The reality in the highly competitive life of today's postsecondary institutions is that professors not only have some obligation to motivate students to continue in their pursuit of higher education but also, to some degree, to "sell" their programs such that their reputations serve as effective recruiting tools. This may not exactly be what you signed up for when you became a professor, however it is a reality.
Besides being well prepared for your classes and conducting efficient and interesting lessons, you can foster positive reactions from your students through good interpersonal communications. There are several guidelines you can follow:
- Listen to your students – free of preconceptions – at least as much time as you are speaking to them. Students want to communicate; give them the opportunity to do so. It's a back-and-forth process.
- Perception is important. Choose your words carefully to be respectful of social and cultural differences in your classroom. Depending on your background, this could be easy or it could be difficult. The main idea to keep in mind is to be mindful and respectful.
- Both praise and criticism of an individual student's work are best given privately. Excessive praise in front of the class can be as devastating to the student as excessive criticism – either can be embarrassing or draw undue attention to the individual. However, written praise or criticism can be personal and helpful, particularly when the comments are constructive.
- Avoid arguing with your students. Students frequently like to engage in arguments with you or their fellow students and in doing so, can push you to the point of exasperation (believe me, I know!). Arguing in front of the class rarely works; although you may win the verbal battle, absolutely you will lose the battle for control. If there is disagreement, encourage the student to stay after class or come to your office to continue the dialogue. Both in class and in private, control your emotions. Note: Discussing varying points of view is to be encouraged at colleges and universities, and it is not this sort of civil (albeit spirited) discourse I'm suggesting that you avoid.
An especially effective tool for thinking about your communications with students (and others) is transactional analysis (Stewart and Joines, 1987). Developed by psychotherapist Eric Berne (1964), this theory posits that each of us has developed three ego states that determine the communications patterns we regularly employ.
- The first ego state is that of "child." It is a wholly emotional state characterized by self-absorption and dependence on others for need satisfaction, and is often easily observed when the person in this state is either pouting or being rebellious. Language is very I centered: "I want," "give me," "I expect," "I need.
- The second ego state is that of "parent." This is also an emotional state, one characterized by either judicialal or nurturing language, such as: "You made me very proud," "You make me angry," "You can not seem to do anything right," "You demand a lot of attention, "" You will not graduate if you do not start applying yourself. " Note that the parental ego state uses you language.
- The third ego state is that of "adult." This is an objective, analytical ego state that emphasizes higher-order and critical-thinking language: "Let's analyze what we have said here and determine where we are," "We have been very creative in our thinking, let's examine our thoughts, "We have been doing a lot of evaluating here – can we look again at our criteria and see if we are applying them equally and fairly?" Language in this state is frequently we language and indications the equality of the people involved in the transaction.
Only one ego state predominates in an individual at a given time. However, all three may come into play during any single class session given the range of individuals in the class. The effective professor will seek to elevate interaction to adult ego states and to keep the class dialogue objective and collaborative. Enjoying a resurgence of popularity among those in the helping professions, transactional analysis is a practical tool that can help you cope in your classroom with the variety of challenges students will pose.
Enjoy the communications you have with your students – and let them find you enjoyable, as well! It's part of being a strategic faculty member.