Written by Stephanie Whalen, Chair, Academy for Teaching Excellence & Associate Professor, English and Interdisciplinary Studies

During the 2018-2019 school year, the Academy staff will continue to work with faculty to offer programming and services to enhance teaching and learning across campus with a focus on helping students successfully complete courses to advance in their education plans.

As we enter into a new semester, we may want to consider research exploring the relationship between empathy and success from Dr. Katherine R. Rowell of Sinclair College. According to Rowell, students’ perceptions of their relationship with faculty and belonging in the class are key factors that influence students’ engagement and level of success in learning. Students are coming to us with more anxiety, stress, and challenges than ever and will need substantial support and empathy to make progress. Planning for ways to get to know students’ needs and provide multiple supports and opportunities for success will create an experience that can help students thrive in your class and lead to improved overall well-being and life outcomes.

An effective way to help students navigate contextual barriers is to create a classroom climate in which they feel comfortable in conveying any difficulties they are having to their instructor. With that information, faculty can help students find appropriate ways to ask for help and access resources; this coaching that instructors provide will increase their resilience when issues arise in other courses as well. Getting to know students’ individual and group contexts is essential, but they also want to hear about the difficulties your overcame in your educational pursuits. Showing that we all struggle and giving chances to recover demonstrate your compassion. Some faculty feel that this type of responsiveness to students’ struggles such as allowing students to re-do work, re-take exams, or get an extension does not prepare students for the real world or teach them to be responsible, but these experiences show students how to keep working to overcome obstacles rather than giving up. Other ways of showing empathy might include warm language in your syllabi, reminder announcements, formative feedback, and encouraging communications. Empathy allows us to seek ways to help students reach standards so that they still gain the skills and knowledge needed to be successful and learn to keep going despite frustrations.

The art of teaching requires compassion and care for the students combined with insight and knowledge for how to help them learn. Strategically planning multiple ways to provide a supportive context will improve success rates. Even when students are unable to achieve the outcomes of the course, they will remember that you cared about them and promoted a growth-intelligence mindset that can keep them going. Enrollment may be down and promising to be stagnant for the near future, but with an intense focus on helping the students we have, we can increase retention, thereby mitigating our enrollment loss. Modeling empathy to our students also contributes to a more supportive and nurturing cultural context. When life gets more complicated and difficult situations arise, your students will be the ones who exhibit resilience and can help themselves and extend help to others.

Get started with some professional development opportunities this week:

Tuesday, August 14

  • Contemplative Pedagogies as Universal Design – Teaching to Reach the Oppressed, the Anxious and the Introverted (A Dialogue), 3 p.m., F315
  • DREAM, SAFE @ Harper, and LAND: Meet & Greet, 3 p.m., D190

Thursday, August 16

  • What Would You Do If…? Resolving Difficult Situations with Students, 10 a.m., D156
  • My Students Are so Stressed Out! Supporting Students with Anxiety, 11 a.m., J152
  • Help One More Student Stay, 3 p.m., D114
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the Harper College Campus Community, 3 p.m., F315

Related links:

Information in the article adapted from: Rowell, Katherine. August 2018. Keynote speaker. “Teacher Empathy and Student Success.” Lilly Conference on Teaching. Asheville, North Carolina.

Questions? Please contact the Academy at 847.925.6174, academy@harpercollege.edu.