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

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

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

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

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

Level One: Emotionally Reactionary Responses

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

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

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

Level Two: Emotionally Intelligent Responses

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

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

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

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

How to Become an Emotionally Intelligent Educator

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

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

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

Strategy #1: Read and Critically Assess Responses Received

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming Emotionally Intelligent Takes Practice

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

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

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

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

About Dr. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

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

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

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

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

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

       

The field of distance learning continues to evolve, not just from a technological perspective, but also by the mode of delivery for online classes. When this field was first developing in the early 2000s, one of the primary concerns was related to the ability of this form of teaching to replicate traditional classroom learning.

Over time most online schools included some form of instructor-to-student interaction as part of the curriculum, typically through asynchronous discussions, thereby making it possible for students to still experience many similar elements of a traditional classroom. If there were still any lingering doubts left today about an ability to learn effectively in a virtual environment, the pandemic has helped to eliminate them.

The ongoing evolution within the field of distance learning has been the development of competency-based education, or learning specific skills and competencies rather than course-specific objectives. This has changed the field of higher education, for better or worse, depending upon who you ask and the institution you are employed with now.

I can share two specific examples:

Example #1: One of the largest online schools (with a non-profit status) does not assign students to classes, changing what used to be the traditional model of online learning. There is no instructor-to-student contact required. A student may or may not read the course materials, and then take exam(s), write a paper, and work to earn a passing grade. Instructors are hired, but only utilized as on-call experts, if a student has a question and would like assistance.

Example #2: One of the well-established for-profit online schools was facing a situation in which it was challenging to compete with other online schools. This online school merged with another online school and hired a new CEO. Then a decision was made that competency-based courses and curriculum would be the future for this school, in order to be competitive in the marketplace.

I know what the programs were like as I witnessed course development first-hand. The curriculum mirrored the same set-up as the largest (non-profit) online school. There were no assigned instructors; only reading, tests, and papers to earn a grade. Over a three-year period afterwards, hundreds of full-time faculty were laid off, myself included.

What are highlights of these competency-based programs?

A. There is no discourse built into the courses. Students are taking self-paced courses, similar to correspondence-style courses from the 1970s.

B. There are no daily or weekly interactions required between instructors and students, which means there is never an opportunity for instructors to engage students with Socratic questioning.

C. The lack of instructor-to-student interactions also eliminates the power of words that traditional online instructors can utilize daily and/or weekly. Traditional online instructors have an opportunity to motivate and encourage students through the power of their words.

While there are going to be some students who are well-suited for this mode of learning, the human element of learning can still be transformative for all students who are able to interact with an instructor on a regular basis, especially when an instructor is highly engaged in the learning process. That’s missing from a competency-based course.

The traditional online classroom, with mandatory instructor-to-student interactions, requires an instructor to be present, available, and responsive to the needs of their students. It is possible for an instructor to be minimally present and only when contractually obligated to do so; however, schools and students expect much more from instructors, and minimal engagement is rarely tolerated. This puts the onus on instructors to learn to become highly effective within a virtual environment, interacting with students they cannot see, while communicating primarily through non-verbal classroom messages and posts.

Which is most effective for learning? Perhaps you’ll find out as you learn from my 18+ years of experience in the field of higher education and distance learning. I’ll also share some strategies for helping you, as an online instructor, enhance your interactions with students.

Why the Need for an Instructor?

Consider the student who can memorize information long enough to pass a test, or grasp information well-enough to write a paper sufficient enough to be evaluated by a grader. From a cognitive perspective, you can ask: Has there been enough interactivity involved to cause information to become knowledge, and more importantly, has there been enough interactivity involved to cause knowledge to be transferred from short-term to long-term memory? These are the questions I ask of the competency-based online schools that offer no direct instructor-to-student interactions.

When students are involved in a classroom environment, be it online or a traditional on-ground campus, they are provided with an opportunity to discuss course concepts or interact with the information studied in greater depth. This makes the learning process transformative, as it helps to build the neural pathways necessary for long-term retention of the knowledge. The reason why is the added context provided through discourse, which transforms information into usable and relevant knowledge, to be used now, stored in long-term memory, and called upon later. The most essential element of class discussions, the person guiding the ongoing discourse, is the instructor.

Developing a Competency versus Learning and Acquiring Knowledge

I can begin this analysis from the perspective of the student and focus first on the reason why they are enrolled in a degree program. For most online students, who are often referred to as non-traditional students, they have a specific goal or purpose in mind. In other words, they are not just enrolled for exploratory purposes. They are either seeking to advance their career, change careers, continue with their professional development, or gain career-specific knowledge to specialize in their career field. The expectation is they will be able to graduate from the program and immediately apply what was learned to their career, for whatever the initial purpose or reason was for enrolling.

For online schools that are strictly competency-based, and offer no required instructor-to-student interactions, the expectation is that by the end of a “course” the students will have demonstrated mastery of a competency. This mastery could be demonstrated via a score on an exam, a written paper, or a combination of the two. Within this structure, students are not required to read any of the materials provided, and only are encouraged to so if they are unable to achieve a passing score on an exam or paper, and need the additional assistance. The question becomes: If there were no direct interactions with an experienced instructor required, and a student is only required to pass with a satisfactory exam or written paper score, has learning occurred?

The answer to the question, as provided by the online institutions offering competency-based programs only, is this: Students have demonstrated mastery of a competency at the end of a “course”. My question is this: If studying isn’t required, then how has a student actually learned? I understand a student can memorize information or write about a topic they are already familiar with, but isn’t this like the correspondence-style courses that predated online programs? This is similar to someone picking up an instruction book or set of instructions for installing a new piece of equipment. They can acquire the information necessary to complete the required tasks long enough to do it, but will they retain the information for the long-term, and has learning occurred?

I still believe learning requires context and discourse, in order for it to become knowledge, as neural pathways are created and the knowledge is stored in long-term memory. Anyone can read or write, but understanding what it is you are reading and writing, and putting it into a context you can understand and apply, is the transformative part of learning. I understand this puts me at odds with competency-based education principles. But I still believe an instructor is necessary to guide discourse and help create an environment necessary for context to occur. This is what I have done now with my online classes for over 18 years, and I’ve seen the outcome with students, especially when they can immediately apply subject specific topics to their career. I’ve observed students learn, as a result of their interactions within the classroom.

How to Nurture Student Growth: One Interaction at a Time

To help your students learn, as an instructor within an online classroom environment, there are specific strategies you can implement. The following is a summary of some of the most effective strategies I’ve developed, and I’ve utilized the acronym INTERACT to help present them to you.

Individualized Attention: Whenever you have an opportunity to interact with students, try to see them individually. What I mean is to view each one of them sitting in a classroom, or coming to Office Hours, and providing them with personalized attention. I remind myself of this every time a new term starts and I take time to read every student’s introduction. I want to remember some detail about each one so I continue to view them each as a person.

Needs-Based Focus: As an instructor, you are provided with an opportunity to be more than a grader. What do I mean by this statement? You are able to interact in a much more direct and engaging manner, and by doing so, you are learning about their academic needs. This allows you to recommend resources based upon their needs, and share your recommendations in a conversational manner, as you develop productive relationships with them. As another example, I develop instructional videos each week to help students learn, and I am present in those videos to help reinforce my connection with them.

Transformative Discussions: At the heart of a typical, and traditional, online classroom is the discussion. What makes a discussion transformative for students is the involvement of an instructor, when they are able to engage students in discourse and prompt their intellectual curiosity. This requires more than acknowledging something the students have written, and instead, it requires providing context. I use a scaffolding approach to the development of my discussion responses. I also use Socratic questioning, and ensure I conclude with a question, to help extend the conversation.

Evaluate for Development: As an assigned instructor, you get to learn about your students and their academic development. When you provide feedback for learning activities, which are typically discussions and written assignments, your role is usually more than that of a grader. By knowing how your students are progressing, you can address their developmental needs with personalized feedback that helps to guide their ongoing academic achievement.

Respond Patiently and Appropriately: Most online instructors are aware of the growing impatience among younger students, as to having to wait for a response to their questions. It is understandable that when a student feels stuck, needs assistance, and/or finally decides to ask for help, they don’t want to wait days for a response. Then when you read the message and find the tone isn’t proper, your natural reaction might not be the best. That’s the time to take a break. Regardless of the student’s demeanor, you must always be patient and willing to help in a kind and caring manner.

Allow Time for Accessibility: One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an online instructor is the need to be accessible and available for students. I’ve found students will often mirror my level of engagement in the classroom, especially within the class discussions. If I were to be available and present only when contractually required, students might perceive I don’t care that much about the course. I also make certain to provide Office Hours during times when students are likely working and need my assistance, so they know there is someone readily available to support them.

Communicate with a Proper Tone: An online classroom environment is not always the easiest type of classroom to communicate in, as you are relying primarily upon messages to convey everything you have to state. If you aren’t careful about how you develop your messages, and the perceived tone of the messages, students may stop communicating with you or disengage from the course. If you are newer to a virtual environment, one method I recommend is reading your messages aloud prior to sending it. You can also create your messages in a Word document first, to ensure there is proper academic writing and a proper tone, prior to sending them.

Teach in Every Interaction: As an instructor, you have an ability to use interactions with students as teaching moments. When you respond to questions, reply to discussion posts, or provide feedback, you have an opportunity to teach through the power of your example. Whether you are sharing your subject matter expertise, providing context, offering insight, or suggesting academic resources, consider how you can use those interactions to engage with students and teach.

An Instructor is the Heart of the Classroom

There’s no question the field of higher education, and more specifically distance learning, is evolving. The model of an online class, with a specified number of weeks, weekly discussions, required weekly learning activities, and an assigned instructor, is becoming replaced by competency-based programs that have no mandated interactions with instructors.

While I understand the basis of demonstrating competencies, and the purpose it is meant to align with, I question whether or not it is returning to the days of correspondence-style courses. The type of learning I still believe is most effective, is based upon interactions, discourse, and context, which helps promote the long-term retention of knowledge.

My hope is the traditional online class will continue for these very reasons, and I am fortunate to be associated with online schools that offer a traditional online classroom structure. I believe many students need the support, encouragement, and assistance of an instructor, to successfully work and thrive in a virtual environment. If you, as the instructor, take the time necessary to create conditions that engage students in the learning process, you become the heart of the online classroom.

Your students will find learning transformative, not just as a result of what they learned, but also as a result of the interactions which encouraged them and brought out their very best performance. Truly transformative learning occurs first because of the contextual connections made with the information studied, and then the discourse developed by an instructor. Transformative learning also takes place because of relational connections made, with an instructor who brings a classroom to life through active and responsive engagement in the course.

About Dr. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

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

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

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

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

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

       

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

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

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

Avoid These Feedback Shortcuts

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

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

The Student’s Perspective of Feedback

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

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

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

Are Students Not Responding to Your Feedback?

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

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

4 Strategies Needed to Engage Students in Their Feedback

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

Step #1: Use Thought-Provoking Questions

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

Step #2: Develop Follow-Up Questions

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

Step #3: Provide Follow-Through

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

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

Step #4: Use of Office Hours

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

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

Encourage Student Engagement

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

About Dr. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

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

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

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

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

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

       

Class discussions can be very rewarding but also time-consuming for an instructor in any learning environment. This is especially true for educators when there is a large class-size, complex course topics, the instructor is an adjunct and has other responsibilities, or it is the first time an instructor has taught the course.

There are two possible options available when an instructor is faced with the demands of facilitating an online discussion. The first is to go through the motions and meet the minimal requirements needed to facilitate the class. From my experience working with online faculty, that approach usually results in posts that appear to be talking at students, rather than trying to engage them in a conversation, along with telling them what they need to know instead of prompting them to explore the topics further.

Another instructional option, one that is likely to be more successful, is to devote the time necessary to be actively involved in the ongoing conversations. This requires prep time, for the development of talking points, or initial instructional posts prior to the start of class.

Regardless of the option chosen as an instructional strategy, class discussions need an instructor’s active engagement and involvement so that students remain focused on the topic and actively engaged in meaningful class discussions.

An Instructor Sets the Tone

During any class discussion, it is an instructor who sets the tone and models what it means to be present and fully engaged in an ongoing and productive conversation. Students look at their instructor’s involvement for guidance and feedback, especially when they are struggling with articulating their thoughts or working with the required subject matter.

An instructor who posts well-developed and well-researched participation messages, or has provided thoughtful and meaningful discussion prompts, will add in supplemental resources and share their experience so that the topics come to life and are applicable to the real world.

Since this can be a time-consuming process, instructors need a strategy to make the process both manageable and intellectually significant for the growth and development of students. Instructors can cultivate engaging online class discussions with the use of a process I’ve called guided ANCHORS.

Developing Discussions with ANCHORS

The first step in developing ANCHORS is to Acknowledge a student’s post in some manner, whether it is their attempt to answer the discussion question or their perspective of the topic. I will begin by acknowledging the student’s name, and then highlighting something they have written, to build a conversation.

For example: “Hello Student and Class: Thank you for posting a thoughtful response. I would like to discuss the following point from your response, which helps to address the topic being studied this week.”

The next step involves Nurturing the ongoing growth and development of your students, by being supportive when responding to their posts, rather than calling them out on something they have written. You do this by building from something they have written, rather than diminish their attempt, and/or their initial idea.

For example: “You have made a very important about ___, as this reminds the class there is ___.”

The third step is to respond in a manner that prompts their Critical thinking about the subject. This can involve taking the course concepts and guiding them through the process of analysis, synthesis, and application of the material to the real world. The inclusion of questions at the end of your response is one of the most effective methods of prompting the development of critical thinking skills. This ties into the last step, as you will soon read.

For example: “You took a step and enrolled in a doctoral program. Does this give you evidence of your initial self-efficacy, based upon the definition provided, which you can continue to cultivate? Why or why not?”

The next step is to Highlight important points in the course materials and address any aspect of the readings that students are struggling with as they post their responses.

For example: “One of the topics this week is ___. The following is an important point from the assigned reading this week ___. What this excerpt tells us is that ___.”

The fifth step in the process of developing ANCHORS is to take an Organized approach to the development of instructional responses. Instructional participation posts and discussion prompts should not be reactive responses. Instead, those posts should be carefully crafted and developed in a manner that builds from what the students have stated or posted.

For example: Begin by acknowledging the student’s name and something they’ve written to build upon. Then decide how you can nurture their development, which in turn will help all students. You may use a course concept to guide them through the process of critical thinking, and then highlight important points from the course materials.  

This leads into the next step and that is the inclusion of Research and/or supplemental sources to strengthen the instructor’s responses. Up to this point, you have considered what course concepts to use, along with highlights from the course materials. Now you can think about your expertise, and the additional resources you can share. Perhaps you have written a resource that can be shared, or you have a relevant resource that will add depth to the discussion. The purpose of including additional research is to develop a substantive, or substantial, instructional response.

The last step is to create a Springboard or end with a follow-up question that will help to further the conversation. A response that simply acknowledges something the student has written, or provides professional expertise without a specific context, may not be enough to create a meaningful and ongoing discussion.

For example: “Do you believe you are in control of your own learning, based upon the processes described? Why or why not?”

Developing a Substantive Instructional Strategy

The use of ANCHORS as an instructional strategy can be done to enhance your current approach to class participation, and it can also serve as a means of critiquing what you currently post or have prepared for your facilitation of the class discussion.

To make your contributions more meaningful you may want to consider your students’ perspective of the discussions and keep in mind they are trying their best to respond and be engaged. If the subject is too difficult and there is no active instructional presence or meaningful contributions during the class, students may disengage from the discussions. Utilizing ANCHORS will help to prevent this from occurring and it is also helpful when you have a new class, a subject you have never taught before, or a topic that does not align with your professional background.

The development of substantive instructional responses takes time and practice. It also requires the development of an effective time management plan. Every message posted in an online discussion represents your level of commitment to the learning process. When you respond to your students, consider their needs and the purpose of the discussion.

Use ANCHORS to make the process of instructional participation more engaging and meaningful, which can also help you when a discussion may not be appealing or interesting from your own perspective. This process will allow you to encourage, nurture, challenge, and support your students’ progress and development. When you take the time to develop class discussions that are engaging, all students can benefit from the potential to learn more about the course subjects. It is through meaningful discourse that a group of individual students becomes a community of learners who are involved in intellectual conversations.

About Dr. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

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

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

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

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

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

       

The saying about perception becoming our reality is absolutely true and especially relevant for online students who cannot assess an instructor visually. Students rely primarily upon their perceptions to decide what the reality of an online class will be, and distance learning in general, whether or not those perceptions are completely 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 19 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: Monitor 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 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 teach traditional online classes. This means I’m assigned a new class with doctoral students each term, and I’m responsible for assisting them with their academic growth and development. I can share my experience after working directly with students for over 19 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 one-on-one weekly interactions 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 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 become a motivational teaching strategy. Demonstrating appreciation for students requires a small investment of your time; yet the results are certain to be transformative.

About Dr. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

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

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

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

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

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

       

When you think about what it takes to be an effective online instructor, you may consider how to efficiently complete the many duties required each week. This would be a normal response as the online instructor is task-driven. From a purely classroom management perspective, there are always questions to answer, papers to evaluate, discussions to be involved in, timelines to meet, and so.

Beyond the typical duties, an instructor will find themselves nurturing the developmental learning abilities of their students, and stimulate their intellectual curiosity. To be highly effective in the online environment, the instructor must have basic qualities, such as empathy and emotional intelligence. These are the qualities that are responsible for helping an instructor respond to conditions in the most appropriate manner.

Then there needs to be a quality or characteristic of an online instructor that is not dependent upon conditions, a basic human trait which can be applied to all situations. I believe that characteristic is kindness, which is an ability to have a positive disposition with all those you interact with each day. It’s a state of mind that has a direct impact on how you feel and perform, just as it does for your students when they interact with you.

It’s also directly related to another quality I recommend every instructor demonstrate for their students, and that’s showing appreciation for them. But being kind should become an automatic response to everyone encountered, no matter how nice or aggressive their initial tone may be. If this isn’t a natural state of mind for your now, it is possible to cultivate it through intentional practice.

Kindness in a World of Strong Emotions

I’ve chosen to focus on kindness as we all need a reminder from time-to-time about the importance of our basic humanity, especially when this is a time when it is so easy to experience strong emotions from events of the world around us. I have found within my online teaching practice now, more than ever, there are preconceived ideas about who I am, what I will be like, and what it will be like to work with me. This is all based upon my photo and introduction, which clearly shows my race, gives an indication of my age (likely older vs. younger), and my sexual orientation (there is a mention of my husband).

I am also sensing an immediate hesitation among certain ethnic groups to work with me, believing I will not be open-minded. Or I may be automatically viewed as “one of them” because of my race. This is very different than when I first began teaching online 19 years ago. Those who are willing to speak with me find themselves surprised that I can be very easy to talk to, get along with, and always accepting of others.

I rely upon a basic act of kindness to begin with, which I believe every person is entitled to, regardless of how strongly their initial words may be. I know the learning process can be challenging for some, and the simple act of kindness can go a long way towards helping someone overcome their frustrations and begin to listen to the advice being offered.

Is Kindness Always Reciprocated?

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

Cultivating Kindness

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

Keep an Open Mind:

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

Invest in Direct Communication:

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

Never Respond When Strong Emotions are Felt:

There will always be situations in which a student is going to send a message and use improper communication techniques. If you feel a strong emotional reaction in any manner, this is not the time to respond. You must give yourself time to find your sense of balance, so that you can approach the student in a kind and calming manner. If the student were to contact you direct, and they are extremely upset, do your best to remain calm. If you find the student will not change their tone, the best suggestion might be to ask them if you can look into the matter and respond back by a specified date.

Develop Kindness in all Communication:

There are cues you can insert into your communication to demonstrate your ability to have a kind and caring disposition. Take for instance an email you’ve received and it is addressed only to your first name. Now consider the same email and it is addressed to your first name; however, there is the word “Hello” inserted before your first name.

Can you tell the perceived difference in the tone of the two messages? The second message gives an impression the sender is starting the message in a much more open and inviting manner. The first message sounds much less personable. The same holds true for classroom posts, especially discussion posts. The manner in which you word your messages and posts creates an impression of what it might be to interact with you.

Don’t Mistake Kindness for Leniency

One of the challenges for being perceived as someone who can be easier to get along with is it can be mistaken for someone who is also lenient when it comes to due dates and missed work. What I’ve found is I can maintain a balance between a caring individual as a personality, and still be strict when it comes to upholding academic policies. I always keep in mind my students are people too, which means I recognize the fact with online students they are often non-traditional learners and have other responsibilities.

Many of my students have pressures from life beyond their classwork, and they need someone to care about how well they are doing, is able to support their growth and development, and be patient with them.If you can develop a disposition that puts students at ease, you are going to find yourself approaching your work with much more enjoyment, and they in turn will soon discover how much you care about them.

Kindness as an online teaching characteristic does not mean you have to change who you are as a person. Take time to care about every student you are able to interact with, regardless of circumstances, and watch how transformative the interactions become.

About Dr. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

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

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

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

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

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

      

A busy work week with many tasks to complete and not enough time. There are endless papers to review and discussions awaiting your participation. It’s the weekly balancing act you find yourself part of, and for most of the time you can manage it well, until the unexpected questions, demands, and emails or messages start coming in. You are able to balance the week effectively enough, until you find your time taken up by students and the end of the week rush occurs. This is when the feelings of stress really begin to take over and you have to be careful how you respond to your students.

Does this sound familiar? It’s something I’ve experienced as an online educator for many years. While I’ve learned to develop an effective time management strategy, and become proactive in meeting my responsibilities, I know all too well how it was for me at the beginning of my learning curve. Even today there are times when I have to catch myself feeling caught up in the busyness of work, and need to make certain I’m managing my disposition, as I know how it translates into my communication with students.

I’m Sorry, I Don’t Have Time

As an online educator, it is possible to view the position from the perspective of duties to be completed each week. One of the most significant duties is grading, and it is also the most time consuming. For anyone who dedicates time to crafting more than rote comments, they well understand the commitment required to craft personalized feedback, and how disruptive it may feel if someone (a student) were to interrupt the process. Yet online teaching is not just about duties, it’s about the students, and this is a motto I remind myself often.

While I utilize the process of feedback as a valuable teaching opportunity, I also know any questions or messages I receive from my students provide me with an opportunity to connect with them one-on-one. If I demonstrate anything other than a willingness to engage with them, they are less likely to care about what I have to say to them in their feedback and perhaps the course as well.

If a student asks a question and my only reply is “Go see the syllabus” or “Look it up in the textbook”, I’m essentially telling the student: “I’m sorry, I don’t have time now for you”. While you don’t need to give students every answer, you can engage them in a dialogue and build a rapport with them. That one question could be all they need to feel empowered to continue working.

Patience is a Disposition

The process of communication is generally straightforward, especially within an online class. For example, a student sends an email or message to their instructor, the instructor reads it, reacts, and responds. The reaction experienced by the instructor is immediate and framed by their disposition, which is based upon current conditions. If this instructor is in the middle of a time crunch, feeling overwhelmed, over-worked, and out of time, the reaction may or may not be the most affirming and positive.

The instructor’s response is going to depend upon a number of factors having to do with their personality and mindset maintenance. If they allow their reaction to be guided by emotions, and they felt a negative reaction, the response to the student may likely be negative. In other words, having a good intention to be responsive to students requires follow-through and conscious involvement.

You have to ask yourself: I have a message I want to communicate, what will be the most effective, appropriate, and engaging method of conveying this message to the receiver? Also, what is the appropriate medium for sending this message to the receiver, to demonstrate willingness to help them?

When Your Patience is Tested

The online classroom provides unique benefits and challenges for communication between students and their instructors. The benefits instructors have for online communication include a written record through emails and messages, which is helpful whenever disputes arise.

In addition, a classroom message or email does not demand an instantaneous reply. You always have time to respond, even if an immediate reply was requested. This provides you with an opportunity to think about, and assess thoroughly, what has been stated. You can also take time to compose yourself, should you feel any negative emotions as a result of the message.

The challenges are related to disposition of the messages sent by students. I remember 19 years ago when I began teaching online and how I thought students would be aggressive at times in their emails; however, that was no comparison to what I am reading today. There is almost feeling of empowerment, hiding behind a sense of anonymity by being in an online environment.

I know many people have attributed this to the negative influence of social media. I am not an expert in this subject; however, I will state what I’ve seen and it is a much more aggressive tone within the messages of students who believe they have not received the grade or outcome they wanted or expected. That’s when your patience becomes tested more than ever. 

Strategies to Increase Your Level of Patience 

What I am suggesting is not to change who you are as a person. Rather it is about how you respond and what you say and do as you interact with your students. For example, you may find yourself in the middle of a busy work week and you’re asked a question or sent a message that seems to disrupt the week. What you don’t want is to have this disrupt your disposition, as any stress you may be feeling will trickle down into your communication.

The following strategies can be used at any time and in any order, just as you may be challenged at any time during the week by a message or email. You never know when a student is going to demonstrate a lack of tact, not have a filter on their communication, or be aggressive. Perhaps then you’ll be prepared to better respond because of the following.

Strategy One: Choose the Right Time of Day to Respond.

I know of many educators who like myself, are plugged in and available most of the week. The challenge is knowing when to stop viewing your email inbox, and/or when to stop responding to messages received. Consider a scenario in which it is late at night, you’ve had a very long day with numerous meetings, and a student sent an aggressive message that caused a negative initial emotional reaction within you. This is obviously not the time of day to properly address it.

If you were to respond, what you write would likely be something reactive and not very thoughtful, even with the best of intentions and well-managed emotional intelligence. Always consider your energy level and emotional state of mind, which correlates to the right time of day, when choosing to respond to student messages. This will set you up for a positive response, something that demonstrates to your student you have the patience to work with them, no matter how challenging they may behave.

Strategy Two: Type, Read, Delete, Re-Write.

There are going to be times in which you may feel challenged by communication from your students. It may be a result of a student who wants attention, doesn’t know how to express their feelings appropriately, cannot ask for assistance properly, or any other number of reasons. There’s a strategy I’ve been using, and perhaps it will help you as well. It’s a way of releasing your negative reactions, in a safe and productive manner, so these feeling do not build up within you.

What I do is open up a Word document and type out the response I’d like to send. It would be my reactive response, if I could say anything I want in reply to the student. Then I read it aloud and delete the document. It is really quite freeing to get it out, as a means of dealing first with my own emotions.

Then I can go back and address the student’s message in a calm and rational manner. Even if I still have to give myself time to process the message and anything requested, at least I’ve taken care of my reactive response first, before I attempt to create an actual reply.

Strategy Three: Connect with a Colleague.

Another lesson I’ve learned through time and experience is the value in connecting with my colleagues. If I am attempting to address a challenging student, it is very likely a colleague of mine has been in this same situation, or something similar. Whether or not they have doesn’t even matter as it’s the ability connect with and share the experience that is most helpful. It’s similar to writing out the reactive reply and discarding it.

You have an ability to express what you are feeling to someone who can relate, and just as important, someone who can offer guidance as to how this situation might be best addressed. I’m fortunate to work with a manager who is someone I can speak with about student situations, while receiving guidance and support.

Strategy Four: Manage Your Self-Care.

The ability to demonstrate patience with students is a matter of maintaining a positive frame of reference. In order to do this on a consistent basis, you should think about how you are managing your self-care. If you are feeling run-down and worn out, these feelings can work against the best of your intentions. One aspect of my self-care I pay close attention to each week is ensuring I am getting enough sleep. I also allocate downtime during the week, to unplug from technology and prepare for the next day. Even if you allocate just a few minutes downtime, it does help your state of mind.

The strategies you choose will help you feel renewed, and it will also ensure your disposition is well-maintained. Whatever your state of mind may be at the time of your communication, it will be reflected within your communication. With online communication it will be experienced through a perceived tone. Without realizing it, you are selecting words based upon your current mood or state of mind.

That’s the challenge of communicating without seeing students face-to-face, and why you should be concerned about how you feel while you are involved in the process. This is not to state you have to be perfect, just prepared for the best and possibly worst forms of communication from your students.

You Do Have Time to Help Students Persist

As an educator you may not think about your ability to be patient with students, and yet, it plays such a critical role in how they perceive your involvement with them in the class. I remember what it was like to be an online student, and how it felt when an instructor waited days to answer, barely answered, or didn’t seem to care. I take the opposite approach. When students send a message, I see it as an opportunity to encourage their growth and development.

I always have time to help students as they are my first priority. All other tasks will be completed after students have been assisted. In a student-centered classroom, students persist when an instructor is available, responsive, and willing to spend time listening, teaching, and guiding students. Maintain your self-care and you will have a disposition which reflects the good intention you’ve established to patiently assist your students. As a result of your positive attitude, students will likely become more engaged in the course, receptive to your feedback, and willing to listen to you.

About Dr. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

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

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

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

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

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

       

When you are assigned a class and students arrive, do you view yourself as a teacher, instructor, or educator? Is your role a function, one which completes tasks and responsibilities, or do you aspire to accomplish more with your students? Do you consider the instructional strategies you use now to be transformative in some manner, or would you like to somehow transform the students you teach?

A person enters the field of education as a profession, either full-time in a traditional academic institution or as an adjunct (or part time) instructor. A traditional full-time professor may likely be responsible for conducting research, teaching, and publishing scholarly work. An adjunct instructor may teach in a community college, traditional college, or an online school. When someone teaches students within the field of higher education, he or she may be called a facilitator, instructor, or professor. However, you likely won’t find a job title with the word educator in it.

Does this mean that everyone who is a teacher, professor, instructor, faculty member, or adjunct, is also an educator? What I have learned through my work in higher education is that everyone who is in one of these roles is doing their best to teach and guide a learning process, whether they are involved in undergraduate or graduate degree courses. However, someone who considers themselves to be an educator is a person who goes beyond the role of teaching and seeks to lead a transformational learning process. I have learned myself that becoming an educator is not an automatic process. It takes time, practice, and dedication to become an engaging and transformative educator.

A Basic Definition of a Teacher

Teaching is generally associated with traditional, primary education. Classes at this level are teacher-led and children as students are taught what and how to learn. The teacher is the expert and directs the learning process. A teacher is someone highly trained and works to engage the minds of his or her students. This style of teacher-led instruction continues into higher education, specifically traditional college classrooms. The teacher still stands at the front and center of the class delivering information, and students are used to this format because of their experience in primary education. The instructor disseminates knowledge through a lecture, and students will study to pass the required examinations or complete other required learning activities.

Within higher education, teachers may be called instructors and they are hired as subject matter experts with advanced content or subject matter expertise. The job requirements usually include holding a specific number of degree hours in the subject being taught. Teachers may also be called professors in traditional universities, and those positions require a terminal degree with additional research requirements. For all of these roles, teaching is meant to signify someone who is guiding the learning process by directing, telling, and instructing students. The instructor or professor is in charge, and the students must comply and follow as directed.

Here is something to consider: If this is the essence of teaching, is there a difference between teaching and educating students? Is the role of a teacher the same as that of an educator?

Basic Definitions of an Educator

I would like for you to consider some basic definitions to begin with as a means of understanding the role of an educator. The word “education” refers to giving instruction; “educator” refers to the person who provides instruction and is someone skilled in teaching; and “teaching” is aligned with providing explanations. I have expanded upon these definitions so the word “educator” includes someone who is skilled with instruction, possesses highly developed academic skills, and holds both subject matter knowledge, along with knowledge of adult education principles.

• Skilled with Instruction: An educator is someone who should be skilled in the art of classroom instruction, knowing what instructional strategies are effective and the areas of facilitation that need further development.

An experienced educator develops methods which will bring course materials to life by adding relevant context and prompting students to learn through class discussions and other learning activities. Instruction also includes all of the interactions held with students, including all forms of communication, as every interaction provides an opportunity for teaching.

• Highly Developed Academic Skills: An educator must also have strong academic skills and at the top of that list are writing skills. This requires strong attention to detail on the part of the educator must include all forms of messages communicated. The ability to demonstrate strong academic skills is especially important for anyone who is teaching online classes as words represent the instructor.

The use of proper formatting guidelines, according to the style prescribed by the school, is also included in the list of critical academic skills. For example, many schools have implemented APA formatting guidelines as the standard for formatting papers and working with sources. An educator cannot adequately guide students and provide meaningful feedback if the writing style has not been mastered.

• Strong Knowledge Base: An educator needs to develop a knowledge base consisting of their subject matter expertise, as related to the course or courses they are teaching, along with knowledge of adult education principles. I know of many educators who have the required credit hours on their degree transcripts, yet they may not have extensive experience in the field they teach. This will still allow them to teach the course, provided they take time to read the required textbook or materials, and find methods of applying it to current practices within the field.

Many schools hire adjuncts with work experience as the primary criteria, rather than knowledge of adult learning principles. When I have worked with faculty who do have studied adult education theory, they generally acquired it through ongoing professional development. That was my goal when I decided on a major for my doctorate degree, to understand how adults learn so I could transform my role and become an educator.

4 Strategies to Become a Transformative Educator

I do not believe many instructors intentionally consider the need to make a transformation from working as an instructor to functioning as an educator. When someone is hired to teach a class, someone other than a traditional college professor, they often learn through practice and time what works well in the classroom. There will likely be classroom audits and recommendations made for ongoing professional development.

Gradually the typical instructor will become an educator as they seek out resources to help improve their teaching practices. However, I have worked with many adjunct online instructors who rely upon their subject matter expertise alone and do not believe there is a reason to grow as an educator. For anyone who would like to become an engaging and transformative educator, there are strategies which can be can be implemented.

Strategy #1: Transform Through Development of Your Instructional Practice

While any educator can learn through time on the job, it is possible to become intentional about this growth. There are numerous online resources, publications, workshops, webinars, and professional groups which will allow you to learn new methods, strategies, and practices. There are also social media websites such as LinkedIn and Twitter which allow for the exchange of ideas and resources within a global community of educators.

You can also utilize self-reflection as a means of gauging your effectiveness. I have found that the best time to review my instructional practice occurs immediately after a class has concluded. That is a time when I can assess the strategies I have used and determine if those methods were effective. Even reviewing end of course student surveys may provide insight into the perspective of my students, whether or not every survey submitted was positive. Students tend to submit a survey response either when they are happy or greatly unhappy about the course. Either way, I can learn something about what my students have experienced during the class.

Strategy #2: Transform Through Development of Your Academic Skills

I know from my work with online faculty development this is an area of development many educators could use. However, it is often viewed as a low priority until it is noted in classroom audits. If an educator has weak academic writing skills, it will interfere with their ability to provide comprehensive feedback for students.

For online instructors, this has an even greater impact when posted messages contain errors with spelling, grammar, and formatting. The development of academic skills can be done through the use of online resources or workshops. Many online schools I have worked for offer faculty workshops and this is a valuable self-development resource.

Strategy #3: Transform Through Development of Your Subject Matter Expertise

Every educator has subject matter expertise they can draw upon. However, the challenge is keeping this knowledge current as you continue to teach for several years. The best advice I can offer is find resources which allow you to read and learn about current thinking, research, and best practices in your chosen field.

This is essential to your instructional practice as students can easily tell whether you appear to be current in your knowledge, or outdated and seemingly out of touch. Even the use of required textbooks or resources does not ensure that you are utilizing the most current information as knowledge evolves quickly in many fields.

Strategy #4: Transform Through Development of Your Knowledge of Adult Learning

The last step or strategy I can recommend is to gain knowledge about adult learning theories, principles, and practices. If you are not familiar with the basics there are concepts you can research and includes critical thinking, andragogy, self-directed learning, transformational learning, learning styles, motivation, and cognition.

My suggestion is to find and read online sources related to higher education and then find a subject that interests you to research further. I have found the more I read about topics I enjoy, the more I am cultivating my interest in ongoing professional development. What you will likely find is what you learn will have a positive influence on your work as an educator and this will enhance all areas of your instructional practice.

What Can Be of Benefit: Develop a Vision and Teaching Goals

Working as an educator, or someone who is highly engaged in the process of helping students learn, starts with a commitment to make this a career rather than a job. I have developed a vision related to how I want to be involved in each class I teach and I recommend the same strategy for you. You may find it useful to develop teaching goals for your career and link your classroom performance to those goals. For example, do you want to complete the required facilitation tasks, or would you rather put in the additional time necessary to create nurturing class conditions?

After developing a vision and teaching goals, you can create a professional development plan to prompt your learning and growth in all of the areas I have addressed above. While this strategy may require an investment of time, it is helpful to remember that we always make time for whatever we believe is most important.

Being an educator is not sustaining a focus on job functions, rather it is cultivating a love of what you do and learning how to excel for the benefit of your students. Becoming an engaging and transformative educator occurs when you decide teaching students is only part of the learning process, and you work to transform who you are and how you function, while working and interacting with your students.

When you transform your teaching or faculty role and become an educator, regardless of your job title, you also transform the learning experience of your students. You provide for them the critical element necessary for real learning to occur, substantive instructor involvement and engagement. More importantly, you humanize the learning experience and you can help to nurture their developmental needs. Students will leave your class transformed in some manner, having learned something they can apply to their academic pursuits, life, and/or career. You will be transformed and so will your students.

About Dr. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

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

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

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

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

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

       

What would you say about yourself if you were asked to explain your teaching philosophy as an educator? Do you have a guiding mission statement for your instructional practice?

You may be surprised with the number of educators who either do not have a teaching philosophy or cannot clearly and concisely articulate (without the use of clichés or generalizations about teaching) what their beliefs may be about learning and teaching. When I have been responsible for interviewing faculty for online teaching positions, many candidates I spoke with had not developed a clearly defined philosophy statement or never thought it was needed for their career. While it did not automatically disqualify them from a teaching position, it does not help them provide a true representation of what they believe about their career and teaching practice.

Every educator needs to develop a teaching philosophy statement. This is a summary which allows someone else (especially a recruiter or someone responsible for hiring new faculty) to develop insight into their teaching and instructional strategies, methods, and practices. I’ve seen two different approaches used for educators who have a well-defined statement; one which is researched-based and one that is personal and written in the first person.

If you are pursuing a new position, my recommendation is you chose the latter approach, a personally written statement, and present an overview which represents you as an educator. In higher education, many teaching positions require a mandatory statement as part of the screening process. What follows is a condensed version of philosophy statement I have used, to help you get started, or review what you have already developed. It may also help you further define your personal and professional mission statement with regards to education and teaching adults.

Step One: Conceptualization of Learning

There is a five-part approach that was developed by Nancy Chism, a former Director of Faculty and TA Development at the Ohio State University, which is very helpful for educators. The first part is titled Conceptualization of Learning and it is meant for an educator to describe what they believe about learning based upon their knowledge, expertise, education, and experience.

The following is an excerpt from my Teaching Philosophy Statement:

Since my primary work is focused on distance learning, my view of learning is concerned with how students learn in a virtual environment. For online learning, it is my belief the basic principles of adult education do not change. However, the format of learning has changed and this is the reason why new and updated instructional strategies must be implemented. In a virtual classroom, the process of learning involves the acquisition of knowledge and the development of new skills. For knowledge to be acquired and retained in long-term memory, students must have an opportunity to apply what they are studying and be given a context for learning which is relevant to their lives and/or careers. The same can be stated for the development of new skills; learning occurs when students are given an opportunity to practice what they are being instructed to learn.

In an online classroom, as with any classroom environment, learning is not a one-time event. Learning also does not occur because an online course shell has been created, an instructor has been assigned to teach the course, and students are enrolled in the class. Learning occurs as a result of students receiving and reading materials, processing information received in a manner which prompts advanced cognitive skills, and then is applied to and connected with existing ideas, knowledge, and real-world scenarios so it is retained in long-term memory. The learning process does not stop there as that new knowledge must be recalled later if it is to continue to be retained. This means students will learn only if the subject and course topics are presented in a meaningful manner, one which requires them to do more than memorize concepts and information.

Step Two: Conceptualization of Teaching

The next section of a well-defined philosophy statement is a personal narrative about what it means to teach, the Conceptualization of Teaching. For me, it is a perspective about learning in a technologically-enabled classroom.

The following is an excerpt from my Teaching Philosophy Statement:

There are phrases used to distinguish traditional classroom teaching from online teaching and includes “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side”. I prefer to view online teaching from another perspective. I’ve read three primary words used to describe the role of the online educator and it includes instructor, facilitator, and teacher. I believe an online educator must know how to instruct or implement instructional strategies as a function of classroom management.

An online educator must also know how to facilitate a learning process and teach the subject matter through his or her expertise and experience. Within the online classroom an educator must work to see students individually and with unique developmental needs. They must be responsive to their students, available, and easily accessible. They can teach, guide, and mentor students with every interaction, classroom post, and all communication with students.

Step Three: Goals for Students

The section that follows needs to be a personal perspective about the goals or expectations an instructor holds for their students, titled Goals for Students.

The following is an excerpt from my Teaching Philosophy Statement:

For many online schools, the classes have been developed by someone other than the instructor who is assigned to teach the course. This doesn’t mean an instructor cannot have their own expectations of students, even if they are unable to alter or make additions to the course syllabus. An online educator can state their expectations in classroom announcements and/or through the feedback provided to students. What I expect students to do, and I support their attempts to do so, is to accomplish more than report what they have read.

I want them to work with the course topics, conduct research when needed, investigate subjects of interest them, and when it comes to posting a discussion message or submitting a written assignment, I want them to demonstrate critical thinking. What this means is they do more than state a general opinion or belief and instead, they write a well-researched statement or position about the topic. I encourage students to comprehend what they have read, analyze the information, and then apply it in some manner to their personal or professional lives. I show students I value their ideas, solutions, proposals, and analyses.

Step Four: Implementation of the Philosophy

This next section provides an overview of how the philosophy is put into practice and it shares insight into an educator’s instructional practice, titled Implementation of the Philosophy.

The following is an excerpt from my Teaching Philosophy Statement:

My philosophy of online teaching has been influenced by my work as an online student, educator, and academic leader; and it continually evolves through my interactions with students and other educators. While I may not be able to be involved in the process of developing every course I’m teaching, I can develop instructional practices which influence how students learn. For example, when I am involved in online discussions, I will acknowledge something the student has written, build upon it through my own expertise and experience, and then ask a follow up question which helps to continue to move the conversation forward. When I provide feedback, I see it as an opportunity to teach students and I’ll use the same approach as my discussion posts by implementing Socratic questioning techniques. I want to prompt their intellectual curiosity and encourage them to learn.

With most online classes I have a brief period of time to connect with students and my approach is to try to build connections and nurture productive working relationships. I am aware of the tone of my messages, especially since words represent me as a person and educator in an online classroom. I also demonstrate empathy for those students who have low motivation and may be academically under-prepared. When I observe students, who are struggling or disengaging from the class, I’ll perform outreach attempts to try to help engage them back into the course and address their developmental needs. With every student, I acknowledge their efforts and encourage their continued progress, while always being readily available and easily accessible.

Step Five: Professional Growth Plan

The last component of a well-developed philosophy statement is an overview of how an educator plans to continue their own professional development, titled Professional Growth Plan. Many schools have a professional development requirement and this statement can demonstrate a willingness to continue to learn.

The following is an excerpt from my Teaching Philosophy Statement:

I consider myself to be a lifelong learner and understand my learning did not stop once I completed my last formal degree. I continue to learn through my work with online faculty development as the discourse I have with other faculty allows me to gain new perspectives about learning and teaching. I also continue to research the field I am actively involved in, which is distance learning, along with other topics of interest which include critical thinking, curriculum development, and adult learning or andragogy. I am also a writer and I have authored numerous articles, eBooks, and blog posts based upon my work and research, as a means of making my knowledge contribution to the fields of higher education, adult education, distance learning, and online teaching. 

My work with curriculum development projects has also allowed me to grow professionally, through the growth of my knowledge and skills. As a Modern Educator, I have developed a substantial following on social media, as a means of sharing resources and contributing ideas to an international pool of educators. Finally, I continue to work to as a scholar practitioner. The two milestones reached to date include publishing a journal article and presenting my research at an international conference for distance learning. Overall, I have a potential to continue to grow and learn, building from my strengths and working to strengthen my teaching practice, while also continuing to grow as an academic leader. This teaching philosophy is a personal representation of who I am as an educator.

What is Your Philosophy?

Whether or not you have developed a clear position about learning and teaching for your chosen field, now is the time to consider what you believe and the strategies you use, even if you are not seeking another position. Establishing a well-formed statement allows you to reflect upon your current practice and it will help you identify what is working well and areas that you can develop further. Every educator has a potential to continue to grow and learn, and developing a clear understanding of your beliefs and progress now will allow you to build from your strengths and bolster your instructional practice. A teaching philosophy is a personal representation of who you are as an educator, and something you can use to create professional developmental plans.

About Dr. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

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

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

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

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

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

       

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

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

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

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

Growth of the Non-Traditional Student

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

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

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

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

The Role of an Educator

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

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

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

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

Advisors and Mentors

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

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

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

Discover The Top 5 Strategies That Support Student Success 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will You Invest the Time Necessary?

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

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

About Dr. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. J offers transformative resources

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

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