Supporting students takes faculty grit and perseverance

picture of marathon runners coming out of tunnelSimilar to major athletic events, the closer we are to semester end, #finalsweekstress levels are evident.  Gone is the back to school game face, replaced by the disheveled look of late-night studying or suited up final presentation look.  Look past the exterior sweat or smart suit–The pressure’s on, and who’s going to make it through?

I think that depends a lot on how faculty approach the end-of-semester finish line.

Each semester, I tell myself I’ll do it differently.  I’ll have my grades in early; I’ll give my feedback well in advance; my course will be a well-organized machine and I won’t need any Hail Mary’s.  My students won’t need any, either.  Obviously an endorphin-related fantasy.

THANK YOU, parking services for NOT ticketing me at 11:53am today as I parked badly and sprinted to submit my last student’s grade by noon…

Am I enabling when I allow students to re-do and submit work up until the last minute, creating a last-minute crunch time for myself in order to post grades minutes before I make the bad list?

I don’t think so.  I do think there are times for final, absolute deadlines where people need to figure out how to get it done on their own.  I don’t want my doctor to have to Google something, for example.  But…most college classes simply don’t fit that mold.  Many deadlines and high stakes tests are only a matter of institutional convenience.

If we expect our students to persevere and show grit, what does that look like for us?

Having taught elementary school, k-12 teachers, undergraduate, graduate, and faculty courses, I’ve observed (and used) a few strategies faculty employ that work for supporting students.  They take persistence and grit on the part of the faculty, and look remarkably like strategies used by my coaches in years past.

  1. “Run through the finish line!”  Especially as students get tired and stressed towards the end of the semester, always focusing on the next step you want them to take–not just succeeding on any assessment as end game (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2017).
    • I deliberately phrase feedback in terms of, “when you are teaching in your future class…”
  2. “Just do it!”  Showing up is half the battle, and the more students worry about having to be perfect the more they are afraid to even try.  Letting students know we value showing up and miss them when they aren’t there is critical.
    • When students don’t show or miss assignments, I give a 0, along with the statement, “I noticed you didn’t…how can I help you succeed?  Please call me (xxx-xxx-xxxx) or email me and let me know.”  Students respond to concern.
  3. “Focus on this, not that!”    Describing exactly what students need to do in order to succeed (pass) is critical as stress increases (Hattie, J., & Timperley, H., 2007).  We are the expert, the student is the novice.  In the final weeks of any class, there are often multiple points outstanding or that can be redone (competing with other classes, work, family).
    • Which assignments should students spend their time and attention on to benefit themselves later in that area as well as point-wise in order to pass?  Telling them specifically where to spend time to make sure they pass or get a desired grade is critical.
  4. “I’m here for you.”  This is the number one strategy faculty can use to support student success.  Are we there, leading by example, in what perseverance and grit means in our discipline area?  If students are expected to stay up all night to get something done well, are we also staying up all night if that’s what it takes to give sufficient feedback and reteaching opportunities for our students to succeed? Or are we telling them to go walk the plank?
    • Communicating timelines for when students submit assignments, when there are institutional deadlines, and when you will be sharing feedback and/or available to answer questions is critical to student success.
  5. crowd cheering at the olympics“You’re almost there! You can do it!”  Watch any event, and cheering gets more positive and intense at the end, book-ending the excited energy from the start of the race.  The coaches and crowd know they’re needed to support their athlete through the final push when the only thing left is mind over body stubbornness to finish.
    •  Communicating positive and frequent feedback for students’ final academic efforts is essential (Reynolds, L., 2018).  After all, this is their first time running this particular academic race all the way through.

If you are reading this, chances are good you had a teacher, coach, or faculty member who also stayed up late, woke up early, and ran extra miles to make sure you succeeded.  Who wondered, how can I help (your name) understand?  How can I help (your name)  prioritize?

Less than two weeks to go for this semester.  What can/will you do so your students know you are there every step of the way making sure they go BEYOND your class?

Written in honor of my incredible and dedicated students of Section 08, EDT370, Wi19.  Against all odds you guys did it…  even 100% attendance on Good Friday night, when all major assignments were already done!  Your effort is well worth a potential parking ticket!

References:

Teaching:  Helping Students Persist (2017).  The Chronicle of Higher Education, accessed on April 24, 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Helping-Students-Persist/241256 .

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112. https://doi.org/10.3102/003465430298487

Reynolds, Laura (2018).  20 ways to provide effective feedback, https://teachthought.com, accessed on April 24, 2019, https://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/20-ways-to-provide-effective-feedback-for-learning/.

 

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