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.

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

Instagram

       

It is always much easier to question ourselves, doubt our abilities, and give into fears, than begin a day with self-talk about the best of who we are and all we have accomplished. Why does negativity occur so naturally, to the point it is a natural or default setting for so many?

I make these observations based upon my work as an educator, career coach, and mindset development coach. I also know how hard I worked to maintain a positive mindset after a job has been cut, due to declining enrollment, which has been a common theme throughout my career within the field of distance learning. What has sustained me: A belief in myself, knowing I am capable, qualified, and someone who cares deeply about this profession. In other words, I never gave up on myself.

The same applies for my students. One of the most gratifying moments for me occurs when I work with a student to overcome doubts about their ability, capability, and/or capacity, and they become successful. It never takes a great deal of effort on my part to help students in a virtual environment, as long as I am actively engaged in the course. If I pay attention to students, use encouraging words, maintain a responsive attitude, and a helpful disposition, students are likely to connect with me. It is then I can support them as they learn.

What I’ve learned, and teach, applies to students and anyone else for that matter. The manner in which you begin your day, as to the mindset you cultivate, ultimately shapes how the rest of your day continues. You have likely experienced this before, especially if you woke up in a bad mood, and the rest of the day didn’t seem to progress any better. Your mindset also has a direct bearing upon what you think about your capabilities. If you are in a negative frame of mind, you are more likely to allow negative thoughts to continue.

What I want to share with you are four belief strategies that will help you whenever you want to teach students about developing a positive belief system for themselves.

Beliefs and How they Begin

There is a basic set of beliefs we hold that been formed earlier in our life, while we were impressionable children. We learned from our parents, authority figures, and so on. As we matured, and learned about the world ourselves, it is possible we may have rejected some of those earlier beliefs, and created our own. Those are the beliefs held subconsciously.

The beliefs we develop as adults are those based upon experience. For example, if a student has a negative interaction with an instructor, they may believe all instructors will be the same. What is the essence of a belief? It’s a thought you continue to sustain by thinking it repeatedly, and begin to search for evidence it is true. We will hold onto beliefs like that unless they are questioned.

4 Strategies to Help Teach Students to Believe in Themselves

Your students are likely enrolled in a degree program because at some point they did not want to state, or perhaps they were beginning to believe: “This is it. This is the best I’ll ever become. I can never grow any further as a person, or within my career. I have learned everything I can possibly learn.”

I have never met anyone who has reached the limit of their full potential. It doesn’t matter what your background, age, health, social status, history, or any other condition may be, everyone has a potential to be or become more than they are right now. I know from my work as an educator, it all comes down to a matter of what a person believes about themselves, along with their capability, as to how much of their potential they will discover and apply.

The following four strategies are those I have used for myself, and I have shared with students. Perhaps you will resonate with one or all of them, to help your students begin to change or improve what they believe.

Strategy #1: Review Your Basic Beliefs

You or your students are not likely accustomed to thinking about your basic beliefs on a regular basis. This first strategy will help you recognize and evaluate what those beliefs are, to determine what areas can be adjusted or modified as needed. Perhaps you can ask your students these questions, or you can incorporate them as affirmative statements.

Use the following statements to ascertain what your basic beliefs are:

When I think about my capacity to learn, I believe:

[Or change this to an affirmative statement: You have a capacity to learn.]

When I think about my ability to take on a new project, such as a written assignment, I believe:

When I think about my capability to adapt to changes, such as learning academic writing, I believe:

When I think about my future potential, I believe:

When I think about my ability to complete my goals, I believe:

[Or change this to an affirmative statement: You have an ability to complete your goals.]

Strategy #2: Choose Your Words Carefully

What I noticed is the ease with which most people will use derogatory words about themselves, for even the slightest of mistakes. Let’s take a very basic example to illustrate this point. A person missed the mark on a written assignment. Their immediate reaction is to use self-talk and state: “Oh you are so stupid”. Now at first it may seem as if this was done in jest and might be funny. Yet those words, if used repeatedly and over time, can be harmful.

What happens is it establishes a pattern of negativity, reaffirming to this person they are prone to making mistakes. What this person doesn’t realize is the harm they are intentionally, and subconsciously, doing to themselves. It would even be better to state something such as “I can learn”, than to make a seemingly harmless put-down. Words can develop a negative pattern, eventually creating a negative belief, which is why words should be chosen carefully.

Where will this show up when working with your students? I find it in the messages they send direct to me. There are often very direct words used about themselves, and sometimes subtle cues about their mindset. Either way, I want them to know they always have potential.

Strategy #3: Self-Acceptance is Crucial

One of the most challenging aspects of our belief systems is ensuring self-acceptance is included. The most important example I can think of is a student whose grade is not where they’d like it to be. They monitor the gradebook closely and obsesses over every update. All of a sudden, their level of self-acceptance is called into question. I’ve heard students use phrases such as the “imposter syndrome” when they were not earning an “A” grade.

What I try to do is to help them understand there is more to learning than a grade. I want them to begin with what was learned from the feedback provided. How can they improve with future assignments? I teach them to focus on self-development and self-acceptance first, and in time, the grades will follow.

Self-Acceptance: Accept who you are. Accept you can always learn.

Then use this newly formed self-acceptance to become beliefs: Believe you can learn. Believe you are capable. Believe it is possible to achieve your goals.

Strategy #4: Trust Must Follow Beliefs

The final important strategy for you to use, in relation to the establishment of positive beliefs, is about the manner in which you trust yourself. This extends what you are thinking into something more concrete; an ability to take future action. When you decide to accept yourself, and believe in what you are capable of achieving, then you need to trust yourself to be able to learn, do, create, or whatever it is going to take to accomplish what you want to complete in life.

When you take action, based upon trust, it demonstrates to yourself that you do in fact hold a valid belief. From that moment on, your belief is accepted, and perhaps, you’ll develop another belief related to it.

Teach Your Students: Believe you can succeed. Then trust yourself to follow through.

Your Students Have Untapped Potential

Do you have any idea how much potential your students hold, especially untapped potential, which only requires their belief to access it? This doesn’t mean they are all going to excel in your class, but what it does mean is you can help remind them of their potential, whatever form it may be. It may take them an entire lifetime to find out, if it is even possible to fully discover. Wouldn’t you like to know what more they can accomplish, if only you’d help encourage them, even in some small manner?

You can even lead the way with your own positive beliefs, demonstrating to students you are continuing to learn and grow, and more importantly, you’ve discovered the power of your potential. Regardless of the time available for your class, find ways to encourage, appreciate, uplift, and teach students to believe in themselves. Once students begin to establish a supportive belief system, their day (and even their life) can change through the transformative power of positivity.

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

Every student is likely to feel some apprehension as they attempt to complete what’s required in a course. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or last course, there may be something holding them back and it’s typically related to their state of mind. This is why the persistence rate of students in a degree program becomes so important. When students no longer believe in themselves, or their capacity to continue, especially in an online degree program, they will likely drop the class and eventually disenroll from the program.

I teach courses, and serve as a Dissertation Chair for doctoral students, in traditional online schools. What I mean by this is students are assigned to a class and an instructor. This provides me with an opportunity to get to know my students and interact with them as much as I am willing to do. Every instructor who teaches in this type of traditional online classroom environment also has this same capability when teaching a course or serving as a committee member. The choice has to do with the amount of time they are willing to invest.

The time invested is important as students also have one of two choices to make when they feel frustrated or don’t believe it is possible to continue with the course. The first choice is to accept they are powerless and beyond hope of addressing the challenges before them. In other words, their self-doubt and negative self-talk has overcome them. The second choice is to ask their instructor for help and hope they are willing to assist them.

When I work with a student, and they want to give up because some aspect of the course seems too challenging, I remind them: This is not the day to give up. What I want them to understand is there is nothing to be gained from an attitude of defeat. How well they perform depends upon what they believe. When they learn to trust their inner strength, they are drawing upon as an accessible internal power. Once they do, they will find themselves stronger of mind and ready to face whatever concerns them now and ahead in their academic journey.

Reason to Quit: The Unexpected

The unexpected can and will occur in life. It usually happens without warning and catches a person by surprise. If ever there is a time when a student would want to quit, this would likely be on top of the list. There’s no planning for every possible scenario and situation which could be encountered. When the unexpected does happen, and it will, there’s a choice: Attempt to retreat from it, or face it head-on. As you likely know, a student’s ability to address any situation outside of the classroom, which directly influences their performance within the classroom, depends upon the support they receive. This support includes help from their instructor.

Reason to Quit: Lingering Doubts

Whenever someone experiences a challenging situation, their ability to handle it effectively may depend upon how strong of mind they are at that time. For example, if there was a minor setback, such as a goal which could not be completed when planned, this does not need to present a significant challenge, as long as they have a positive state of mind. If instead this is seen as a failure, trying to regain momentum may become much more challenging. Even more self-defeating are doubts which are allowed to continue, especially by a student, whether it’s about their ability, capability, or anything similar. The more these doubts are cultivated, the easier it will be for them to quit or give up.  

A Source of Internal Strength and Power

The inner strength a person has is often referred to as resilience, willpower, grit, determination, and other similar words. I simply call it internal power, to represent a combination of all these qualities. It takes all these elements to give a student the strength needed to continue, whenever they want to quit or give up. There are three particular powers which are developed from their internal power, and include the Power of Potential, Power of Beliefs, and Power of Affirmations. Each of these powers can be cultivated with intention, and utilized for self-development. At any time, they can draw upon one, or all of these powers. As an instructor, you can teach students to never give up through use of any of these powers.

The Power of Potential 

Whenever there is a situation which is perceived to be too challenging, beyond a student’s capability or capacity, or any other justification which could be a combination of these reasons, there is something they have forgotten to consider: They hold tremendous potential. It is important to remind them of this statement, especially during moments when they question their ability to complete some requirement of the course.

All it takes is a moment of clarity, when a student recognizes they can do more when they believe, to look ahead at possibilities, and then realize they hold the power to make changes, all because of the potential they possess. Even if they received less than perfect feedback or a grade, or the unexpected has occurred, their potential is an ability to create a mindset of strength and not give into doubts and fears.

The Power of Beliefs 

When you are able to have a conversation with a student about their potential, ask them these questions: Can you name a positive belief about yourself now? Or is it easier to think of something negative?

A belief is a mental statement you develop and continue to reaffirm, often without changing, unless you consciously make a decision to do so. It’s something you state to yourself long enough you begin to accept it as the truth, especially if you find enough evidence or outcomes to support it. For example, if a student believes they have failed, and they continue to receive low grades, this “evidence” will only seem to support and reinforce what they believe. Negative beliefs are the easiest to develop and replay, especially when a class feels challenging. Yet it is the power of positive beliefs which can have the greatest impact on what they accomplish. 

When I am addressing a student who wants to quit, and I detect a negative belief, this is when I try help them change their focus. One possible way to begin is to ask the student to think of the last accomplishment which was important to them. In doing so, remembering the details and what it felt like to be able to achieve that particular goal can reinforce a positive belief. What I want them to understand as well is they won’t know what they are fully capable of achieving until they make a first attempt and try. Regardless of the requirements of the course or degree program, they have the power of their beliefs. They can be mentally prepared and unafraid to try.

The Power of Affirmations 

The last power a person has, which comes from within, is developed through affirmations. These are statements which are designed to be specific to you, and meant to guide you through those moments when you need strength. For example, some of the worst feelings experienced are those created out of fear and doubt. You can change your thinking by making strong positive statements that begin with “I am”, and conclude with optimistic words, such as strong, powerful, hopeful, unafraid, fearless, centered, calm, etc.

When you think of affirmations, you may visualize statements which are made and read each day. However, as an instructor, affirmations are a powerful form of support for reminding your students of their potential. For example, when I provide feedback I may begin with a statement of appreciation, such as “I appreciate how much progress you’ve made in this course and your positive attitude about learning”. When I conclude my feedback, I will also use affirmative words to help instill a sense of positive self-belief and support within them. I want to help them learn to associate positive words with their performance and create positive affirmations, which can lead to supportive beliefs.

Becoming Limitless

Any time a student wants to quit or give up, it’s time for them to conduct a mental self-assessment. Some of the questions you can have them use include: What more can you accomplish if you keep on trying? What is possible to achieve, with a little more effort?  What do you believe about your ability to address this situation?

What I know from experience is this: What you think about, work towards, and commit to matters most. There are no limits to what a person can believe. For every reason there is to quit, there’s an even greater reason to continue trying. The bigger the challenge to overcome, the greater your resolve must be. It’s not just a matter of circumstances, it’s about your determination to stay strong, even in the face of fear or doubt. Every person has within them an unending source of internal power to draw upon, and it only requires a change in focus. When you teach students to make “I can” and “I will” their personal mantras, giving up will not be an option today, or any day.

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 an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission 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: 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

       

The rise in distance learning courses and programs continues, yet the persistence rate of students remains an issue. Regardless of how many options students now have for taking online courses, even those of high-quality design, current research finds a significant problem with the number of students completing their courses and making it to graduation. Many online schools, including those which are experiencing the greatest growth in enrollment numbers, believe the answer is to diminish the role of the instructor. This means students are allowed to work on their own, until or unless they would like to seek the assistance of someone who knows the subject matter.

Yet I do not believe this trend will succeed in the long run, as my nearly two decades of work within the field of distance learning finds the instructor’s role is critical for student success. Without an ongoing relationship, in which a bond is formed through positive interactions, students are likely to struggle and even fail.

When an instructor takes time to be involved with their students, developing an interest in how they are progressing and what their developmental needs are, students begin to awaken to their potential. Yet this increased self-awareness doesn’t come while working alone, rather students discover the power of possibilities through interactions with their instructors.

The Start of Class as a Litmus Test

Any time a class begins, I view it as a litmus test of my ability to develop productive relationships with students. Often students feel a sense of apprehension and uncertainty during the first week of a new or entry-point class, and it is not confined to undergraduate students. Even my doctoral students experience a range of uncomfortable emotions as they begin.

I am keenly aware of what it took for them to enroll in their program and start this first class. It was the culmination of decisions made and answering questions about making the right choice. If I am able to ease their fears, and help them believe in a future with limitless potential, they will have a better chance of continuing on each week.

A Bond Between Instructor and Student

I understand the argument for reducing the role of an instructor to that of an on-call expert or grader. It is based upon a new trend for courses which are aligned with competencies, tested via exams and written assignments, and assigned individually to students without an instructor.

Yet this diminishes the intellectual stimulation and discourse which is offered through traditional online classes with weekly discussions and highly engaged instructors. My students want to feel a sense of connection with me and I work to ensure interactions with them are meaningful.

I know it only takes one challenging assignment, poor grade, and/or unclear set of assignment instructions to stop a student from progressing. This is when my availability to speak with students and assist them becomes invaluable. I speak with them not just as an educator, but often as a coach and mentor. This also includes the times when a student tells me about their negative self-talk, which can become quite loud during challenging course weeks. When I have established a working relationship with students, they are likely to confide these struggles with me and seek advice.

5 Strategies to Help Students Discover the Power of Possibilities

Trust as an Important Relational Aspect

A student’s trust in their instructor is never automatic. First there is the distance factor, which is going to automatically work against students, and prevent them from feeling a sense of connection to their instructors. Then they must decide, as the class progresses, if the instructor can be trusted to help them when needed. They will be observing what the instructor posts to determine if they have the skills necessary to facilitate the course. Trust is either built or lost then, one interaction at a time.

The very nature of instructor-to-student relationships are complex. Take for example the mindset of students and their view of feedback they anticipate receiving from their instructor. One of the first assignments that my entry-point doctoral students complete has a variety of criteria to reflect upon. The following are student excerpts from one in particular, titled How I Accept Constructive Feedback:

“Availability to ask the professor questions and get a timely response.”

“Try not to form hurt feelings.”

“Accept it comes from someone that cares about me.”

“I often need time to sit in the feedback and let my defensiveness simmer down. Once I can reflect upon it, I become much more responsive.”

“I analyze if the feedback I receive supports my goal achievement; does it have value?”

“I accept constructive feedback when there are points of gratitude incorporated and some validation is given.”

As you can tell from the responses above, the relationship I develop with students has a direct impact on how well they accept feedback received. There are key words here which depict the importance of developing a bond with them, including one a student wrote: “someone that cares about me”.  Now if I were only an instructor on-call, and someone who was not working closely with students, any feedback received may be met with resistance or worse.

5 Strategies to Help Students Discover the Power of Possibilities

I have always believed in the power of the mind, and more specifically, the thoughts we focus upon. Whether you want to complete a goal or create a new future for yourself, it is all possible if you accept your own power. This starts by deciding it is important to you, and then believe it is possible, for you to achieve or accomplish it.

This is something I try to teach my students, not directly through long classroom posts, but through motivational messages I create and share in my classes. As to strategies you can implement, there are five I implement within my online teaching practice which you may be able to use as well.

Strategy One: You Didn’t, But You Can

When students receive feedback from me for the first time, they have a true indicator of how I will evaluate their work. While there is always an objective element to feedback, because of the inclusion of a rubric, there is also a subjective element as well. This occurs when I evaluate how their work meets the criteria within the rubric, and to what degree it meets those criteria.

For an entry-point class it would be easy to give perfect scores, operating under the assumption students have not adapted to the expectations yet. However, my approach is to grade based upon what was submitted. While I may not grade with the expectation of an advanced course, I do not “give-away” grades either. I include numerous supportive comments, especially for students who did not earn all points possible. This tells the student: You didn’t achieve the maximum score, but you can with practice and by using the resources shared with you.

Strategy Two: Celebrate Your Ongoing Progress

When students begin an academic degree program, or even when they are early in their program, the thought of reaching the end point may seem a long time away. This is especially true for doctoral students who must complete a dissertation after their coursework has been completed.

As students complete a course, they may still feel as if there will be a significant amount of time required to finish the remaining requirements. This is why it becomes very important for instructors to remind students of their progress, and more importantly, help them celebrate what has been completed as each course marks progression and progress confirms their capacity to persist.

Celebrating a student’s progress can also occur within a class as well. For example, if a student struggled the first few weeks of class, but maintained a willingness to learn, then their growth throughout the class needs to be recognized by the instructor. With my entry-point doctoral class, which is only five weeks in length, I can observe growth for many students, especially if I encourage them as they make attempts to complete the requirements.

As I notice progress, I make certain to remind them of their growth as it encourages them to continue. I learned from my own experience as an online doctoral student how challenging the first few weeks of class can be and how transformative the interactions with my instructor became. Even a single sentence of encouragement can nurture student growth.

Strategy Three: I See Potential in You

The following is what I personally believe about all of my students: No matter how well or poorly you perform with a required learning activity, you have a capacity (and capability) to achieve more. In other words, one grade does not define who you are as a student or your potential.

I work with non-traditional adult students who are typically highly experienced in their fields and many believe (in the beginning) they are knowledgeable enough to complete the requirements with little assistance. It’s usually not until these students begin to receive feedback, they realize there is more to learn as they have academic skills which are required in order to be successful. That’s why I have to encourage them to see their potential and ability to learn.

Strategy Four: When “I Can’t” Arises, Remember You Can

The role of an instructor needs to involve more than being a grader or subject matter expert. There are many times when students are going to hit the proverbial brick wall mentally, and they believe they cannot continue. Perhaps they have received a grade which was less than expected, they cannot develop an idea for a discussion or assignment, or their dissertation writing seems to be too overwhelming.

That’s when I intervene and become more than an instructor. I begin to act as a coach, encouraging them to remember why they can continue, and I provide them with helpful ideas to break through their mental barrier. I also monitor classroom conditions and intervene any time I observe signs of defeat and/or frustration on the part of a student. While I may not be able to help all students, most respond well.

Strategy Five: Make No Time for Fear

There are two types of fear I commonly find students address. The first is the most expected, a fear of failure. There is no question, from my experience, it takes time to build a sense of confidence within students. Even those doctoral students I work with who reach the dissertation phase may still not feel completely capable of meeting the requirements. The second type of fear, which I also find common among students, even doctoral students, is a fear of success. This occurs when students are receiving consistently good grades, positive feedback, and there has been nothing to indicate they have significant areas of development.

These students may be afraid of continuing to perform well and/or be unwilling to admit they are on the right path to success. My role for either type of fear is to help build their self-confidence and reassure them they can engage in class without fear, as they have a built-in support system, starting with their instructors. More important is the value in making mistakes, as those are the times in which valuable lessons can be learned. I’ve learned from experience both success and failure are necessary for growth.

5 Strategies to Help Students Discover the Power of Possibilities

What to Consider as You Help Your Students

If you want to help your students to discover the power of possibilities, begin with a tune-up of your online teaching practices and ask yourself the following questions:

#1. What can your students accomplish in one class?

This prompts you to think about the subject matter and learning activities for your course. What could (or should) your students be able to complete by the end of the course? You can think of the course in terms of what students should learn and how they could learn. It is also important to factor in the length of the course as it will help establish a realistic frame of reference while you are working with your students. This also allows you to consider the possibilities for students and how best to help encourage them.

#2. Will you see immediate results?

This prompts you to consider the point in which students are at in their academic program, the level of their studies, and difficulty level of the course itself. For example, if you teach a doctoral course and this is one of the last courses in the program, you may expect students to have already acquired knowledge and a set of academic skills. However, if you are teaching a master’s degree course, and students have not taken a college-level course in some time, you may expect it takes time for them to learn how to meet the requirements. Regardless of the college level, you want to know what creates potential and possibilities for students.

Be An Instructor Who Instills Hope

What students need, if they are going to persist in their academic program and continue to grow, is an instructor who can help instill hope and teach the value of a positive outlook. It’s not just about achieving perfect grades, rather it’s a matter of realizing the potential they hold, which can transform how they perform, what they believe about their ability, and the level of self-confidence they can sustain.

This occurs when there is an instructor who is actively engaged in the course and dedicated to the development of their students. From my perspective, I don’t want students to just believe they can complete the course I’m teaching; I want them to see the many possibilities their academic growth can provide. When students believe in the power of possibilities, how they view their potential and ability to perform, become transformed. Now learning can occur and whatever seemed impossible, now feels possible.

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: https://www.instagram.com/motivational_guru_drj/

Follow @DrBruceAJohnson

       

The saying about perception becoming our reality is absolutely true and especially relevant for online students who cannot assess an instructor visually. Instead, students rely upon perceptions to decide what the reality of an online class will be, and distance learning in general, whether or not those perceptions are accurate.

For example, if a student is focused on outcomes only, such as a grade for an assignment or the course itself, they are going to rely upon perceptual cues to determine if their instructor is making an accurate assessment. Those cues come from interactions and a perceived tone of every message or email received. If there is any sense of negativity or indifference to the needs of the student, the outcome received is going to be perceived as anything but authentic. This can also create a perception of what future classes may be like, as to a generalization of instructor attitudes.  

From my experience with online teaching, there are many ways you can describe the interactions between an instructor and their students. The most basic description is to refer to it as communication, with a sender and receiver attempting to accurately convey a message. Yet there is one type of interaction I found to be the most transformative of all, and it begins with some form of appreciation by the instructor for their students. What this does is take a form of communication, typically email or classroom messages, and transform it into a supportive interaction.

When I am able to extend some form of appreciation for my students, as a teaching strategy and overall disposition, I help create a different type of perception about instructors. This is especially important for entry-point doctoral classes I teach, as I want to establish a supportive tone to help students and be a positive representative of the school in general. Developing this attitude of appreciation has been a product of time and my own doctoral research. What I’ll share are methods you can use to incorporate appreciation as a general teaching strategy, regardless of the subject.

Why Appreciation Matters, Defining Appreciation

My journey with the concept of appreciation began back in 2008, when I was starting research for my dissertation study. At this time, I was developing a dissertation topic and I was also in the early phase of my online teaching career. I was at my last in-person residency for the doctoral program and attended a session about appreciative coaching. It was then I learned about an organizational developmental strategy called appreciative inquiry. I was immediately intrigued by this concept and wanted to learn more. I discovered its use was primarily for organizations and had not been translated for distance learning. That’s when I settled on my dissertation research topic.

For my dissertation research project, I translated appreciative inquiry for distance learning, and more specifically online teaching, and I called it appreciative andragogy. I immediately connected with the appreciative aspect as I have always held a helpful and supportive attitude while interacting with my students. The word andragogy refers to teaching adults. The strategy I developed at that time was designed to help improve the performance, motivation, and engagement of students through a series of scheduled appreciative interactions. The results confirmed the use of appreciation did help improve all elements studied, including student performance, motivation, and engagement.

After graduating in 2010, I continued to use appreciative andragogy myself as a general teaching strategy. I also continued to study appreciative inquiry and have been inspired by its results within organizations. It is based upon the strengths of an organization’s employees to help facilitate change and improvement of any deficits. Over time, my use of appreciative andragogy has evolved as well. I learned from my own experience that a formalized process of scheduled interactions might not be feasible when I have a workload of 90 students.

The concept of appreciative andragogy evolved into appreciative teaching, to denote a supportive disposition when working with students. I’ve found, and my colleagues have shared the same results with me, that the use of appreciation has a significant positive impact on the overall performance and progress of students. It’s about creating a positive connection with students in every interaction. Appreciation can be defined in three ways: 1) to appreciate another or demonstrate gratitude in some manner, 2) the act of appreciating someone or making a conscious effort to appreciate someone, and 3) creating a supportive and positive feeling when interacting with another.

Appreciation as a Teaching Strategy

I’ve been teaching online over 17 years and I still love this profession. I’m teaching and mentoring doctoral students, and I find they need just as much support and care as any student at any other grade level. For online classes, the students are referred to as non-traditional, which means most have returned to school after a lapse in time since their last degree was completed. This means they are starting at the beginning, as to learning the finer points of academic writing and formatting. It also means I’m in a unique position to share my experience and serve as a guide, mentor, coach, and overall supporter of their progress. What follows are the three basic steps I use to implement appreciation as a teaching strategy.

Step One: Know Your Disposition

When it’s time for to me to interact with students in any manner, I need to be aware of my disposition. This is a self-check I have performed since the start of my career and continue to this day. I want to be aware of how I’m feeling, what my surroundings are like, and any influences there may be at the moment that can shape my interactions with students, whether intentionally or unintentionally. What you can do is to ask yourself: What do you believe about your students and their potential? How do you feel at the moment? Are you prepared to teach and interact with students, in a non-judgmental and unbiased manner? A quick self-check is absolutely essential to remain in a positive state of mind for your interactions.

Step Two: Use the Power of Your Words

Without question, words hold potential for tremendous power. Everything you write or post can be interpreted, or even misinterpreted, based upon perceptual cues each student picks up. What this means is you must write with care, not fear, but with an attitude of support and concern for each student’s well-being. I create what I post or send first in the body of a Word document. This allows me to read and re-read it, quickly assessing it for any potential flaws in tone or intent. It will be easier to fix it before it is sent, than explain something afterwards. This is also where appreciation comes into play. You can use just a few words to shape your message into something positive. Even if you state something simple as “I appreciate you” at the end, you have established a supportive tone.

Step Three: Take Proactive and Measured Action

This is the step that encompasses what used to be appreciative andragogy as a process. What I do each term for my students, regardless of the level they are at, is to post pro-active weekly supportive messages. I typically post these messages on Friday, as I know students have already met the discussion deadline and they will continue working on a written assignment that is due by the end of the week. I will share tips and inspiration, usually consisting of the motivational messages written with my moniker Motivational Guru Dr. J. These picture quotes are meant to uplift and inspire students. Included with the Friday message are words of appreciation, to remind students they are supported and cared for by their instructor. I also utilize appreciative wording in all my feedback, whether it is discussion or assignment feedback. There is something I’ll find within a student’s work to appreciate.

Transformational Education Through Appreciation

I’m witnessing now a trend in higher education, and more specifically distance learning, towards a form of learning that is exclusive of classrooms and assigned instructors. Instructors are becoming guides on-call, if needed by a student, rather than being an essential part of the learning process. Students take exams and write papers to earn a passing score, only engaging with an instructor who grades or answers questions. This reminds of the days long ago when there were correspondence-style courses.

While I understand the intent of competency-based education, and I’m not going to evaluate its merits, what I can share with you is my experience after working with directly with students for over 17 years. The lesson is simple: I know many students would not make it through their program were it not for the support, time, effort, and encouragement of their instructors. I was also an online student, and earned most of my advanced degrees online, and I know how effective a class is with an instructor.

For those of you who still work within a traditional online classroom, with instructor-led courses, there is only one way this form of education will continue, and it is by continuing to show how transformational education can be as a result of direct involvement with an instructor. The discourse I have with students in a discussion board always prompts higher order thinking and contributes to their intellectual development. I am always appreciative of their contributions and take time to craft feedback acknowledging what they post, supporting their growth and progress.

I encourage you to think of online teaching not as a task or set of duties, but at its core it’s a set of interactions. More importantly, every interaction has a potential to contribute to the learning and development of students, if you will demonstrate some form of appreciation. This only requires finding something positive to state when you write an email or post a message. If you maintain a disposition that reflects your enjoyment of the work you do, this will also show up in your interactions and before long, you will naturally be using appreciative teaching. When students perceive you appreciate them in some manner, and they experience positive interactions with you, appreciative teaching will have also become a transformational strategy.  

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

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

Instagram

When you’re assigned an online class, what is your mindset, as to the responsibilities you’ve been tasked with completing? Do you have a particular checklist ready to use in preparation for your duties? Is there anything you do to mentally prepare for the start of the class? Do you think about how you’ll interact with your students?

Based upon my experience, there are two commonly held views by online instructors. One is to approach your instructional role as a series of tasks to complete, a class to manage, and students to address in a fairly routine manner. The other is to view this role from the perspective of being an educator, mentor, coach, and someone who can make a direct contribution to the development of your students. Most instructors develop a standard working routine, and over time they come to rely upon it, without having to think about how they are going to engage with their students.

Once a new class begins, and you’re at the initial starting point, it is unlikely you’ll know anything about the students. If they share their introductions during the first week, you can gain insight into their experience and goals. Yet it’s the learning activities, or engagement in the course itself, which reveals the capacity and capability of every student to learn and develop. As their instructor, you hope they will be able to meet the minimum requirements, follow instructions, comprehend materials, get started, and be truly self-motivated adult learners. But the reality is often quite different.

An online class needs one vital element to ensure students are performing to the best of their abilities, and it’s an instructor. Why? Because the learning process is relational, as is teaching. Students develop a relationship with their course, and either sustain or lose motivation week-by-week. Students also develop a critical relationship with their instructor, one interaction at a time. Should that relationship fail to fully develop, the online class will become almost mechanical in nature, as to how it feels to students.

It is essential to the longevity of each student in class, and their best performance, to find they have a highly accessible, engaged, and caring instructor. More important of all, students need to feel an emotional sense of satisfaction as they are interacting with their instructor. This can be accomplished in any class, and with any subject matter, through the use of appreciative interactions. When appreciative interactions are implemented as a teaching strategy, even the most challenging communication scenario can become a teachable opportunity.

Meaningful Interactions

For any online instructor, thinking about interactions with students may seem insignificant or inconsequential to the overall scope of classroom management. I’ve worked with faculty development long enough to know there are many other areas faculty can continue to work on and refine. In fact, most interactions may seem to be routine in nature. For example, a student sends a message with a question, and a simple response is needed. Or an instructor posts a discussion question response to a student on the discussion board. Both of those interactions seem fairly routine, and require little continued evaluation, correct?

My answer to the question is not exactly. Within an online classroom, every interaction has potential meaning and impact. This includes every word choice made, the style of writing used, format of the message, and perceived tone of the message or post. It is also perceptual in nature, including your perceived demeanor and overall disposition. All of these seemingly irrelevant factors greatly influence the message conveyed in every interaction you have with students.

Relational Nature of Interactions

Why do interactions matter? Students are either going to find they can develop a relationship with you, because you are a supportive instructor and have a positive tone, or your interactions are demeaning and create negativity. When students feel supported and uplifted, because of positive interactions with you, it will help to bring out the very best in their performance. This is especially critical when they feel challenged or discouraged.

In contrast, if students send a message and the response received from their instructor is perceived to be unhelpful, uncaring, and/or unresponsive, they will likely not attempt to interact with that instructor again. This can be quite disruptive to the progress a student is trying to make, if they feel stuck and do not want to speak with their instructor again for any reason.

What this also does is affirm why every interaction matters, and as someone who is responsible for the academic growth and development of your students, those interactions are not interruptions or unimportant messages. Every time you work with a student, you have an opportunity to teach, coach, and guide them to success. What will also help emphasize your concern for their developmental progress is to show appreciation for them.

Building Bridges to More Effective Interactions

The development of effective classroom interactions can be significantly improved when instructional tools are used as a means of building bridges across the distance gap. The reason why these tools are important is they establish a tone and purpose for your role as an instructor. Students begin to observe who you are and what it may be like to interact with you in the classroom. This is why each one of them becomes so important to use, and implement as effectively as possible. There are three primary tools I use to accomplish this goal.

Course Announcements: While a Course Announcement can become very rote in nature, as to the content developed and posted each week, it is also possible to create something much more meaningful. If you take some time, for the development of your announcements, you can create a message that has a personality and warm tone. For example, I create a weekly announcement and introduce the subjects being studied through an instructional video. This turns a static post, which could be easily ignored as just another random message to read or ignore, into a message students connect with and gain something of value from each week. This tells students you care about what and how they learn.

Course Messages: Whenever I’m sending a message to a student, or the class as a whole, I never think of it as “just a message”. I consider the potential each message may hold to connect with the student or students it is being sent to. This requires paying attention to the wording and perceptual tone of the message. What this demonstrates to my students, and it can do the same for you, is my level of dedication and concern for them.

Discussion Posts: The same rule for class messages applies to my discussion posts. I never want to post something just to meet a facilitation requirement. I do understand how much time and effort class discussions take, and the fact online discussions are falling out of favor among online schools, yet there is still tremendous value to be found if they are utilized appropriately.

I know from having worked in online faculty development for over a decade what happens when other facilitation duties, such as grading, take more time than anticipated. The class discussions are given minimal consideration. However, I simply ask this: What would your approach be if you walked into a traditional classroom, with students sitting there waiting for you, and you gave them only a couple minutes of your time to talk about the course topics? I do not agree with the elimination of course discussions, and never will, as I know how learning can occur if developed and implemented with meaning and purpose. If discussions are in your course, take time to be engaged and watch how your students respond in kind. While some may not respond fully, a majority will respond well to you and your efforts.

Developing Appreciative Interactions

There are tools available to help bridge the distance gap; however, this is not enough by itself to help encourage students to perform their best, especially online students. Consider the perspective of online students and how they are completing their coursework. They are likely balancing other responsibilities, trying to stay motivated, and hoping to feel capable enough to write posts and papers. What is the key to helping them, as their instructor? I’ve found it comes down to a human connection, and most important of all, demonstrating appreciation for them and their efforts.

If I am going to connect with students, and demonstrate appreciation, it can best be done with every interaction I have with them. The three primary interactions in which I can develop appreciative interactions include:

Appreciative Discussion Posts: When I post a reply to a student in the discussion board, I begin first by acknowledging the student, and inviting the entire class into the discussion. For example: Hello John and Class. I use this approach as I am rarely able to respond to every student each week. I make certain to rotate my responses for a larger class, and ensure all students receive at least one reply by the end of the term. If there is a longer term, such as ten weeks, each student will typically receive a reply two or more times.

The next strategy I use is to show appreciation, by thanking them for their post. For example: Thank you for providing a thorough response. The goal is to always acknowledge and uplift students. I’ll quote an excerpt from the student’s response and add some insight from my own experience. Then I’ll bring in something from the course, course materials, and/or a supplemental academic source. I’ll pose questions and invite all to join in, and conclude with an appreciative comment as well. This keeps a positive tone for the overall post, which students respond to well.

Appreciative Course Messages: This is one of the most important course tools in which you can demonstrate appreciation, and often one of the most challenging to feel any sense of positive emotions about at times, simply because of the aggressive nature students may take when their expectations are not met. If you feel a negative reaction, you have to set their message aside, until you can manage your emotions and address the student effectively. Your emotional control is absolutely essential, if you are going to find a means of resolution that eases the tension for both of you.

Regardless of how the student has written or responded to you, it is imperative for your relationship with this student to develop a connection with them and demonstrate appreciation for them as a student. This of course may take some effort to achieve, yet it is possible to do. For example, you can show appreciation for their efforts and demonstrate empathy for their frustrations. Do your best to try to diffuse the situation, as best you can. I’ve written about disrespect becoming more commonplace with online students, and this makes the work of an instructor even more challenging. You can use tools such as Zoom, to speak with the student face-to-face, which may help diffuse the situation. When you develop a connection with your students, it is then you are better able to convey a message of appreciation for them.

Appreciative Feedback: Many instructors view feedback as a one-way process, something that is delivered to students to be read. Yet I have discovered this is also an interaction, one that carries significant potential to help build connections with students, and one that allows me to demonstrate genuine appreciation. The first essential element of feedback is that it must be personalized to each student and never canned commentary. My experience with faculty development has shown me how easy it can be to plug in canned comments; however, students learn right away if all they’ve received are a few pre-developed comments.

Here is one of the most discouraging aspects of canned commentary: Students develop a perception their paper and/or posts have never been read. More than likely, they are probably correct. What happens next? Students start feeling as if they do not need to put in as much effort any longer. Another issue that comes up when instructors are not reading papers closely is plagiarism. But one of the most important issues, as related to missed potential, is the loss of development towards a supportive relationship with students.

If feedback is personalized, this demonstrates you are being responsive to their needs, concerned about their well-being, and you can influence their development. In addition, with personalized feedback, it is possible to show appreciation, and all it would take is just a few comments to help uplift your students. Now I’ve had instructors tell me, “This paper is so poorly written, I cannot find anything good about it to praise”. My response is always the same: You can thank the student for their effort, if nothing else. I always look for something to show appreciation for, to demonstrate I care, and you can to. This will help you connect with your students, and build productive relationships.

Appreciation and the Power of Positivity

There are always two approaches to classroom instruction: Demand compliance to course requirements, or encourage completion to the best of the ability of your students. For many instructors, online classroom management becomes mechanical in nature over time. This means checking into class, completing feedback via a rubric, posting a few discussion messages, and answering messages when needed, without giving any of it all much thought. Yet there are some who begin a class with a mindset of helping students as individuals who are on an academic journey of growth and development. They see students as those who will perform best if their instructor connects with them.  

When you demonstrate appreciation, it helps create a mindset that brings out the best performance in students. The reason why is that it harnesses the power and potential of positivity. You become focused on the potential of your students, rather than their weaknesses, which creates a monumental shift within their minds. Students experience an emotional reaction that helps instill confidence, resilience, and perseverance. What you are doing is acknowledging them in a manner which validates their hard work, contributions, and continued progress. The more you can find ways to show appreciation for your students, the more likely they are going to flourish in your class and beyond.

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

       

Do you ever feel so completely overwhelmed by the external circumstances around you it seems almost impossible to remain calm and steady when you need to be present in the classroom? As an educator, you have to somehow separate yourself from the emotional reactions you may be experiencing, if you want to have a clear mind and remain focused on your students. But this isn’t always easy to do, especially if you continue to pay attention to the news and social media. It can leave you feeling emotionally drained.

Yet consider your students and what they expect of you as their instructor. You are expected to be focused on their needs and ready to guide them through the learning process. Instructors are really not “cut some slack” for feeling overwhelmed and having a less than perfect day. When you are involved in your instructional role, and supposed to be focused on the developmental needs of your students, there is no downtime provided. This means you either must be plugged in mentally, and fully available to provide quality instruction, or you need to ask someone for help.

Why is all of this so important? If all of these circumstances are so challenging for you as an instructor, consider how even more challenging it must be as a student. I’m an online instructor and my students are typically the non-traditional learners, who are working full-time while also attending school. They are not only balancing work-related issues, most are also addressing pandemic-related issues, which may include financial challenges, home schooling, remote work, and the list continues. These students are feeling the impact of significant stress, while also attending school.

As an instructor, you must set aside the events of the day and focus intently on your students. If your students needed your attention before, and assistance to be able to persist, they need it now more than ever. In fact, many students need to feel a sense of hope, in order to continue on in their academic program. There are many students who are internalizing negative reactions they experience, and absorbing negative emotions from those around them, and the result is a feeling their hard work may or may not pay off in the end. Your encouragement, while they work, is vital to their success.

It’s as Simple as: I’m Here to Help

The first key to the establishment of a relationship with your students is availability. It is being responsive and demonstrating your appreciation for their effort, contribution, and attempt. Even if they may a mistake or get everything wrong with a written assignment, there was an attempt. The point is they showed up to class and they were present. You must also mirror that presence with your willingness to be available and ready to assist them. That readiness can be developed in multiple methods. Just be certain your students know it will be consistent from week to week.

I’m “old fashioned” in that I offer Office Hours during the week, which includes daytime and evening hours. I also offer Office Hours on Saturday, which I understand seems out of the ordinary and a significant investment of my time; however, we live right now in extraordinary times. If I can assist and resolve a student’s concern with five minutes of my time, it is time well spent. When I began teaching online over 15 years ago, the institution I worked for required weekly Office Hours and it was instilled within me, as to the value and benefit it could offer to students. I’ve never forgotten it and even know what it was like from the perspective of being an online student, when instructors I had offered it.

What can also be transformative is your disposition towards your students. When you are in the classroom, engaging with learners via email or classroom messaging, be careful about the words you use. A simple statement in reply to a classroom message or email, such as “I’m here to help”, can change the disposition of a struggling student. I also include this statement any time I provide feedback, whether it is formal feedback for grading, or informal feedback to help guide and coach a student. Those words let the student know I am a resource and available for them.

Give Students a Reason to Feel Hope

If you are teaching online, it will not be easy at first to determine if your students are adapting well to the class, or if they are facing challenges related to the current external environment. As the class progresses, you may receive emails or messages which inform you of their status and challenges. The most difficult aspect of teaching online now is observing students who struggle and not knowing if it due to a lack of academic skills, motivation, stressors, pandemic-related issues, or any other number of reasons. During a “normal” or pre-pandemic time, you could provide resources related to the specific academic problem. But now there may be a number of factors interfering with the student’s progress.

This is when your relationship with students becomes even more important. In addition to availability, and the use of reassuring words, students will benefit from something beyond the scope of your instructional practice. This is the development of a mindset of hope. It doesn’t mean hope of a better life, career, or future, which is beyond the scope of the class. It is the hope their effort and time dedicated to classwork will mean something in the long term. If they feel hope, and they persist, then completion of a course will lead to completion of another. Eventually they will complete their degree and well on the way to completion of their goals.

How do you nurture a sense of hope in your students? You can implement at least one or more of the following strategies within your instructional practice to accomplish this goal.

Happiness as a Disposition: Students develop a sense for how you are feeling, whether you teach on-ground or online. This is reflected in the tone of your posts, messages, and emails, simply by the word choice used. My recommendation is that you make happiness a choice, every day you decide to interact with students. You can be happy regardless of circumstances around you, and maintain an authentic happiness, simply because you are able to teach. I look forward to interacting with my students, even when I am feeling the most challenged, and during the pandemic I was challenged. But I was determined to still maintain authentic happiness and you can too, just by the power of your intention.

Optimism as a Point of View: If you are going to help students feel a sense of hope while they work, then somehow you must also hold a point of view that is optimistic. This may go against every personal belief you hold, and yet, as an educator you need a different perspective during your instructional interactions. This is a time to promote a sense of what may come or what is yet to be, otherwise, why should students continue to work on their degree program? Keeping your beliefs out of the classroom and remaining neutral can be challenging, but this is needed if you want to enter into intellectual discourse with students. You need an objective lens from which to frame your discussions, based upon research and data, rather than bias and subjective opinions.

Positivity to Bring About Change: While happiness is a disposition, positivity is a specific strategy to be implemented within communication, posts, and feedback. There is quite a difference between a response that begins with “Student” versus “Hello Student”. A positive approach is one in which you, as the instructor, are viewed as approachable and easy to interact with, rather than someone who is to be feared and avoided. When students feel comfortable interacting with you, from the perspective of being able to send you a message or contact you, then you are presented with an opportunity to bring about change. This is when you can learn more about their background and the unique challenges they may be facing. I’ve heard of many who were facing pandemic-related challenges, which allowed me to work with them.

Encouragement to Develop Success: There is one aspect of teaching that I always believe in, regardless of societal conditions, and it is the use of encouragement. Whether I acknowledge a student for making an attempt or an effort, there always needs to be some form of encouragement within feedback provided. I know all too well, especially having been an online learner and not physically present to interact with my instructors, how it feels to receive cut and paste commentary that offers nothing more than rote statements. But a few words that seek to uplift can make all the difference in the next attempt made, and the decision as to whether or not the student will utilize the feedback provided. It all becomes a matter of building up the student’s confidence so they are able to become successful.  

You are a Beacon of Hope

This is a challenging time for you and your students. I do not want to minimize the potential for stress that you, as an educator, are likely to experience. My intent with this post is to bring awareness to the potential influence you have on students, along with the ability you have to help them during a time when they need your guidance the most. Somehow, you need to be able to manage the stress and emotions you are experiencing, well enough that you can become a source of inspiration and hope for your students. They may or may not look up to you now, but they do expect you to be available to help them, especially when they become frustrated.

A positive disposition can become quite challenging to maintain at times, especially given how long the pandemic has been going on. Yet if you can shine a beacon of happiness, optimism, positivity, and encouragement, you will help to create a sense of hope for students, especially those who are struggling to stay engaged and motivated. I’ve found this can become transformative not only for my students, but for myself as well. As I see my students feel uplifted, and develop a sense of accomplishment or improvement in their disposition, I too feel better empowered to manage the stress of my day. Even if you only help encourage one of the most discouraged students this week, this sense of hope you’ve helped to instill within them will lead them to success in your class and beyond.

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: 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