Build a welcoming environment by creating opportunities for connection with you and their peers. Feeling social connection positively influences student motivation and persistence (Allen et al., 2008; Walton et al., 2012). Getting to know our students helps them feel valued and invested in the course (Cooper et al., 2017). Additionally, practices that increase social connection often create opportunities to support the other three keys to well-being.
To learn about strategies that WashU instructors are using to foster social connection, check out our Faculty Spotlights and to find out about related research at WashU see our Research Spotlight.
- Create opportunities for students to collaborate. When you do, provide structure for students to work together effectively and in a way that promotes inclusion.
- Consider ways in which students can share their perspectives and/or be responsible for contributing to course content, such as posing questions for discussion or giving presentations.
- Include information both about what you expect from students and what students can expect from you. Example: If you list an expectation that students read material before class, also state how much reading they can expect and when the readings will be made available.
- Provide learner-centered rationales for course design and policies. Example: In a description of weekly quizzes, include a sentence on how they will help students prepare for other assessments.
- Use words and phrases that invoke community, such as “we” and “us,” instead of impersonal words like “students.” Example: “In this course, we’ll explore these questions as we work through…”
- Encourage students to attend office hours by letting them know the variety of reasons someone might come to office hours and what they can expect to happen there.
- Start learning the names of your students and help them to learn each other’s, including pronunciation. Do your best to learn some, even if you can’t learn all names.
- Share your personal pronouns and invite students to do so if they are comfortable.
- Share about yourself. Examples: Personal connections to the course material, what you like most about teaching, non-academic information (e.g., hobbies).
- Help students overcome discomfort with office hours. Example: Make a required or extra credit “assignment” for students to come to office hours during the first few weeks of class. Let students know in advance what it will be like so that they feel comfortable.
- Use a brief survey or activity to learn about your students. Write questions that all students would have an answer to. Ask for information that students will feel comfortable sharing and leave it open enough that students aren’t required to share things they don’t want to.
- What is something you enjoy doing (e.g., a hobby, job, book, TV show, family activity)?
- What is a strength you bring to class—things you do well or unique perspectives?
- What are you nervous or concerned about in this course or more generally this semester?
- How can this course support your future learning, professional work, or personal growth?
Throughout the Semester
- Show an interest in student learning. For example, at the end of class ask students to turn in brief responses to reflective questions such as, “What was the most important point from today’s class?” or “What is something from this unit that you are interested in learning more about?” Next class, mention a few common themes that students wrote about.
- Incorporate “welcome rituals” at the start of each class.
- Greet students.
- Have informal conversations before class. Ask students how they are doing.
- Play music before class. Allow students to choose the tunes.
- Start with a brief reflective writing assignment and/or peer conversations.
- Have students go over homework in groups.
- Start class by letting students share one WOW (something good that happened recently) or POW (something disappointing that happened recently).
Adaptations for Large Classes
Use educational technologies, such as Canvas and Poll Everywhere, to help you scale-up collaborative learning activities, learn about your students, do welcome rituals, and check in throughout the semester.
Learn as many student names as you can and use name tents so that you can call on all students by name.
Move from the front of the room to walk among the students when possible (e.g., before class starts, during activities).
Consider how your teaching assistants or assistants in instruction can support community. They can learn the names of smaller groups of students, meet with students, summarize responses to student surveys or reflections, and check in with students during activities.
Allen, J., Robbins, S. B., Casillas, A., & Oh, I.-S. (2008). Third-year college retention and transfer: Efects of academic performance, motivation, and social connectedness. Research in Higher Education, 49(7), 647664. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-008-9098-3
Cooper, K. M., Haney, B., Krieg, A., & Brownell, S. E. (2017). What’s in a name? The importance of students perceiving that an instructor knows their names in a high-enrollment biology classroom. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 16(1), ar8. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.16-08-0265
Walton, G. M., Cohen, G. L., Cwir, D., & Spencer, S. J. (2012). Mere belonging: The power of social connections. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(3), 513-532. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025731