved or complex, or you experienced any form of emotional reaction, then you are going to need more time to process it. This presents you with an opportunity to pause, reflect, and engage the mind further, and determine the most effective response needed, in order to bring about the most productive outcome. You decide then how much time this communication warrants.

Strategy #2: Give Yourself Time to Level Up to a Professional State of Mind

Once you have paused and decided to take time to reflect further upon an email or classroom message, this allows you to move into Level Two. What has occurred is a conscious awareness of what you are thinking about, as to your reaction to the message received. Now you will be more aware of your internal filters, along with any emotional reactions experienced.

As you spend time, even just a moment or two, reflecting upon the message, you can begin to engage the rational, practical, and logical part of your mind. This is dependent upon the condition you are able to first work past any negative emotions. You must first address your emotional reaction before you can help the student with their request. This requires intentionally calming yourself and returning to a professional state-of-mind, no matter how personal the message communicated may have felt.

As you begin to engage the mind in a productive manner, you can then focus on the matter at hand. Now you can see the student as a person, someone who needs assistance, allowing you to determine the best course of action and outcome. What I’ve learned, through time and experience, is the more lag time or processing time I allow, the better informed my responses will become. Level Two mental processing will increase the effectiveness of your responses and likelihood of sustained productive relationships with your students.

Becoming Emotionally Intelligent Takes Practice

All educators have many responsibilities to complete. Receiving messages and requests from students only adds more time to a busy day. The thought of having to slow down and be intentional in your response may seem like adding more time and yet, the end result is likely to be worth it, for those messages are in need of additional time and thought. The initial thought process used, or Level One, includes your reactionary response that is influenced by internal filters. What you want is to engage Level Two, or the part of the mind that processes information in a more logical manner. This is how you can become emotionally intelligent, which is critical for your work as an educator.

Students come to the classroom with varying degrees of skills, experience, and knowledge. Their expectations also vary, which includes what they expect from their instructor. All this adds up to a classroom with students who hold expectations which may or may not be realistic, and academic developmental needs that must be managed from an individual perspective. To best address these students, you need to be able to process what you read from an unbiased, emotionally-controlled, logical, rational, and proactive approach.

Becoming emotionally intelligent takes practice and time to evaluate communication received. You do not need to become devoid of emotions, only aware of how you are responding and the potential impact of the emotions used. The further away from reactive responses you can move, to the use of logic and reasoning, the more effective you will become in managing your responses.

As a result of slowing down your responses, you will likely find yourself becoming better prepared to respond, more confident in handling requests, and developing much stronger relationships with your students. Through the process of self-reflection, you may also discover emotions can be effectively used in communication with others, especially your students, even with an intellectually responsive reply. When you are emotionally under control, you are conveying a sense of calm, caring, and appreciation for every one of your students. This may be the very connection they need to remain engaged in your online class.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development.

Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 19 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

Please visit Dr. J’s Books page on his website: Dr. J’s Books

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:  Instagram

       

Do you look forward to providing student feedback, or do you dread the thought of having to read through student papers, especially when there is a deadline looming? Do students engage with and respond to your feedback? Would you like to be certain students are reading the feedback you take time to develop?

As an educator you may spend a significant amount of time developing feedback for your students, especially for their written assignments. The developmental progress of your students is strengthened when you provide meaningful feedback and they respond to it, either through their actions and improved performance, or their follow up questions to you. How do you react when students don’t respond to your feedback? What if they continue to make the same mistakes and their performance does not improve? Do you assume students aren’t reading the feedback or perhaps they aren’t interested in it?

It can be very frustrating when you have invested time and thought into the feedback, especially when you have addressed their individual developmental needs, and students do not seem responsive to it. If this happened to you it may be helpful to reflect upon the feedback provided and consider what techniques are likely to encourage students to be active participants in this process. The following techniques can help you create meaningful feedback, allowing you to discover its power and potential to address the academic and developmental needs of your students, while encouraging students to become engaged in and responsive to the process.

Avoid These Feedback Shortcuts

Instructors know students need more than a letter grade to prompt their continued development and this aligns with the premise of self-directed adult learners who want to be involved in the learning process. Students want to know why they earned the grade received. If they use grades as their primary source of motivation it becomes important to teach them to focus on more than their grades and instead understand the meaning of those grades and what can be learned from it. To accomplish this goal, feedback needs to address the content of what was written, along with the mechanics, and be done in a manner that encourages their progress.

What some instructors rely upon, typically when there is little time available, is canned comments or quickly written commentary. Comments such as “Good Job” offer little value to a student who has spent time developing a written project or assignment. The same is true when a score or a letter grade is the only feedback received for a written assignment or project. Feedback is most effective when it causes students to become further interested in the topics and more importantly, when it causes them to reflect upon their academic progress. When students are engaged in the feedback process, they are more likely to be responsive to what their instructor provided and learn from it.  

The Student’s Perspective of Feedback

As you begin to review the feedback provided to your students, have you considered the students perspective and how they may interpret what you have written? For example, do you find that detailed narratives are more effective than one-word responses or brief comments? Are you talking at students or are you attempting to work with them? Students may be naturally defensive if an instructor is telling them what is wrong without providing supportive comments or constructive criticism.

An instructor’s approach to feedback, along with their attitude and belief about the potential of their students, has a direct bearing on the tone and delivery of the message developed. Student responsiveness may also be related to their perception of the instructor’s willingness to assist them. This reminds instructors of the importance and impact of their word choices, which can encourage students to be receptive to feedback or cause them to discount it.

There is a perception that grades are somehow tied to a student’s self-worth and this causes those students to give up easily when they perceive they have failed. Students think about failure most when they put in what they believe to be their best effort and receive feedback that conflicts with that belief and/or they watch their cumulative grade as an indicator of their progress and it continues to decline no matter how hard they try. Some students are not bothered by less than perfect outcomes and others will believe they have failed if they did not earn all “A” grades. This is why the feedback you provide must be explanatory in nature, to describe the strengths of the submission and the areas of needed development.

Are Students Not Responding to Your Feedback?

If you find that students are not responding to feedback there are additional questions to consider as a means of understanding your students’ perspective. Do you believe your students are not reading the feedback or is it possible that they are reading it and intentionally ignoring it?

Another possibility to consider is that students who are struggling from a developmental perspective may not fully understand or comprehend what you have written. If students are continuing to make the same types of mistakes or they receive a low score on the assignment, they may be experiencing frustration and not able to fully recognize how they need to improve their performance. Students may also be confused about the assignment expectations if the criteria have not been fully explained. From your students’ perspective you may also consider if they are comfortable asking questions and if they feel that you are receptive to their inquiries.

4 Strategies Needed to Engage Students in Their Feedback

The goal of feedback is to assess progress made with meeting assignment requirements and learning objectives, while also demonstrating progress with the development of specific skills, such as academic writing and critical thinking.

Step #1: Use Thought-Provoking Questions

One method of engaging students is to include reflective questions within your feedback which asks them to reflect upon the assignment, the related course topics, and their overall progress. The inclusion of thought-provoking questions may prompt students to evaluate their academic development, while providing an opportunity for meaningful dialogue to occur either within or with you. For example, when I insert commentary into a student’s paper, I’ll address the content and ask questions directly related to it so they will continue to learn.

Step #2: Develop Follow-Up Questions

If you have provided feedback that includes reflective questions and students do not respond, what approach would you utilize at that point? For an online instructor there is a greater challenge for engaging students because of the lack of face-to-face interaction. Would you consider posting follow-up questions and asking students to respond directly to them? It is understandable that you may not have a lot of time to develop feedback, ask reflective questions, and then develop additional follow-up questions. However, the result could be transformative for a student who needs the additional assistance.

Step #3: Provide Follow-Through

This method of follow through may be necessary only for students who have significant developmental challenges; however, consistent effort and follow-up may make a difference for those students who require additional assistance. Follow-through is also necessary whenever there is a student who is struggling, not making progress, making the same mistakes, or facing any other challenges. It is important to make certain they read the feedback and have an opportunity to discuss their progress.

You can put a follow-up note on your calendar and periodically check-in with the student to determine how they are progressing. This human element is especially effective for online courses, when students cannot see their instructor. When you provide some form of follow-up, you can check to find out if they have used the resources provided and how they feel about their progress.

Step #4: Use of Office Hours

Another technique to consider implementing, prior to an assignment and/or discussion due date, is the use of Office Hours. You can ask students to attend and ask general questions about the weekly discussion and assignment requirements. The immediate benefit is that students have an opportunity to see you. It’s the first step to building a connection with students. This will help them feel more comfortable asking questions and seeking assistance.

In addition, if a student is struggling and wants to talk about their feedback or academic development, which is a personal matter, you can schedule a private one-on-one Zoom meeting with them. I have found these face-to-face interactions are very useful for helping students who are struggling with any aspect of the course or their developmental needs.

Encourage Student Engagement

The purpose of devoting time and attention to the feedback you provide is to encourage student engagement in the class and the process of learning. Many of the techniques suggested require an additional investment of time; however, by implementing these strategies you may find that a proactive approach addresses non-responsive students in a way that encourages academic progress and a receptive attitude. This can also strengthen working relationships with students and help to facilitate effective communication. When you provide feedback that matters, students learn you care about their ongoing progress, and they are likely to start reading it week after week.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development.

Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 19 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

Please visit Dr. J’s Books page on his website: Dr. J’s Books

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:  Instagram

       

When you think about what it takes to be an effective online instructor, you may consider how to efficiently complete the many duties required each week. This would be a normal response as the online instructor is task-driven. From a purely classroom management perspective, there are always questions to answer, papers to evaluate, discussions to be involved in, timelines to meet, and so. Beyond the typical duties, an instructor will find themselves nurturing the developmental learning abilities of their students, and stimulate their intellectual curiosity. To be highly effective in the online environment, the instructor must have basic qualities, such as empathy and emotional intelligence. These are the qualities that are responsible for helping an instructor respond to conditions in the most appropriate manner.

Then there needs to be a quality or characteristic of an online instructor that is not dependent upon conditions, a basic human trait which can be applied to all situations. I believe that characteristic is kindness, which is an ability to have a positive disposition with all those you interact with each day. It’s a state of mind that has a direct impact on how you feel and perform, just as it does for your students when they interact with you. It’s also directly related to another quality I recommend every instructor demonstrate for their students, and that’s showing appreciation for them. But being kind should become an automatic response to everyone encountered, no matter how nice or aggressive their initial tone may be. If this isn’t a natural state of mind for your now, it is possible to cultivate it through intentional practice.

Kindness in a World of Strong Emotions

I’ve chosen to focus on kindness as we all need a reminder from time-to-time about the importance of our basic humanity, especially when this is a time when it is so easy to experience strong emotions from events of the world around us. I have found within my online teaching practice now, more than ever, there are pre-conceived ideas about who I am, what I will be like, and what it will be like to work with me. This is all based upon my photo and introduction, which clearly shows my race, gives an indication of my age (likely older vs. younger), and possible sexual orientation (there is no mention of a wife and children).

I am also sensing an immediate hesitation among certain ethnic groups to work with me, believing I will not be open-minded. Or I may be automatically viewed as “one of them” because of my race. This is very different than when I first began teaching online over 18 years ago. Those who are willing to speak with me find themselves surprised that I can be very easy to talk to, get along with, and always accepting of others. I rely upon a basic act of kindness to begin with, which I believe every person is entitled to, regardless of how strongly their initial words may be. I know the learning process can be challenging for some, and the simple act of kindness can go a long way towards helping someone overcome their frustrations and begin to listen to the advice being offered.

Is Kindness Always Reciprocated?

I believe we know the answer to that question and it is a resounding no, and I never make my approach to working with students based upon a condition they must act the same way in return. While I do expect a level of professionalism and respect, in accordance with school policies for student conduct, I know that basic kindness is not always going to be a natural response for some students. In fact, if a student does not receive the grade or outcome they expected, believed they earned, or thought they were entitled to, they may act in every manner but kind. This is when I will continue to show not only kindness towards them, but empathy as well.

I’ve found there is an interesting reaction to my approach which has occurred over the past couple of years by students. I can be as caring and understanding as I possibly am able to be, listen to the student as they continue to explain why they were owed a perfect score, and yet some of them will not back down unless they receive the perfect score sought. It doesn’t matter if I try to explain the learning process to them, offer to spend time one-on-one with them, or any other strategy to help them from a developmental perspective, if they do not receive what was expected, I become their enemy.

This is frustrating for me as I know it shows up on the end-of-course evaluation, one metric used to evaluate my position. There will likely be comments written in retaliation, and a low rating score given. Then I’ll find myself having to explain why these comments were written, regardless of how many positive comments were received. There’s only one way to prevent this from happening, and it’s to grade without giving proper consideration to the scoring rubric. But to me, that is not the best approach and it is a disservice to the students in the long-term, from a developmental perspective.

Cultivating Kindness

Regardless of how I believe students may perceive me, or the disposition they may hold when I interact with them, I always want to be kind while communicating with them. The characteristic of kindness is a form of caring, and it is applied equally to all students. It’s also a form of patience, and when you make it part of your disposition, it helps create a measured reaction to classroom circumstances. The following strategies can help you cultivate this important quality.

Keep an Open Mind: Within an online classroom it can be easy to pre-assess a student simply by their name, which is the first visual clue an instructor has about them. But this is where a self-check is needed, a reminder to be open-minded and conscious of any filters that may interrupt your ability to be kind. What you want is to approach any student, in any situation, and be able to listen while expressing your support. You must be a role model for your students and demonstrate that you’ve created an inclusive and safe learning environment for all of them.

Invest in Direct Communication: The idea of speaking directly with students may seem to be something they would not want, and a commitment of time you do not have to offer. While both may be true to a certain degree, I’ve found that speaking with students, those who are willing to communicate with me directly, offers incredible value. I provide office hours that includes weekdays, weeknights, and one weekend day. When a student calls, I have an opportunity to start the call with a warm welcome and immediately set a welcoming disposition. No matter how the student feels, my goal is to make certain they understand I want to help them.

Never Respond When Strong Emotions are Felt: There will always be situations in which a student is going to send a message and use improper communication techniques. If you feel a strong emotional reaction in any manner, this is not the time to respond. You must give yourself time to find your sense of balance, so that you can approach the student in a kind and calming manner. If the student were to contact you direct, and they are extremely upset, do your best to remain calm. If you find the student will not change their tone, the best suggestion might be to ask them if you can look into the matter and respond back by a specified date.

Develop Kindness in all Communication: There are cues you can insert into your communication to demonstrate your ability to have a kind and caring disposition. Take for instance an email you’ve received and it is addressed only to your first name. Now consider the same email and it is addressed to your first name; however, there is the word “Hello” inserted before your first name. Can you tell the perceived difference in the tone of the two messages? The second message gives an impression the sender is starting the message in a much more open and inviting manner. The first message sounds much less personable. The same holds true for classroom posts, especially discussion posts. The manner in which you word your messages and posts can create an impression of what it might be to interact with you.

Don’t Mistake Kindness for Leniency

One of the challenges for being perceived as someone who can be easier to get along with is it can be mistaken for someone who is also lenient when it comes to due dates and missed work. What I’ve found is I can maintain a balance between a caring individual as a personality, and still be strict when it comes to upholding academic policies. I always keep in mind my students are people too, which means I recognize the fact with online students they are often non-traditional learners and have other responsibilities. Many of my students have pressures from life beyond their classwork, and they need someone to care about how well they are doing, is able to support their growth and development, and be patient with them. If you can develop a disposition that puts students at ease, you are going to find yourself approaching your work with much more enjoyment, and they in turn will soon discover how much you care about them.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been teaching and training adults since 1982. From 1982 to 2005 he worked in the field of training and development, with his last full-time role as Manager of Training and Development. Since 2005, Dr. Johnson has been working in the field of distance learning, with roles including online educator, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, Dissertation Chair and Committee Member, and Faculty Development Specialist. He also worked part-time for many years as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant. 

Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching. Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9108352/

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for more details.

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:

Instagram

       

Within the field of higher education, one of the important metrics for gauging the effectiveness of programs is student retention. Retention measures the number of students a school has been able to keep in their programs and in contrast, attrition measures the number of students who have withdrawn – either voluntarily or involuntarily. Another important word for this field is persistence, which is a measurement of a student’s drive and determination.

While retention and persistence may seem to measure the same criteria, I have made a distinction based upon the actions taken. For example, a school may have retention programs in place; whereas, helping students succeed in their programs bolsters their ability to persist and continue to make progress.

The sector of higher education I have the most experience in is for-profit online schools, with roles ranging from online educator to faculty development manager. For this industry, the typical retention rate is 50% or less. Retention initiatives that have been implemented in many of the schools I’ve worked for included changing feedback requirements, grading requirements, and changing the curriculum itself to make it easier for students to pass their classes.

While these initiatives may provide some help for the bottom line, I have found it has little impact on the student experience. What matters most for students is their ability to persist and be successful in their attempt to engage in the learning process. Is there a secret to student success? In my experience, I learned there is and it involves the support and resources students receive from the schools and their instructors.

Growth of the Non-Traditional Student

When I entered the field of higher education over 18 years ago, the phrase “non-traditional student” was becoming popular and I watched it become prominent now – especially with regards to how courses and curriculum are designed for students. The essence of this phrase is meant to describe new types of students, other than those who are starting college right out of high school, who are enrolling in college level courses and programs.

This one of the important factors that drove the growth of the for-profit online college industry. It is not uncommon to see online programs being offered for what is called the “working adult” – with promises made that the degrees obtained will help them advance within their chosen career. 

As a general rule, the non-traditional student can be someone who is older, part of a minority group, speaks English as a second language, attends school part-time, is employed, and has prior life experience. I have non-traditional students in my online classes with age ranges between their 30s and 60s, and many of them are working full time.

For these students, school work is not their only responsibility and this can create periodic time management challenges for them. In addition, by having life experience these students cannot be treated like blank slates, which is someone waiting to receive knowledge being dispensed by an instructor.

The Role of an Educator

Within traditional colleges and universities, the role of an educator has remained largely unchanged. This means they are at the front of the class and the center of attention during each scheduled session. It is a teacher-centered approach to instruction that is utilized in primary education.

This type of educator typically provides a lecture and students are expected to study for quizzes and exams. In contrast, an educator who is teaching online courses is finding their role to be evolving. The very nature of a virtual learning environment puts the primary responsibility for learning on students.

I have coached many traditional educators who have tried to make the transition to online teaching and found it to be difficult to adapt to as traditional teaching methods do not translate well. I can empathize with them as educators devote time and effort into developing their career and becoming a teaching expert – and then having to learn new methods may produce a lot of natural resistance.

Online teaching requires changing the focus from teacher-led to student-centered instruction. Does this have a direct impact on student success? The answer is yes, as an educator must be comfortable in their role and understand the needs of students they are charged with teaching.

Advisors and Mentors

The traditional responsibility for working with students has been part of the role of the academic advisor. An advisor is someone who may assist students with a wide range of tasks that includes registration, enrollment, course selection, and follow-up after being enrolled into a degree program.

Often this was a reactive role and that means an advisor could address a wide range of questions but only when initiated by the students. Within the for-profit online school industry, I have seen the advisor’s role evolve and include responsibility for conducting follow up for those students who were at risk for failing and/or dropping their courses.

There are also non-profit online schools that hired mentors, who are meant to take the place of faculty, or instructors who are on-call. For those schools, students are not assigned to classes and instead, they study to take assessments – usually with a low or minimal required passing score. It is like correspondence courses that preceded the online for-profit industry.

Discover The Top 5 Strategies That Support Student Success 

Based upon my experience and work with educators, students need an instructor – and just as important, they need ongoing support. An educator serves as the point of contact for implementing retention strategies put into place by a school, while working with their students to help them persist and succeed. An instructor can develop a productive relationship with students because they are working with them through learning activities, feedback, and discussions – and these tasks prompt learning. In other words, learning is relational.

Below are strategies any educator can use to help support student success, regardless of the class or subject matter taught.

Strategy #1. Provide Ongoing Support: Are you keeping track of the progress of your students? Every student has developmental needs, even those who are doing exceptionally well in your class. When you are familiar with their needs you will know what resources to recommend – whether those are sources provided by the school or supplemental resources.

Even recommending additional materials to review, along with subject matter related videos, those resources can help to enhance the learning experience and encourage engagement in the course. Why? The more interested a student is in the course, and the more they can develop their areas of weakness, the more they are going to be able to persist.

Strategy #2. Provide Engaging Feedback: I have heard many instructors state that students do not read the feedback provided and if they do, those students never seem to implement the suggestions provided. What I have discovered is that students develop a perception about feedback based upon their experiences.

As an instructor, I provide engaging feedback by taking time to insert comments directly into student papers and ask questions, offer insight, share my expertise, and relate topics to the real world. Again, if students find you have taken time to do more than provide a grade, they are going to consider what you have written. The more engaging your feedback becomes, the more likely they are going to maintain an interest in performing their best.

Strategy #3. Develop a High Level of Responsiveness: For some students, the thought of asking a question or making a request for help can be intimidating – especially at the beginning of a class when there isn’t a relationship established with their instructor.

When students approach you, and seek your assistance, your ability to demonstrate responsiveness is going to make a difference for them. If you can demonstrate a genuine concern for their request, and make it a point to help them in a meaningful manner, they will develop a perception you care and become more willing to work with you in the future. When you show you are responsive, students will also be more receptive to your coaching and feedback.

Strategy #4. Always Be Aware of Your Disposition and Tone: As an educator, you must be mindful of how you feel and the emotions you are experiencing as you work with students, as this will have a direct impact on your disposition. It will extend further into the tone of your communication and for an online class, you are represented by the words you use and you must consider how those words will be interpreted.

While you need to remain professional, it will be helpful to add some warmth to your messages to help develop a connection with your students. For example, consider the difference between the following two options for responding to a student’s email:

#1) “Student: This is my response to your email,” or,

#2) “Hello Student: It is good to hear from you. Here is a suggestion to help answer your question.”

Do you see how the second option communicates professionalism, warmth, and a genuine concern for providing assistance?

Strategy #5. Provide Follow-Up and Follow-Through: This probably one of the most important elements for student success and it involves going beyond answering questions or providing feedback. It means you pay attention to your students, all students, and you make it a point to maintain coaching and mentoring attempts. If a student asks a question by email, and it involves something complex, or may not be easily resolved, a simple follow-up email or call can support their success.

When a student is struggling, has performed poorly, or is not active in a class discussion – don’t wait to see if they improve. Contact that student right away and offer assistance. In addition, consider the value of a phone call and how a personal touch could influence their well-being. As another example, if you tell your students that you don’t have an answer to a question, be sure you find an answer and then follow up with them.

Will You Invest the Time Necessary?

The secret to student success involves the relationships which are established, nurtured, and maintained with them. It is an instructor who interacts directly with students, and knows firsthand how they are performing, which means they understand their needs and areas of development. More importantly, when an instructor is responsive to the needs of their students, they will likely have a greater chance of success.

An instructor who invests the time necessary to support the ongoing progress of their students is accomplishing something even greater; they are reinforcing a sense of persistence within them. Each hurdle a student experiences now becomes a building block, because they are being shown someone cares and wants to help them. All you need to do is to maintain a student-centered focus, in all interactions and instructional tasks, and you will find that supporting the success of your students becomes a natural process.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development.

Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

  • Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.
  • Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.
  • Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit Dr. J’s Books page on his brand-new website: Dr. J’s Books

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:  Instagram

       

What is your belief about an end-of-course evaluation? Do you believe it accurately reflects your performance as an instructor? Or do you live in fear of the reports, as it may affect your standing with the school you teach for now?

I just received my end-of-course evaluations for courses that recently concluded, and I’m at a point now in my career where I look forward to reading these reports. This is real-time feedback I’m receiving from students, who can provide an overview of what their course experience was like, whether it was positive or negative. For students who were highly satisfied and had a positive experience, I look for specific reasons why and try to continue to build upon those aspects for the next course.  

If there was a negative comment made, I usually know who that student was and it’s not because their name was shown, but rather because of what occurred in class. For example, a student may have been reported for plagiarism or a student did not receive the grade expected for an assignment. The evaluation now provides an opportunity for them to express their frustration. My approach is to try to understand their perspective and ascertain if there was anything more that I could have done to improve their outcomes.

I understand the fear instructors may feel about receiving feedback from students, as many academic institutions have expectations about the evaluation outcomes, whether in the form of an overall score or commentary provided. For example, I worked for an institution that focused solely on the overall score as a condition of employment. Yet regardless of the expectations surrounding the end-of-course evaluation, and its purpose for evaluating instructors, I believe there is always something to be learned. It’s a matter of listening to what students have to say and using it for continuous self-improvement as an educator.

Learn From Student Challenges

As those of us who teach online know quite well, our students have a wide variety of learning styles, persistence rates, capacities, capabilities, and academic skills. When they interact with the materials provided, and attempt to complete the weekly requirements, this process occurs without someone physically present to guide them. Whether or not they are able to learn and complete the required activities is going to depend upon their ability to master the concepts, acquire new skills, and develop coherent thoughts into discussion posts and written assignments. Many students can do this with minimal assistance needed, while others will struggle to overcome learning difficulties.

If you have a large class size, you may not know about the extent of your students and their challenges until a course has concluded and they express their frustration on the evaluation form. That’s why it is important to read the feedback received and look for clues related to potential sticking points or barriers to learning. As an example, I once received valuable feedback from students about instructions for an assignment that were unclear to them. It was that information which led me to creating weekly instructional videos to provide clarification for all learning activities, inclusive of discussions and assignments.

Learn Through Self-Reflection

After you receive the evaluation reports, what do you focus your attention on, the positive or negative comments? When I first began teaching online 17 years ago, it didn’t matter if there were 20 positive comments, my focus was always on the one or two negative comments. I thought that somehow, I let my students down. But over time I realized there is something to be learned from all comments received, and negative comments are part of my continued growth.

I find the use of self-reflection is extremely valuable, in which I think about my instructional performance throughout each class week. What I’m focused on is creating a student-centered environment, and student feedback can be used to create a self-development plan. What I have within my control is not the evaluation outcomes, rather it is the classroom environment students are in. I’m continually reflecting upon the feedback received and trying to determine if I am meeting the needs of students, as this ties directly into their academic growth, and perhaps their satisfaction of the course.

Learn From Emotional Reactions

Overall, I believe the evaluations may not measure all aspects of your performance as an instructor. The end-of-course evaluations can show trends; however, these forms do not always provide a complete picture of the work you’ve completed in a classroom. Students may not be fully capable of evaluating every aspect of your instructional duties, especially as related to feedback or your engagement in class discussions. What students can do is describe the emotions experienced during the course, and how their instructor contributed (or did not contribute) to their overall learning. An emotional reaction speaks to the relationship that was or was not established with you as the instructor.

Learn and Grow as an Educator

When your students experience a positive feeling about engagement with you as their instructor, and it includes being valued and appreciated, it is usually a sign that indicates you have developed a meaningful and productive working relationship with them. You’ll find the more you dedicate your time and attention to the needs of your students, the greater their satisfaction with the course will be. This allows you to accept their feedback with an open mind and willingness to learn.

Instead of fearing or dreading the results of your end-of-course evaluations, look forward to discovering the many reasons why you are succeeding as the course instructor. If there are developmental areas discovered, welcome the real-time feedback and its potential to help elevate how you teach. All feedback received from your students provides you with a first-hand perspective of how you are perceived and the effectiveness of your instruction. With a student-centered focus, or putting students first in all you do, it is likely end-of-course evaluations will be a reflection of the transformative experience you’ve created for your students.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development.

Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

Please visit the Books page and Store page for transformative resources: Dr. J’s Books

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:  Instagram

       

Teaching adult students is a rewarding experience as I have found them to be goal driven and motivated to learn something they can apply to their lives or careers. When they make an investment in a degree program it is usually done with an expectation it will be of benefit in some manner, whether immediately or upon graduation. When I am engaged and highly involved in the class, students believe they are receiving something of value – and this motivates me to perform my best as an educator.

I know it is natural for some students to lose interest in the course topics, discussions, or assignments over time. If I have established a good relationship with them, and I have been responsive to their requests and questions, I am able to help keep them engaged during times when they are not feeling highly enthusiastic. There are also going to instances when students struggle with aspects of the class that should seem self-explanatory or easy to understand. For example, I have watched students get sidelined with writing assignments when they simply cannot think of a starting point or topic to begin writing about, and their academic writing skills are so under-developed they reach a point where the only option may be to completely give up.

When students reach this point, they may express “I can’t” – either through their direct words or indirect actions. These students present a challenge for me as an educator; not for me to question my career choice, rather it challenges me to be a better educator and help these students succeed.

I know this form of expression represents their frustration and there is an underlying issue which must be addressed. While I may never know the exact cause of the issue, I must try to help turn the phrase “I can’t” into “I can” or at the very least, turn it into “I will try” and encourage them not to give up.

How Students Express “I Can’t”

Students may express “I can’t” several ways without stating those words. Using a written assignment as an example, students have told me what they submitted is the best they can do, they worked hard and should have earned an “A” letter grade even though the requirements were not fully met, and they put in the minimum effort needed because that is all they know how to do. In other words, they are stating they cannot do better because they either do not know how to perform better, they were not encouraged to do so, or they have performed in this manner long enough that it has become a matter of routine.

There are also other indirect methods in which an “I can’t” statement may be expressed. You can tell students have this mindset when their performance begins to decline with class discussions or assignments, you find mistakes are repeated even when helpful feedback has been provided to them, or they are starting to miss assignment deadlines.

For any educator, it may be difficult to determine if the reason for any of these issues is a matter of “I can’t” or “I won’t” – or if there are any other underlying causes. What makes these situations even more challenging is that students may not be very receptive or open to receiving help, once they have reached this level of frustration.  

Regardless of the reasons, direct or indirect statements of this nature may be an expression of “I can’t do better than this right now” – until someone helps them to “do” otherwise or encourages them change their frame of reference. You do not have to know the actual reasons why help is needed for your students; you only need to acknowledge they are struggling and then try to help them.

Consider Your Perspective as an Educator

Any time you have students who are no longer able to realize their full potential, and you sense a lack of resilience when they are faced with challenges, it is helpful to first conduct an internal self-assessment of your expectations. For example, are you familiar with class discussions and assignments, and what should constitute a strong level of performance from your student? You have read responses and papers long enough to know what constitutes marginal, acceptable, and outstanding work on the part of your students.

However, if you have been working with those same learning activities long enough that your personal tolerance level for what you consider to be subpar responses and papers may be quite low now. You may have reached a point that you expect all students to make an above average effort, which may not be possible for all students to achieve.

For example, the best effort a student puts in may only be an average discussion response or written paper. That is their best, until they learn how to perform better with time and practice. This is the reason why it is helpful to re-examine your expectations, to determine if you expect too much from students, or if you can do more to help them reach their full potential.

Helping Students Develop an “I Can” Attitude

Whenever a student expresses “I can’t” to you in some form, either directly or indirectly, you should begin with a diagnosis to determine if it is a matter of “I won’t”, “I don’t know how”, “I’m not sure where to begin”, “I’m uncertain I can”, I am unable to find resources”, “I need help but I do not know how to ask for assistance”. In other words, look beyond the initial statement or what you believe the reactionary condition may be to determine if the underlying cause can be ascertained as you can better assist the student when you address problems rather than symptoms.

Whether or not you can learn about the underlying issue, you can still attempt to work with your students to help lessen their anxieties and change both their perspectives and outcomes. The following are strategies you can implement to meet this goal.

Strategies to Assist Students: The most important starting for working with students who seem unable to complete a task or activity is to ensure you are approaching your response to them from a position of empathy and genuine concern for their academic well-being. They will be able to tell from the perceived tone of your voice, along with anything you post in an online classroom or send by email, whether you are going through the motions or truly care about them. Your attitude also determines the amount of effort you will put into trying to assist them, and how willing you will be to try to find solutions for them.

Strategy #1 Immediate and Direct Contact:  Often when I worked with faculty in my role as faculty development specialist, I recommended they offer one-on-one contact with students through an outreach method such as an email. However, when a student has reached a point where they are stuck – waiting for a reply and attempting to schedule a meeting can take time and further escalate their frustration.

One approach I’ve used is to contact the student immediately by phone as most of my classes have been taught online. If I am unable to reach the student, I will leave a detailed request and provide times when I am available, making a genuine offer of assistance. I also add the student’s name to my calendar, and check on them again, to ensure I have received a response and if not, I will continue my direct attempts. Some schools I worked for only want communication to occur through the learning management system. If that’s the case, I use messaging for contact. I can also set up a Zoom meeting for a one-on-one discussion.

Strategy #2 Consider the Student’s State of Mind: Whenever a student appears to be frustrated, or they are unable to meet any of the course requirements, they are not going to have a positive frame of reference and it may extend towards you as their instructor. What I never want to do is to push back at the student or argue with them about the issue they are concerned about and instead, I will acknowledge their concerns as being valid and express interest in resolving them.

Even if the reason why they cannot complete a task is invalid, there is something involved that has created a barrier and this is what I want to help them get past somehow. The more I can work with students, the more they will be willing to work with me.

Strategy #3 Provide Immediate Assistance: Another helpful strategy is to provide assistance when you respond to them, rather than wait until you can speak with them. As an example, if I am providing feedback for a paper and I notice the same errors are being made from week to week, and I have provided detailed feedback before, I will write a personalized message with my notes to the student that includes a list of recommended resources and an offer to speak one-on-one. I can also utilize the same approach for an online class discussion, if I read continued minimal responses.

I can post a general classroom announcement and offer tips and resources. I can also contact the student, request a time to speak with them, and ask for their feedback first about class discussions to gauge their perspective before I try to assess what I believe the issue might be. If they believe they are meeting the necessary requirements, I can discuss strategies for creating substantive and engaging posts. The purpose of these strategies is to be proactive and develop a connection with my students, which goes beyond just sending an email asking to speak with them.

Students Who Cannot Progress

It is not uncommon for students to experience sticking points as they progress through a course. If they can be resilient and persist on their own, they will find a way to resolve any challenges encountered – sometimes with and without the help of their instructors. But when students remain stuck, and they cannot progress any further with a task or learning activity, this is when they are likely to express their inability to complete the requirements either directly or indirectly to their instructors.

As an educator, you always have a choice as to how you will approach these students. You may allow these students to continue and expect or hope they will figure it out on their own, you may demand compliance, or you may choose to empathize with them and provide assistance. Students will be more likely to discover their ability to resolve challenges experienced when they change their perspective about the learning process.

This is something you have an ability to influence through any action or inaction taken when you discover they are struggling. Changing “I can’t” to “I can” will take some effort, and I know the work of an instructor already takes significant time; however, the result for your students is a renewed sense of accomplishment, self-belief, and self-worth. One of the most important academic lessons any student can learn is the power of the words “I can”, as a result of your encouragement, empathy, and willingness to spend time with them.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development.

Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

Please visit the Books page and Store page for transformative resources: Dr. J’s Books

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:  Instagram

       

Do you see the best in your students now? Or will you be so focused on classroom management there is only time to get the job done each week?

Here are the most important questions to consider, especially as an online instructor: Do you see a group of anonymous students you may never really get to know? Or do you take the time to learn what you can, through discussions and feedback, to help students with their developmental needs?

Teaching students is not always a matter of showing up for class, disseminating information and instructions, facilitating class discussions, and providing feedback. It is more about the instructional approach you take and its effectiveness when utilized. This is especially true for online instructors who teach in a technologically enabled environment. Your classroom presence as the assigned instructor, or lack thereof, determines how students respond to your involvement in class and whether or not they engage with you.

More importantly, your choice of an instructional strategy will influence how well your students make progress throughout the class. Their continued development depends upon you more than your instruction. There is an additional strategy you can use, one that can encourage progress, which requires only a change in your focus and choice of wording, and it is called positive psychology. This is centered on the enhanced well-being of students, as it helps renew their self-motivation.

The Importance of an Online Presence

An online class may seem like a cold and uninviting environment; however, the involvement of an instructor can change all of that through visibility and continual engagement. It demonstrates to students the instructor is fully invested in their class. Yet there is more to being present than logging into the class and checking off required duties; there must be substantive engagement. A discussion board is one of the most crucial interactive elements of an online class, and this is where engagement can occur. It’s where an instructor can work with students and provide help when needed, guide them when they are off track, and prompt their knowledge retention, critical thinking skills, and intellectual involvement.

Working with Online Students

In a traditional classroom, an instructor has control in how the class proceeds. They conduct a lecture and lead students according to a specified plan. With an online classroom, everything changes. Students may cooperate and work with their instructor, or they may simply ignore them, complete the required work, and believe somehow they will pass the class.

In this environment instructors must gain the cooperation of their students and nurture a productive relationship. Credibility and trust are both built through one interaction at a time. It may be easy to engage some students, especially overachievers, while others may prefer to remain hidden behind anonymity. But if you set high expectations for students and they aren’t responsive, it means they have shut you out.

Positive Psychology Basics

There are three phases commonly used to describe positive psychology and includes well-being, happiness, and optimism. Martin Seligman is generally credited with bringing positive psychology into practice, and the purpose was to help individuals recover from depression through a positive perspective.

As you learn more about this particular branch of psychology you will find it is much more than positive thinking. It is also a strengths-based approach to human development. When positive psychology is utilized in treatment programs, not only is there a focus on strengths, there is also attention placed on positive emotions. The goal for this type of program is creating hope and restoring a sense of well-being within the patient. While this is a simplistic overview, it shows there is another approach to bringing about change within adults.

Appreciative Inquiry and Distance Learning

Positive psychology aligns with appreciative inquiry, which is also strengths-based and the focus of my work as an online educator. I took appreciative inquiry and translated it for distance learning, as an instructional strategy, and called it appreciative andragogy. Andragogy is a theory that addresses how adults learn and is distinguished from the theory of pedagogy or the instruction of children. The basic premise of andragogy holds that adult learning occurs through a process of action and self-reflection.

Appreciative andragogy emphasizes the positive nature of adult learning and the enhanced view of self which will occur through supportive interactions with an instructor. Through the use of appreciative andragogy as an instructional method, an instructor may have a tool to build nurturing relationships. This may increase the instructor’s presence within an online classroom environment. With a positive approach to student development, students are likely to experience a greater sense of motivation, engagement in class, and improved performance overall.

Deciding to Implement Positive Psychology

As an educator, you will develop a routine for managing a class and the many responsibilities that come along with it. For example, you develop a standard approach as to how you interact with, and communicate with, your students. Over time you may not question or examine that routine. As a faculty trainer, I observed many instructors who put time and thought into their instruction. It was evident because their communication was done with purpose and their feedback was focused on a balance between guiding and correcting students. That approach to instruction is the easiest for adding in elements of positive psychology. It would be a matter of building from students’ strengths and coaching them, encouraging them, and offering resources for their developmental needs. The purpose of taking this approach is to help students create positive emotions so that they are encouraged to continue making progress.

The other pattern that I have seen as a faculty trainer is that of “facilitation on the fly”, or being reactive instead of proactive. This was the faculty member who was trying to keep up with the work while often missing some of the important instructional requirements. The feedback returned to students was generally quick and to the point, and there was minimal substance provided. For this type of instructor, they will find implementing positive psychology can be overwhelming and any attempt to use it will seem disingenuous to students. This instructor will need their own professional development before utilizing any new instructional method of this nature.

Implement Positive Psychology and Change How You Teach

I recommend a student-centered approach to teaching, which will allow you to focus on the best of your students. When students are the center of the learning process, they are transformed and the class is transformed into an engaging and dynamic environment. The following is a list of my strategies and what I recommend when I train faculty.

#1. I will work to prompt student engagement. This applies to their participation in discussions and involvement in the class. I want students to know they are encouraged to try and supported in class for their efforts.

During class discussions, I will try to respond to every student at least once and when I do, I will ask direct follow-up questions which help to promote higher order or critical thinking skills. If I discover students are not involved in discussions, or there are some who are absent from class, I will reach out and check in with them.

#2. I will encourage the effort made by students. Students need to know that even when they believe their effort has fallen short, you still recognize the attempt made.

When I provide feedback for assignments and learning activities, I will use the sandwich method and begin the feedback with something positive. Then I’ll address a developmental need and conclude with a positive statement. If I have a student who is struggling, I can always encourage them based upon the effort made, as it will determine if they will continue to make an effort. If they are making an attempt and only receive negative feedback, they can easily become discouraged and give up. 

#3. I will encourage reflection through self-assessment. Any form of reflection must be taught as a productive exercise, one in which the student is looking for possibilities and opportunities, not failures, if it is to be implemented successfully.

If I can teach students to be reflective it will help them learn to self-assess their progress in class, rather than believe they have no control over their outcomes. I can also suggest self-assessment techniques such as a one-minute paper which will help them review what they know about a subject. Through the use of reflection and self-assessment I can help students take ownership of their involvement in class, which aligns with the theory of adult learning.

#4. I will work to be an example for students. As an online instructor I need to establish a highly visible and interactive virtual presence, which is also referred to as a social presence according to the Community of Inquiry framework.

Being visibly present means I am actively engaged in the class and class discussions, and students develop a perception I care about the class, which translates into the level of attention they will likely receive from me. I have found students follow my lead and if I am active and responsive, there is a good possibility they will be too.

#5. I will leverage my subject matter expertise. I want to create an inclusive, informative, and safe environment for the exploration of course topics.

Providing engaging feedback and discussion posts requires the use of my own background and knowledge. As we know, students can benefit from the inclusion of examples from our experience and expertise. How I share this is through the class discussions, when I provide real world context, along with weekly feedback, as it can help guide students as they attempt to comprehend the course subjects.

#6. I will always try to consider the perspective of students. I need to engage in my own self-reflection to make certain I understand the needs of my students.

As I reflect upon the progress of students, I will ask myself: What are their developmental needs? Are the instructions provided clear and concise? Is the feedback a true reflection of their progress and does it help to guide their thinking about the topic they have written about or discussed? When I provide feedback, I will think of students individually and provide personalized guidance rather than canned general comments.  

#7. I will try to lead the way to application of what was learned. With a student focus and concern for the student experience, I can also help students learn by making the course relevant to what they are interested in.

In other words, as self-directed adults who are taking courses for a specific purpose, they need something more than reading about subjects in a textbook; they need to know how to apply what was learned so they can use it, whether in their personal lives or careers. When students are provided with a context for what they are reading about they are more likely to retain that knowledge in the long term and they will develop a perception they have actually learned something in class.

Potential Challenges and Benefits

There are many benefits to adding a positive or strengths-based approach to your facilitation. For an instructor who already demonstrates care and concern, coupled with meaningful interactions, this will be another tool and a natural fit to their instructional approach. Students will likely respond in an enthusiastic manner because it will create a sense of hope, as it is tied to their continued well-being. Of course, not all students will respond to this approach, as some will keep their distance. With online learning you really do not have an opportunity to approach them in class and engage them in a conversation. You can extend the courtesy of an outreach attempt but it is dependent upon their perception of what it means to them.

Overall, the point of implementing positive psychology is to create positive experiences in the class so students will be encouraged to participate in the learning process. By taking a strengths-based approach, you can teach students to develop persistence and self-confidence, as they have skills and abilities to draw upon no matter what learning activities they are required to complete.

The use of a positive psychology frame of reference also creates a feeling of satisfaction for the instructor. I can state this from my own experience working with appreciative inquiry. I’m not a subject matter expert in either field; however, I know how it has helped the ongoing development of my work with online students. You can also experience this through the use of a positive facilitation instructional practice. When you focus on the best of a student, it encourages hope, elicits positive feelings, and creates a sense of self-renewal and self-determination, which is vital to their success in the online classroom.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development.

Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for transformative resources: Dr. J’s Books

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:  Instagram

       

Whether you are new to online teaching or have extensive experience, your continued growth is essential to remaining successful. There are measurements of your effectiveness, such as end-of-course student evaluations. You’re also evaluated through classroom observation and how well you complete the required duties, which typically includes participation in class discussions and feedback for learning activities. Both of these assessments indicate how you connected with students or performed for a specific point in time. If you want to continue to learn, grow, and further develop your skills, then you need a set of strategies to bring out the best in your performance.

To help you achieve your best, as an online educator, there are essential best practices you can implement to ensure you are effectively and substantively engaged in your classes. These are the product of my work as an online educator, along with my work in faculty development, having been reviewed by the strictest of standards and applying these standards to faculty I’ve reviewed. You can use these best practices as a checklist for the development of your own online teaching practice, regardless of how long you’ve taught online classes.

Online Instructor Essentials

How you manage your time and the weekly schedule you create will ultimately determine how successful you are as an online educator. The two tasks which are going to take the most amount of time are class discussions and feedback. If you do not allow enough time for these tasks, and you fall behind, you are going to feel rushed when trying to complete what is required of you.

The ultimate result is either going to be minimal participation, minimal feedback, or both. A feeling of being rushed may also show up in your disposition as well, if you become agitated when there is not enough time to complete the required tasks or deadlines are nearing. Your students will sense this, even within an online environment, as there are subtle cues which show up in the word choices used in online posts and messages.

Something else to consider is the contract you agree to when you become a faculty member and accept a class commitment. You need to take the time to review the faculty expectations, especially if you are new to the school, to make certain you know all details about performance requirements. Should you have any questions, it is best to contact your Department Chair or supervisor. The most critical timeline requirements involve responding to learner questions, regardless of how those are posted or sent. You will likely receive audits and/or performance reviews, and when you do, use these tools as a means of self-development to help you to continue to learn and grow.

When You’re New to Online Teaching

For those who teach in a traditional classroom and now teach online, there will be a learning curve which will occur. The first adaptation is becoming used to the technology platform or LMS, and discovering the technological tools which can enhance the learning experience. The most significant challenge for traditional educators, who are not used to teaching online, is interacting with learners who are not visibly present.

The lack of visual cues can be overcome at times if a webinar is integrated into the class program. However, for most of the term, it is functioning without a live class and visual or verbal cues. Now the words posted become the primary form of communication and this makes it much more challenging to assess the intent or meaning of what is being stated, especially if a learner has challenges with academic writing.

What an online educator must eventually learn, often through time and practice, is they are the one who must keep the class engaged, not the course materials. If a learner is not actively participating or is not present in class, it is the instructor who must work to re-engage the learner, and do so within a timely manner, as a disengaged learner may soon become dropped from the course.

This means learners are looking for, and often expecting, their instructors to be highly engaged and present in the course, and responsive to their needs. An instructor cannot log onto their class once or twice a week and hope this is sufficient. There must be ongoing and active involvement to sustain an online class, and work on the developmental of the needs of all learners.

6 Best Practices to Achieve Your Best in Online Teaching

What follows are best practices you can implement now, regardless of the length of time you’ve taught online. If you have implemented some or all of them already, you can use it as a checklist to remind yourself of what’s important for your work as an educator.

Best Practice #1. Be Supportive of Your Learners

When learners enroll in a class, they are likely aware of their deficits already. When you begin the process of feedback and note those deficiencies, it may only serve to further confirm they are not capable of succeeding in their academic studies. This is why you must take a supportive approach to your feedback and the instructional approach used as you interact with your learners.

Consider as well you and your learners are separated by distance, or as I call it, the distance factor. Your learners are going to read what you post and share before you ever have an opportunity to explain it, which means everything you write needs to have a supportive tone to it. How you write, along with what you write, can and will determine the future of the learner, and the effort he or she will continue to make in your class. Find whatever way you can to be supportive by taking time to read what they post and write, and acknowledge them as learners.

Best Practice #2. Develop a Positive Mindset

You have likely read about nurturing a growth mindset in students in primary education. This can even apply to adult learners, especially when the conditions of the online class are conducive to do so. This is not just a result of a beautiful LMS or technological tools, it occurs when an instructor has a disposition and mindset which encourages positivity. This means you have become focused on your learners and you implement strategies to encourage and uplift them.

There will be times when you feel challenged, especially when a learner sends an email and vents their frustration in an unpleasant manner. The most effective strategy to take when you have a negative reaction is to write in a Word document, then step away for a few minutes to regain your balance. When you return, you will likely be able to focus once again and better assist the learner. When you create an environment which feels positive, from the perspective of the learner, you have managed to accomplish another important goal: You have helped humanize the learning experience. This also helps to take the distance factor out of distance learning.

Best Practice #3. Be a Leader in Academic Writing

Many educators are not hired because they are professional writers. Regardless of the academic writing skill level you possess, consider this to be an ongoing area of development. For example, I use a Word document to develop my discussion posts, to help ensure I’ve managed the mechanics. I have grown as a writer over the years, especially since completion of my doctorate degree, as I started writing online posts. This helped me continue to develop how and what I write. While I’m not perfect by any definition of professional writing, I continue to evolve. What you want to remember is your learners are watching what you post in discussions and write as you provide feedback.

If there are numerous academic writing errors, this may send a mixed message if your feedback points out academic writing errors the learner has made. If your school offers resources within an online writing center, this may be of benefit for you and any learner who needs further development. If these resources are not immediately available for you, there are many online resources you can find. You want to lead the way with academic writing and show your learners you take it just as seriously as you enforce it when feedback is provided to them.

Best Practice #4. Learn to Master Your Course Materials

What I’ve learned over time about course preparation is the need to learn my course materials. When a course is pre-developed for you, it may seem all is needed is to join the discussions and participate, and then provide feedback based upon the written rubric. However, this is far from what is required for course preparation.

Every instructor must review the course materials thoroughly and completely, just as a starting point, in order to be able to participate in class discussions in a meaningful manner and provide substantive feedback. More importantly, ongoing development means reading and finding resources related to the course topics, as the use of supplemental sources will help provide context for your discussion posts and the feedback you develop. When you become the master of your course materials, you are creating additional learning opportunities for your learners.

Best Practice #5. Engage in Lifelong Learning

As you are interacting with your learners, and you remember why you love to teach, you are encouraging them to develop a love of learning. If you want to become even more effective in this approach, you can continue to cultivate your own determination to become a lifelong learner. While you may not be a learner now, you can find professional development opportunities of your own.

Many academic institutions encourage or require educators to publish, and this presents a very good opportunity to conduct research into areas you are interested in studying. There are many affiliations you can also join and likely find webinars to attend. What I’ve done as a Modern Educator is to write online articles and blog posts, as a means of continuing my research and writing, even if I’m not publishing in an official academic capacity. It still allows me to share my knowledge and expertise, while connecting with other educators, sharing ideas, information, and strategies.

Best Practice #6. Determine to Achieve Your Very Best

Over time you will evaluate and refine your online instructional practice. It will be the result of what has been successful, the strategies which have not served you well, lessons you have learned (some the right way and others by mistake), and most important of all, feedback you received from learners in many different forms. Typically, the feedback I learn most from occurs within the classroom, as I try new strategies and receive replies in response.

There is a high standard I established for myself. At the beginning of my work as an educator I was very hard on myself when I made mistakes. But now with time and practice under my belt, I know both successes and mistakes have served me well. It is not possible to achieve your best without having taught for some time and even then, you still must be open to learning and development, just as learner needs evolve. I can state with certainty the needs of learners today are different than they were 17 years ago when I first started teaching online. But having a sense of accountability to myself makes me certain I am working to the best of my abilities.

Online Teaching Can Be Rewarding

I well understand there are many inherent challenges associated with online teaching, and most are related to time and a lack of direct contact with learners. Yet I’ve found it can be a very rewarding experience because I am able to get to know my learners better than I ever could in a traditional classroom. This may sound unusual to someone who has never taught online, who sees learners face-to-face, but my perspective comes from being able to interact with each and every one of them in a discussion, getting to know them through weekly learning activities, and engaging with them through direct communication. While I am separated from my learners, I have found tools to bridge this gap and replace the distance with a virtual presence. If you can assure your students that you are there to support them, in a nurturing, positive, and supportive manner, perhaps they will find online learning to be transformative and rewarding.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development.

Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: Motivation for Transformation

Please visit the Books page and Store page for transformative resources: Dr. J’s Books

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:  Instagram

       

When someone decides to pursue their academic goals, the role of an online educator becomes more important than ever. A student needs more than a well-developed set of academic skills to sustain their progress. They could benefit from a well-defined set of beliefs about their ability to succeed. It is their instructor, the one who interacts with them through discussions, feedback, and classroom messages, who can help develop and nurture those beliefs.

To help your students develop a positive belief system, you must first understand your own beliefs about them. This means you must become aware of your own biases and anything which may interfere with the interactions you have with them. Then you must be willing to become neutral, despite any inclination you may have towards one particular view or another, and remain bias-free within the classroom. This will allow you to engage with your students about their academic progress, ascertain how you can provide guidance, and offer supportive direction which helps them develop positive beliefs. This is more challenging than it sounds, and definitely needed for students.

What an Instructor Believes About Students

It is likely you have beliefs now about the events which occurred throughout the past two years, and possibly very strong emotional feelings related to those beliefs. You may not realize how those beliefs have created biases or influenced your worldview. What matters most is your internalized belief system about students who are assigned to your classes. The following are a list of questions I use as a means of self-assessment at the start of a new class. Perhaps this will be a helpful resource for you as well.

What do I assume about students and their level of academic preparedness at the beginning of class?

What do I assume about students and their level of self-motivation at the beginning of class?

What do I assume about students and their ability to manage time at the beginning of class?

Do I hold any biases about students at the start of class, based upon their names, photos, or descriptions within their written introduction?

What an Instructor Perceives About Students

The belief system of an instructor extends beyond a worldview and biases. It also includes any perceptions and reactions you may hold and feel about learners and their requests. This is especially important as I’m finding learners are questioning their ability to succeed more than ever now, and I have to be able to understand my perceptions about their abilities. I also need to understand how I’m going to react when learners approach me with their emotional requests. The following questions are those I use to help myself better prepare for class, and perhaps this will help you as well.

Do I perceive students to be self-sufficient when they ask for help, and have valid reasons for needing my assistance, or do I perceive a request for help as something they should work out on their own?

Do I believe I can help my students by offering my time, or do I believe this is unnecessary hand-holding?

How am I prepared to address a student who feels overwhelmed, exhausted, and/or ready to give up, or do I believe this is beyond the scope of my job duties?

Do I have the disposition necessary to interact with those students who are feeling emotional?

What you believe about your students comes through with every interaction, whether it is a discussion post, feedback, email, or classroom message. There is a perceived tone which is evident in the word choice, whether or not you are aware of it. Consider the following question as a means of assessing how you view the potential of your students.

What words would you use as a general description of your students, from your observation of their ability to be successful in your class?

The answer you write will provide clues as to what you believe about your students.

There is no question every instructor is going to have a class with students who are struggling, along with students who are excelling. However, the word choice used for the question above will be in direct relation to your belief system. For example, I use words in my answer which include potential, capacity, capability, resilience, determination, and hopeful. I have learned how powerful my thoughts become when I am thinking about the students in my class, and I want to always use positive words to describe them, no matter how challenged I may feel at times to assist them.

What an Instructor Believes About Their Role

The final element of your belief system I would like for you to consider has to do with your role and how you view your tasks as an instructor. This is an extremely important element of your belief system, as it can have a positive or negative impact on all aspects of how you think and feel about your students. The following questions are those I ask of myself, especially during a busy class term, when there are many tasks I must complete. Perhaps these questions will help you as well with your own self-assessment.

What words do you use to describe your role as an instructor in the class? For example, are you a teacher who dispenses information, a facilitator who grades papers, an instructor who completes required tasks, or an educator who has many more duties?

Do you approach your instruction with ease each day you are in the classroom, or do you always feel a sense of anxiety because of never seeming to have enough time and too many requests from your students?

Here’s How to Help Students Believe They Can Succeed

This is what I ask of all educators, and it includes myself, during a time of strong emotional reactions and fears which can undermine the belief systems our students need to become successful and complete the course requirements. We, as educators, are uniquely positioned to pay attention to how our students are adapting to the classroom environment and meeting the weekly requirements, or we can simply check in and complete our weekly tasks, hoping our students somehow get through it.

As educators, we must be a source of strength and inspiration, setting aside any sense of affiliation, bias, or other preconceived ideals we hold, and create a safe space for learning to occur. When this happens within a classroom, when we are engaged in a manner which prompts learning and supports students during times when they are struggling, the result is transformative for them and for us. The following are strategies you can use to help nurture positive beliefs within your students.

Become a Champion Influencer: The length of a term may not provide enough time for you to get to know your students and the beliefs they hold to any significant extent. However, there will be clues which will become evident as you interact with them. For example, I can pick up on certain words used in their messages to me, along with the tone of their messages. It doesn’t take much to develop a sense about the student when they send a message and state they are uncertain about completing the required assignment that week, or details about their life and the challenges faced.

You are not required to offer personal advice, or take the role of a professional counselor. But what you can do is to reply and interject positive words, or words which help to influence them in a manner which supports their ongoing development and belief system. You may be the only one who interacts with them and gives them something supportive to hear or read, which makes you their champion influencer. When you can instill this sense of hope within your students, you help uplift their sense of self-motivation. This may be all they need to persist, as they continue to work on the next class assignment or task.

Teach Your Learners About Self-Development: For many students, especially non-traditional online learners, they hold negative beliefs about their ability to learn. Perhaps they waited several years between degrees before going back to school, they feel age is working against them, they perceive writing to be a significant deficit which can never be overcome, or any other number of negative beliefs. When I pick up on clues related to any of these negative beliefs, I attempt to engage these students in a conversation about self-development, and the potential or capacity for learning at any age.

What I’ve discovered is the beliefs I’ve shared above are typically related to self-limiting fears. How I help students overcome these types of beliefs is through the use of encouraging feedback. After an attempt to conduct an initial conversation with a student who I believe has this belief, I will be certain to note in the feedback each week how much progress has been made, to reinforce the message learning can and does occur. Whatever you can do to support your students, and teach them about their ability to learn, will help to support the development of a positive belief system. This can be accomplished through the words you use, whether in your communication, discussions, or feedback.

Try to See Your Learners as Individuals: As an online educator, I know it can become easy to “see” a class as a collective, rather than from an individual perspective. For example, you may tell a colleague you have a class full of challenging students. In contrast, it may become easy to judge students strictly by their names and photos, if they have elected to include one in their online profile. This is the primary manner in which you get to know your students as you log onto the classroom. Yet this is only a surface-level perspective and one which can create unintentional biases. This is also why it is important to examine what you believe and become an educator who gets to know students as individuals.

When you “see” or get to know your students as individuals, you then are better positioned to work with their developmental needs. You will have established a mindset focused on what they need to become successful, rather than viewing the class as a group to be managed. From an individualized perspective you can now watch their progress, from week to week, and gradually come to know what is working well for them, and what resources you can recommend to help support their developmental needs. You will also be establishing a productive working relationship with your students, and by doing so, you can encourage them to continue to try, learn, improve, and nurture their growth mindset.

What Learners Believe Matters

When students join your class, they each have a belief structure in place. What they believe may be effectively supporting them and their efforts in class, or it may be undermining their best intentions. You may not know until they have been making an attempt to complete course requirements and begun to interact with you through discussions and messages. No matter what your students believe, it matters as these are unspoken but well-grounded principles which are not easily changed. The belief systems each student establishes is usually the product of time and a result of many life experiences, and you may never know the origins of these beliefs either. But the impact will be felt on every attempt made and with the attitude, disposition, and actions taken.

Even a student with the most supportive set of beliefs may be challenged because of what they read or hear in the daily news, and allow negative language or thought patterns to filter into their mindset. This is where we, as educators, have an ability to help them overcome any doubts, fears, or questions they may have as they attempt to complete their academic goals. I want for us, as educators, to be more aware than ever of the need to create a nurturing and supportive environment for students, and be understanding of what they are experiencing. If we can teach them the power of their capacity to learn and grow, even during a time when life seems to be the most challenging, then they will realize more than ever the transformative power of education. When we are able to uplift our students, and teach them how to sustain positive beliefs, we are helping to instill a sense of hope within them.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development.

Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for more details.

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:

Instagram

       

Does every class run perfectly and without a problem? In a traditional classroom an instructor is able to visually assess how students are performing and responding to the demands made of them. However, with this visual element missing in an online class, it becomes much more challenging to “read” or get a feel for the pulse or mood of the class, especially when the class is not meeting at a scheduled time.

There is an aspect of online teaching which seems inevitable for educators and is likely to occur with every online class. It involves students who either remain distant from you as their instructor or they simply refuse to cooperate with you. Students who have this disposition may make demands about their grades or outcomes, resist viewing and utilizing feedback, or not accept constructive criticism in an objective manner.

Some students may be open to receiving constructive criticism and coaching, while others will require time before they will begin to interact directly with you. There will be other students who are going to be challenging simply because they have established patterns of thought or negative beliefs about instructors in general. There is also a trend now where students feel empowered with anonymity to freely speak their mind, without concern for respect or consequences when a lack of basic professionalism is maintained.

A perfect class would be easy to teach as every student would be responsive to your communication and feedback. But that isn’t always the case and it will help your work as an educator to have strategies available which can be used as part of your teaching style or practice when students become uncooperative.

Always Maintain Communication Attempts

Have you ever talked to a student and you knew from the moment the conversation began nothing you could say would change their attitude or disposition? They already established a closed mindset and it could be based upon perceptions or experience they’ve had with other instructors or the school.

Working with online students poses a unique challenge. You can be open to working with them and request a conversation by phone only to discover students simply do not respond to you. I know from my experience as an educator some students are either not conditioned to personalized interactions or they want to retain their anonymity. Trying to break through this type of mindset barrier can be challenging, even with the best of intentions.

My philosophy as an online educator is to respond to student emails within a matter of just a few hours on weekdays. On the weekend I will watch for emails and answer any pressing issues or concerns. While it establishes a level of responsiveness on my part, students may still not respond to those attempts to interact personally with them.

You should develop your own strategy. The time an uncooperative attitude comes into play is when you want to communicate with students about their progress and they simply ignore your attempt, or worse, they respond in a hostile manner or the tone of their communication is aggressive. When students maintain a disposition like that it can be difficult to gain their cooperation.

A Student’s Perspective

When students are non-responsive, or they do respond and seem to be uncooperative, it is often done so from a reactive state of mind. From my experience, there have been times when a student has viewed their cumulative grade or feedback for an assignment and had a reactive response. They may have believed the grade was unjust, they “worked hard” on an assignment and deserved a perfect score, or there can be any other number of reasons. Those students will either remain silent, finally reaching out when their frustration has built up, or eventually disengage from the class.

Those reactions may be tied to beliefs which were built upon unrealistic expectations. For example, a student may believe any amount of effort exerted on their part should equate to a certain grade. It is certainly understandable students may have a reaction and possibly with strong emotions; however, it is not acceptable to respond back to them with an aggressive demeanor. It serves no purpose and works against the development of a productive working relationship as they will resist any further attempts to provide helpful feedback and constructive criticism. 

Different Forms of Uncooperative Students

There are different types of uncooperative students. There is the shy student who may feel intimidated by their instructor, there may be a type a student who feels fully in charge of their education and doesn’t prefer any other interactions with their instructor, and then there are students who believe they know what is best for their development and won’t communicate unless their instructor is able to persuade them to change their perspective.

There are other forms of uncooperative students and due to the nature of an online class you may not get to know what their mindset is until you communicate with them. Consider this example: You have an uncooperative student who contacts you but they will not listen to you. You can either try to find common ground and discuss their progress or request another time to talk so they can regain their emotional balance.

While it is not pleasant working with students who are not responsive or uncooperative, or they are difficult to communicate with, it can help you learn more about yourself as an educator and prompt a time of professional self-evaluation. This is a time to ask yourself what can be learned so you are able to either reaffirm your teaching method is on target or make self-corrections as needed.

Five Strategies Every Educator Needs for Uncooperative Students

There are strategies that I have used and taught online faculty to use, which you may also find helpful as well.

#1. Be Proactive When Working with Students

The first step an online instructor can take is to be proactive in their approach to working with students. Encourage open communication through scheduled office hours, with availability for one-on-one communication (such as class messages or telephone appointments), and include notations in your feedback that encourages students to ask questions. For example, I always end my written feedback with a notation that asks students to contact me with any questions about their feedback or progress in class.

#2. Make Outreach Attempts with Students

A challenge for online teaching is the possibility students may slowly disengage from their class. When students are not communicative it can either mean they are not cooperating or they are in the process of withdrawing from the class. You may not know the reason why until you talk to the students, so make every effort to reach them. One of the clues available to me are missed deadlines for discussions and assignments. I’ll send a message and ask the student if they need assistance or have questions. This doesn’t mean I will change the late policy rules, but it does demonstrate I care about the student.

#3. Keep the Momentum Going

Once you are able to gain cooperation with your students, and you have established a productive working relationship them, don’t assume it is set and complete for the duration of your class. Maintain your efforts to keep them engaged and continue to offer personalized assistance throughout the duration of the class. If a student was uncooperative once, they may still have a negative belief about instructors and/or learning, which means it will take more than one positive interaction to overcome their doubts.

#4. Address an Uncooperative Mindset

When a student does not contact you, and they have an uncooperative mindset, it means there is an underlying need or negative perspective that may or may not be easily changed. In your outreach attempts you can offer to discuss the specifics about their progress in class and then decide upon an action plan. If you are able to speak with the student by phone and they become aggressive or threatening, it may be time to discontinue the call and talk with them during a less emotional time. Whatever you do, when you try to address a student with an uncooperative mindset, demonstrate empathy for them. There is something unresolved and through your tolerance, patience, and willingness to assist, you may be able to gain a breakthrough with them.

#5. Teach with Compassion

The best advice for working with any student, cooperative or uncooperative, is to always have their best interests in mind and address their academic needs. It may be challenging at times, especially if they are utilizing inappropriate communication. You may not always handle every situation perfectly because you can still experience natural human emotions; however, if you teach with a caring mindset, students will likely respond in a favorable manner.

Maintaining Open Communication

For online classes, communication in the form of online posts, messages, and emails may feel impersonal. This can be overcome by being highly self-conscious of the tone used and how it may be interpreted. As to working with online students, make it your goal to always maintain open communication.

What does this mean? It is a mindset of welcoming your students’ attempts to communicate directly with you, whether by email, phone, or other methods that you have established for them to use. When they send you an email or message, demonstrate through your reply you are glad they have reached out to you and do your best to welcome future communication.

As an educator, be the one who demonstrates a cooperative demeanor as a means of modeling it for your students. For those students who resist your attempts, or they simply won’t respond to you, they might not ever change their approach. Be sure to make outreach attempts to demonstrate consistency and a caring attitude at all times.

Becoming an effective educator is an ongoing process of learning through trial and practice, and error at times, attempting to gain cooperation and responsiveness from your students. Make it your goal to do what you can to be open and responsive to all students – even those who challenge you. When you turn a lack of cooperation into collaboration, you have successfully harnessed the transformative power of education.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development.

Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for more details.

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