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2011 April 4 - 12:00 am

POV: Tips and Tools: Strategies for Implementing the ABCs of Effective Teaching

Last year, the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) joined five other community college organizations in signing a commitment to boost student completion rates by 50 percent over the next decade. NISOD’s unique role in the Community College Completion Challenge is to focus on professional development — equipping and preparing faculty, staff, and administrators with the skills necessary for ensuring that students succeed. NISOD’s goal is to show how to walk alongside students as they enter the open-door college and make sure that people who interact with them on a daily basis are prepared to help them complete a college credential or successfully transfer to a four-year college or university.

Equipping and investing in people is no easy task, and knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Last year, we wrote a piece for Community College Week based on the findings from two years of data, student essays submitted to the Community College Week-NISOD Student Essay Contest. After reviewing more than 3,300 essays, written by community college students about faculty, staff, or administrators who have made differences in their lives, we identified three themes that emerged from their stories. These educators:

  • Are accessible and approachable
  • Believe in their students, and
  • Coach, encourage, and mentor their students.

At the end of the piece, we committed to write a follow-up article to describe the ABCs of Effective Teaching, tools and strategies that can be implemented by community college educators to improve student success. In this new era of teaching and learning, and with the spotlight on college completion, we need to think about effective teaching more than ever before.

Accessibility

“Mr. Montgomery was superb. He was receptive of my questions, informative in his answers, and unwavering in his determination to find the answers to questions he didn’t have on hand.”

— Kristina Parker, Columbia Basin College (WA)

In the most recent Community College Week-NISOD Student Essay Contest, students again shared their feelings about coming to our colleges. As Kristina observed in her essay, having someone to answer questions and help set them on the right path is a great first impression.

In NISOD’s weekly publication Innovation Abstracts, the curriculum and technology planning team share how Confederation College (Ontario, Canada) gives a memorable first impression.

“Get them so excited the first day that they can’t wait to come back for the second,” is Confederation College’s motto. Instead of having regular classes on the first day of the semester, faculty spend the first day hosting an orientation session to help students become better connected with the college and one another. Some activities at orientation include:

  • Faculty taking group photos and later posting the pictures on bulletin boards around the campus;
  • Alumni speaking to new students;
  • First-year students meeting with second- and third-year students;
  • Social events (e.g., BBQ);

Having a “meet and greet” faculty panel in which professors talk about why each course is important to the program.

Being accessible at the start of the semester is not enough, however. Accessibility outside of class is also a key strategy. Crystal Collins, from Los Medanos College (Calif.), shared: “Mrs. Steward told me that I could do anything I set my mind to, and if I needed help to understand the material, she would sit down with me three days a week and go over the material discussed in my classes.“

Faculty, too, know that class time alone is not enough. Gary Hagan, a computer studies instructor at Mohawk College (Ontario, Canada), wrote in another Innovation Abstracts: “It usually is not enough to be available to students only for scheduled course hours. Some students will want to see you in your office, so it is sensible to inform students of your availability. If necessary, give them your home phone number.”

Believing in Students

In another edition of Innovation Abstracts, Don Hodges, coordinator of testing at Lane Community College (Ore.), wrote, “The more confidence one has that an action will produce a desired result, the more likely one is to complete the action.” When applied to student motivation, this concept of confidence “implies that college students will stay in a course and work hard when they believe that staying and working hard will produce rewards that they value.”

The courses in which students need to attend class, do the required readings, participate in discussions, and do well on tests in order to receive a good grade are those in which they will find a connection between working hard and reaping the rewards.

John Roueche, Sid W. Richardson Regents Chair in Community College Leadership, and Oscar Mink, former coordinator for the Graduate Program in Human Resource Development, both at The University of Texas at Austin, wrote in an Innovation Abstracts entitled “Learned Helplessness” about how passivity becomes a characteristic behavior of individuals who feel helpless. When applied to human behavior, motivation is sapped and the victim is no longer willing to try.

Many community college students enter our open doors with baggage of past negative educational experiences. Effective teachers help their students lighten the load by having high and positive expectations of them and showcasing student efforts that correlate with results.

Roueche identifies several strategies for developing a learner-centered environment:

  • Know students by name
  • Attend to each student
  • Share yourself with students
  • Monitor student achievement.

These are simple strategies. But with class sizes growing, course loads expanding, and increasing demands placed on faculty and staff member time (advising students, submitting grant proposals, participating in extracurricular campus activities), these simple strategies can be pushed aside in the face of competing expectations.

It is important to remember the wisdom of the following comments, expressed by Ron Smith, from Baltimore City Community College (Md.), at a recent Student Success Summit in Washington: “I’ve never known students to drop out of school because they were poor note takers; but if they choose to stay in college, you can be rest assured they can name the person who encouraged them to do so.”

Coaching

Lawrence Miller, chief academic officer at Snead State Community College (Ala.), wrote in Innovation Abstracts about the passing of one of the greatest college basketball coaches in history, John Wooden. Wooden’s achievements are legendary. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach; his UCLA teams won 88 straight games; he coached the only college basketball team in history with seven back-to-back undefeated seasons.

Wooden is also well known for his coaching philosophy. Miller, who interacted with Wooden on several occasions while a student at UCLA, wrote: “For the sake of our students, we should become even better teachers of life, not just of content.” Wooden was a life coach, and his dad gave him a Seven-Point Creed, which became his life plan. Some of the points of this creed can be incorporated into any teaching philosophy, such as “make each day your masterpiece” and “help others.” Carry on Wooden’s life philosophy by coaching your students to become successful and accomplish their goals.

When Thomas Greene was a graduate student in the Community College Leadership Program, at The University of Texas at Austin, he wrote about academic coaching as a “personalized and effective means of supporting the success of the most disadvantaged students.”

He highlighted the work of the Extended Opportunities Program and Services, the academic coaching program at Lake Tahoe Community College. Students who were struggling with one or more courses were matched with an academic coach. Academic coaching included the students committing via a written contract to work with the academic coach two hours per week for the remainder of the term. The coach’s role was to assess the student’s academic needs, build rapport, provide encouragement and establish a foundation of trust and support.

Students are clear. They want help. Andrea Nguyen, from Los Medanos College (Calif.), described in her 2010 contest essay about how her “essays would come back scarred with comments and questions. If anything, the poor grade I received on my first piece was tough love. She [the professor] cared enough to criticize me and make me a better writer. She knows how dignified the written word can be, and so she never allowed us to cheapen it by using sloppy grammar, spelling or reasoning.”

The faculty member assessed the student’s academic needs, built rapport, provided encouragement, established trust and support and coached to potential.

We hope these tips can sharpen some of the tools in your teaching toolbox.

The ABCs of effective teaching, developed through the students’ voices, speak to us about the humanness of teaching — going above and beyond to let students know that you care. What could be more rewarding than knowing that your students’ success in life is attributed to your taking an interest in them?

About the autors:

-- Evelyn N. Waiwaiole, Suanne Davis Roueche NISOD Director, Lecturer, Department of Educational Administration, The University of Texas at Austin

-- Coral Noonan-Terry, NISOD Associate Director, Lecturer, Department of Educational Administration, The University of Texas at Austin

It’s YOUR TURN!  CCW wants  to hear from you!
Q: What tips do you have for teachers striving to make a difference in the lives of their students?
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