Nurturing Student Success by Checking In

Don’t be afraid to ask students how they are doing – you might be the only one who does


teacher student

Faculty want students to succeed in our classes. But not every student knows or believes that. Many see us as mysterious gatekeepers, blocking them from their chosen path. So how can faculty encourage student success and break through their fear of us?

First, be truthful. If your particular class is a gatekeeping class, admit it early on. But don’t stop there. Tell them that you still want each to succeed. Show them you mean it through your actions, rather than just your words.

Let students know you know they missed a class. Not in a punitive or a “detective-like” way, but maybe write a quick e-mail that says, “I noticed you were gone today. Hope nothing serious is wrong. See you soon.” It shows that you care – about that one student – and that you want the student to succeed.

Stop and talk with your students, early and often. Pick a couple of students every day and chat before class (this is an excellent way to learn names, by the way!). Ask if there’s a concept or theory or homework problem that is troubling them or how a reading was for them, etc. Don’t ask them to become a spokesperson for the entire class – just ask how it was for that one student. And then, listen. Focus on that one student completely while you’re talking together.

If a student seems troubled, talk. You just may be the only person to actually ask that student if he or she is okay. We notice when a student is excessively exhausted constantly, or when a student’s clothing becomes increasingly disheveled, or when personal hygiene seems to be breaking down. Don’t ignore that student – it’s easy to do, but we have to do better than that.

If a student returns after having a family emergency, reach out to that student. Not just with a comment like, “Well you missed three assignments that can’t be made up,” but reach out, person to person. “Are you doing okay?” or “How is today going?” – statements like that can mean so much to students. Yes, some will want to open up to you, maybe even a lot, in response. Listen. Help the student to strategize finding other campus resources if needed, like the Counseling Center or a campus ministry if the student is religious. For students with a death in the family, I’ll give them a sympathy card.

But follow up on these conversations; see if the student actually went maybe a week later. There are ways to ask without being too intrusive.

As a sociologist, trained in noticing social patterns, I notice where people sit in my classroom. If late in the semester, some student suddenly moves, that might mean a falling-out with classmates or personal stressors at work and I will talk with that student.

For students who aren’t completing assignments, I’ll try to contact them early and often. I or a graduate assistant will write any student who misses 2 quizzes or 2 days of clicker questions (each would be the equivalent of one week of class). We’ll ask if the student is having issues with technology and offer to help sort through the confusions. Students who fail a test also get a personal email from me, inviting them to drop by during office hours, etc.

But there’s one predicament with using technology to connect with students who are struggling in class. And that’s that many of these students are struggling because they are not logging onto the learning management system (and so are not seeing my emails to them in the LMS), etc. Luckily most LMS allow faculty to track students’ usage, so in some (rare) cases, I’ll switch over to sending an email to the campus email system instead. The problem is – students often receive upwards of 100 emails per day there, from every campus group advertising its activities, and my email could easily be overlooked.

How do you check in with your students? Share some of your pedagogical strategies in the comments.

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