Instructor-Student Relationships

by equusnyder@gmail.com

networkI’m curled up in my robe on the couch, cup of coffee in hand. Gazing down at the smiling, sleepy face of my kitty, I begin to think about relationships. I examine some of my own – my relationship with my husband, the pony I had a a child, a teacher, my brother, my coworker.

I think about their interconnectedness, though the characters may not be aware, and how those interconnections shape my thoughts, actions, and beliefs. It is through our relationships with others that we make decisions about and change our behavior. I can read about healthy eating habits, but it is my relationships with others that will help me implement the behavior (or not).

As an instructor, we can have a profound effect on our learners’ behavior if we take just a few steps to establish a relationship with them. It could be as simple as learning (and using) their name, sharing a cup of coffee with them during a break, or sending them a message of encouragement. It’s easier to do when the class size is small, of course. In larger classes, we can still share a little bit about ourselves, perhaps our frailties – most people like to know their instructor is human.

When we build a rapport with our students, we develop mutual respect. Having this respect enables us to guide the class and any discussions taking place. When we sense that group discussions are headed down the wrong path, or when the class as a whole is missing a key element, our relationship with the participants allows us to redirect without losing engagement.

The relationships we build with our learners also help with accountability. Most learners will complete assignments if they HAVE to, but that’s not where the benefit is. We want them to complete the assignments because they WANT to. We want to give them responsibility for their own learning. This is where learning occurs. Initially, they may begin the assignment not because they feel they have something to learn, but because they want to maintain our positive relationship. Yet, they still enter the assignment with a more positive mindset and acceptance. Along the way, they may even learn a thing or two.

Finally, relationships with our students can serve to sharpen our saw. When they see us a fully human, as a guide rather than a sage, they are more willing to provide useful feedback, and provide it respectfully. If no one tells us, we may never know what we’ve missed.

The complexity of our interconnectedness is difficult to grasp. His thought about this plus her thought about that has an effect on my own perceptions and behaviors. When we begin to see our learners in the framework of these relationships, we can begin to instill real behavioral change.