Compassionate Classrooms and Approachable Lecturers–12 Practical Tips

Authors:
Lovleen Kushwah and Geethanjali Selvaretnam
Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow

Table of Content

Compassionate Classrooms and Approachable Lecturers – 12 Practical Tips 

The Higher Education Institutions (HEI) in the UK are being encouraged to get the University mental health charter Award (Department of Education, 2021) to establish a secure and relaxed learning environment for students.  Lecturers1 in the HEI play an important role in this because they are in regular contact with students. There are many ways in which they can come across as approachable and facilitate a classroom which enhances wellbeing. This blog shares some tips that we derived by reflecting upon our own teaching practices and experience of working with students in various roles over the years. 

  1. Lay the first stone correct! 

A strong sense of belonging is an essential need, which can be achieved by building a community. The very first interaction and impression can be pivotal in determining a successful connection. Lecturers can use different methods to pique students’ interest by writing welcome messages or posting introductory video recordings. It not only helps set the right tone and manage overarching, but also allows students to see your creative and empathetic side. You can evaluate what is needed based on your own ongoing experience of the class because the needs of every cohort may vary across courses, and over time.  

  1. Declare your approachability. 

While focussing on important academic aspects of university life, lecturers may not pay sufficient attention to some pragmatic/ practical information. They can bring those details to students’ attention by having an introductory lecture slide which for example, talk about office hours; show the office on a map if the university is difficult to navigate; discuss about accessibility; contact details (email address) etc. The opening slide of each lecture, which is visible for some time while the students settle down, can have this information, and include statements such as ‘you can talk to me during the break and after the class.’  

  1. Establish peer connection. 

Dedicating some time for students to introduce themselves to peers at the beginning of the course will enable them to start connecting with peers. Giving some prompts such as, ‘tell each other what motivated you to take this degree/course’, would make this introductory session easier and useful. 

The opening slide can not only give signals of an approachable lecturer but also nudge students towards being supportive peers. Such a slide can also be left on the screen during the break in the middle of the lecture.  

Icebreakers in the introductory lecture as well as at other appropriate times can support positive peer interaction. Some examples include asking students to:  

  • Share a positive aspect that they experienced or heard about in the past week. 
  • Introduce themselves to someone they have not met yet. 
  • Organise group scavenger hunt as a homework to find important landmarks in and around the university and take photos.  
  • Ask students to match a list with someone in the class who (eg: has 2 brothers; went to school in Glasgow; likes cricket; plays a musical instrument (and what) etc). 
  • Reward and acknowledge those who complete these activities fast – a competition is exciting even if it is for an applause and laughs!  
  1. Share your story. 

Lecturers can choose a common context and share their own experience of the time when they themselves were students. Giving a personal touch to this conversation helps build authenticity (Kushwah, 2022). For example, if you were an international student or stayed far away from home, then you can talk about the challenges you faced and how going to a new place transformed you for the better and give students some general tips based on your experience.  

  1. Spill the beans- Lecturers are humans too. 

Student–Lecturer relationship involves power imbalance where students might put lecturers on a pedestal. This can annihilate connection if unchecked. The distance created by this power difference can be shortened by letting students know that lecturers also face challenges, such as, challenging deadlines, being snowed under, procrastination, getting cold feet before important presentations etc. Such an interaction can soothe symptoms of isolation, especially when students hear this from someone, they look up to.  

  1. Resolve queries immediately. 

Being available to talk to the students straight after the lectures without rushing off will enable students to interact with the lecturer and feel more supported. This can be done by having the office hours closer to the lecture time, depending on the timetable for your other commitments. Dedicate some time to regularly check the forum for student queries, for example, at four pm each day or every other day. 

  1. Be aware of unconscious biases. 

It is useful to attend workshops and training programmes to become aware and overcome unconscious bias, including those which are less talked about, such as, classism, ableism, ageism, sizeism, etc. In diverse classes, lecturers can adopt a multiculturally responsive teaching style and engage in anti-oppressive teaching practices. Lecturer’s attitude and interactions with students from all backgrounds will spill over to their students and colleagues.   

  1. Comfortable and peer interaction-enabling classrooms. 

Active learning is increasingly being embedded in the learning and teaching strategies of universities. (L&T strategy, University of Glasgow). Lecturers can request active learning classrooms to teach where students can then sit is groups which makes interaction easier. It is important to check if students are comfortable and encourage them to move their chairs to see a screen or the lecturer if needed. Furthermore, the lecturer can suggest students sitting on their own to move to desks with other students, but never force them.  

  1. Facilitate team-based learning. 

Lecturers can design interactive activities and assessments to facilitate exchange of knowledge, build community and support internationalisation.  

  • Inform students about the upcoming group activity so that they can be prepared. For example, find out certain information about their own country related to the topic of discussion. 
  • Provide group discussion questions beforehand to help pique students’ interest and to allow them to research it on their own. 
  • Use team-based problem solving to forge learning of subject specific threshold concepts. 

For more detailed examples see Kushwah and Selvaratnam (2021); Kushwah and Pocher (2021); Cheng and Selvaretnam (2022) and Nicol and Selvaretnam (2021). 

  1. Sign off on a positive note.  

Usually lectures end abruptly. The lecturers can think about a positive statement they can give at the end of the class, which is appropriate and timely. The final slide of every lecture can have a positive visual and goodbye message such as ‘All the best for Assessment 1’; ‘Have a lovely weekend’; ‘Hope the rest of the week goes well’ or some wellbeing tip. It can also have a reminder about meeting times with the lecturer and email address.  

  1. Encourage students to engage in self-care. 

Students can be nudged to engage in self-care. This can include lecturers sharing relaxation techniques to deal with anxiety and stress, for example, talking about their favourite mindfulness or breathing app, ways to manage time etc. Lecturers know exactly when students will be facing an academically challenging time, such as deadlines, and hence support could be manoeuvred to address students’ mental wellbeing needs in real time with the help of student support services (Kushwah, 2023).  While giving homework/ tasks, lecturers can inquire if students have other upcoming deadlines and show some understanding. Students appreciate the mere fact that the lecturers are mindful of their constraints.  

  1. Practice self-care on yourself. 

Anything that impacts the lecturer, has the potential to create feelings and moods that can trickle down to the students. Focussing on self-care is essential, so exploration of what makes lecturers feel grounded and what alleviates their own anxieties is very important. Universities provide useful information for staff wellbeing, which can be a starting point. (See Human Resources, University of Glasgow).  

References

Cheng, W., Selvaretnam, G. (2022). Effects of Mixed Groups on Multicultural Interaction and Student Experience. Learning and Teaching, 15(2), 1 – 28.  

Kushwah, L. and Selvaretnam, G. (2022). The Great Confluence. Say it with a Story – Annual creativeHE collection 2022. Edge Hill University. Educational resource, 50 – 51. https://doi.org/10.3167/latiss.2022.150202 

Kushwah, L. and Selvaretnam, G.  (2021) Enhancing interactive learning in an online setting: Breakout rooms and questions to ponder. In: Tasler, N., O’Brien, R. and Spiers, A. (eds.) Being Creative in the Face of Adversity: Annual #creativeHE Collection 2021. Creativity for Learning in Higher Education Community, pp. 93-99. (doi: 10.25416/NTR.17709860.v4

Kushwah, L. and Pocher, E. (2021) Enhancing student engagement and subject knowledge using task-based team learning. (https://eprints.gla.ac.uk/270986/

Kushwah, L. (2023) Embedding Active Self-Care into Curriculum: A Case Study on Use of Targeted Newsletters. Advance HE: Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education 

Kushwah, L. (2022). A leap of faith. Say it with a Story – Annual creativeHE collection 2022. Edge Hill University. Educational resource, 90 – 91. 

Nicol, D. and Selvaretnam, G. (2021). Making internal feedback explicit: harnessing the comparisons students make during two-stage exams, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2021.1934653 

Department of Education (2021) How we’re supporting students with their mental health in The Education Hub https://educationhub.blog.gov.uk/2021/12/14/how-were-supporting-students-with-their-mental-health/ 

Human Resources, University of Glasgow, https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/humanresources/all/health/ 

Learning and Teaching Strategy, University of Glasgow, https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/learningandteaching/strategy/ 

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