Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Building Relationships

Recently Sally Heilstedt, Associate Dean of Instruction, Engagement and Learning at Lake Washington Institute of Technology finished a 5-part series on Impacting Students for a Lifetime. Sally uses the lens of “The 4 Connections” first introduced to her at an Achieving the Dream kick-off event by Don Wood at Odessa College in Odessa, TX. Don described the impact of the in-class retention rate when their faculty used what they called the “Drop Rate Improvement Plan.”

I like sharing these simple steps with new faculty to help them build connections with students, and they are in fact pretty simple steps. In addition to the 4- Connections, instructor presence is known to help with student retention. Stephanie Delaney, Dean for Academic Programs at South Seattle College, wrote about instructor presence in a recent article that appeared in Faculty Focus:

“Instructor presence increases student retention because students are more likely to stay in class if they feel their instructor cares about them. By being present, the instructor can pull students together, encouraging cooperation and collaboration. Additionally, if things start to go off the rails and a student begins to have problems, an instructor who is present can address those problems immediately.”

Research tells us that teachers make a huge difference in student success and retention. But what do we do to promote teacher success and retention?

A recent conversation on the POD network (Professional and Developmental Organization Development in Higher Education) started when a contributor wondered what we as professional developers can do to help struggling faculty. Recognizing that there are different reasons faculty struggle (factors both inside and outside of work that impact work/life balance, a heavy workload (think teaching all new classes in a quarter), difficult students/classroom management issues, demands of the department and/or division), what can we do to support them?

One respondent said, “I have seen (over and over) that the relationships we build in the classroom, boardroom, faculty work room and beyond remain a critical component to student success—as well as faculty success.” Mentoring is an important part of this, and not necessarily the formal mentoring where you are paired with a person for a stated length of time with a certain number of required meetings.

Think about the hallway conversations you’ve had with a colleague that helped you work through an issue. Can you be available to someone else who needs a sympathetic ear?

Focusing on faculty success, what do you believe are the most important things we can do to support not just new but veteran faculty who are experiencing a difficult quarter?

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