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Success Looks Different for Every StudentJennifer Sullivan
Learning is a partnership, and one of the essential partnerships in college is that between student and professor.
As a professor, I want students to understand that we are so much more than information dispensing machines. We build relationships with our students. We share our knowledge, but we also listen to students’ aspirations and dreams. We share our own life experiences, we help students to explore their interests and to network, we help those who are struggling, and we write recommendations as they move on to whatever is next.
True learning takes place within the relationship that exists between professor and student.
As we navigate our lives through COVID times, establishing connections can be more difficult than ever. We’ve lost those casual encounters and opportunities to get to know each other through the small exchanges that take place every day. We're either trying to connect through small squares on a screen or trying to read each other’s expressions behind masks and at a distance.
Whether we're teaching and learning in the classroom or remotely, connecting is tough.
While we have lost many of our casual exchanges, our communication with each other now has the potential be more intentional. Because we have to work harder to connect, we have time to be more thoughtful in our conversations. We may find it easier to meet because we can do it from our home or office. We may be more accessible to each other as we are less overwhelmed by meetings, activities and other distractions.
We need to take advantage of these new opportunities and ways to connect.
Sometimes the hardest part of building a relationship is getting started. Getting to know your professor is no different. Connecting with professors may take more initiative right now and students may need to be more proactive.
Professors need to work at reaching out as well, but it can be difficult for us to know which students want or need more connection. We need help.
Getting started may not come naturally for all students, so parents can share some strategies. These work whether students are in person or online.
Once your student has made initial connections, there are ways to maintain a positive relationship throughout the semester.
It’s important to reach out to your professor when you need help or advice. But before you shoot off an email with a question about an assignment, make sure you’ve actually read that assignment. Don’t let your question reveal that you haven’t taken time to read what your professor so carefully crafted and posted. be sure your communication is meaningful rather than a substitute for doing your part.
This should go without saying, but it’s not always easy for students to define. What might respect look like to a professor?
If you're asking for an appointment, share what you’d like to talk about and when you're available. If you need help with an assignment, let them know which assignment and what the problem is. If you have an issue with a grade, say which grade and why you want to talk about it.
If you’d just like to chat and give them the opportunity to get to know you, say so.
Read it out loud to catch things that could be misunderstood. This is especially important if you're writing when you are upset.
Wait to send your email until you cool down, then reread it. If it contains anything that you wouldn’t say to the professor in person, reconsider.
These small, everyday actions help the professor remember you — for the right reasons.
If you or a family member are sick, there’s an emergency, or something else is going on that will impact your ability to do your work, let your professor know. Don’t just disappear or stop doing what you need to do.
Your professor may not be able to do anything about exams, assignment deadlines or attendance policies, but they'll appreciate knowing what is happening in your life.
Your professor may not be sitting at the computer waiting to answer your email the instant it arrives. A good rule of thumb is to expect a response in 24 hours.
And if you receive anything from your professor, respond within that same 24 hour timeframe.
We all have unique personalities, lives to deal with, responsibilities to juggle, emotions, problems. This humanity is the essence of our connection — whether it happens in the classroom or online. Be honest, be patient, be kind.
All of our relationships are different. But the connections that we make are perhaps even more crucial than ever. We need each other.
Parents, talk to your student about the importance of making connections and how to maintain them. Encourage them to reach out, to use every tool available, and to foster the relationships that will help them succeed and thrive.
It’s time to celebrate with the perfect gift for your new grad!