Written by Kathleen Reynolds, English as a Second Language

I’ve always been interested in how appropriate, positive relationships with students create optimal learning conditions. Sometimes, and for some people, those connections come naturally or easily. But in Pascuala Herrera’s GEC “Creating an Accessible Learning Environment” in Fall 2017, I started really thinking about the specific strategies instructors can use to build a classroom community.  It requires strong communication skills with students, especially in difficult situations. Pascuala and I started the “Relating to Students: Making Connections” Community of Practice to develop those strategies and share them with other faculty. Pascuala and I are very similar, I think, in how we interact with students, but part of what has been great about CoP is learning how the other faculty in our group, Tong Cheng (Biology), Gerardo Cruz (World Languages/Spanish), Michele DeCanio (Student Development), and Mary Gawienowski (ESL/Linguistics), approach challenging situations in completely different ways.

Our CoP did a session during Orientation Week titled “From Boundaries to Self-Care” with the idea that self-reflection for faculty was a good starting point. Now, we are planning to move into talking about specific strategies for building classroom community and communicating with students during difficult situations. Pascuala already taught me a useful strategy to begin those hard conversations with students: “I’ve noticed that…” (you’ve been absent, you haven’t done any of the work for the class, or fill in the blank). The idea is that you name the specific behavior or problem without speculating on the reason or assigning blame. I think there are many other specific, useful strategies for communication.  I look forward to learning about them and sharing what we learn with faculty and other staff who interact with students.

The video below, from the “We Are Harper” campaign, contains more of Kathleen’s thoughts on supporting students.

In Fall 2018, Harper College rolled out a new messaging campaign: “We Are Harper.” This campaign features the many faces of Harper College including students, faculty, staff, partner businesses and our community. The theme communicates the value and relevance of Harper, as the community’s college, which is defined by the people it serves and the people who serve here. Each person or partner is part of Harper College—a community of doers, creators, contributors and more. With this new campaign, we commit ourselves to being one with our community.