Never let ‘em see the back of your head

Photos shows back of a man's headI’ve been inside a classroom either as a student or a professor for many years. Coming from the perspective of someone who has been a successful marketer, and current professor, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

Engaging my students is a lot like engaging a customer … It takes a lot of trial and error, trying new things, and risking failure, but when it works, the benefits are clear. Most business professionals would agree that a satisfied customer yields higher sales. A parallel can be drawn in higher education … a satisfied student creates a platform for higher level of engagement, which, in turn, yields a deeper level of learning.

As educators, I believe it’s our job to engage our students in the classroom or online by listening to them, activating their imagination and incorporating many tactics that transform a good class into a great class, and in doing so creates a positive and supportive learning environment for our customers. Yes, customers.

Our students are our customers, and as customers, many of them have been conditioned to comparison-shop. There is little doubt they have shopped other schools and have weighed their options before choosing Post University or any other school.  And we all know that students talk freely about which professors they like and which ones they don’t, and why.

That’s why the days of just standing up in class and spewing theories and facts are long over. Today,  a professor must earn the students’ attention and respect.

We need to break through their instinctive defenses if we expect them to open their minds and accept new learning, and we cannot expect them to open their minds until they trust us. And we can’t expect them to trust us until they respect us … even just a little.

So, there we are, asking them to trust us simply because they registered for our class. I maintain that our Job # 1 (thank you Ford Motors) is to engage them and include a small dose of remarkability. Not by waving our arms and trying to tell funny jokes (that doesn’t work). Rather, by incorporating a few basics and ensuring they will never see the back of our heads:

  • Look at them and listen to them
  • Remember and use their names … all the time.
  • Trust their innate intellect. They may not be subject matter experts, but they do have some life experiences. I have found they can offer worthwhile perspectives on current class topics, but we have to incorporate some element of excitement and ask them to share!
  • Give them the opportunity to show that they get it. Traditional testing is inevitable, but there are many other opportunities for creative points of assessment. Most lend themselves to interactive activities such as, conversations in the weekly discussion boards, class debates, presentations, role playing.
  • For our online classrooms, sending a personal email periodically throughout the MOD, acknowledging their participation in the conversations,  and inspiring and soliciting additional participation.
  • The main campus equivalent would be taking them aside and asking how they are doing with the coursework. Periodically taking 5-10 minutes for a one-on-one while walking to the next class can turn an otherwise disengaged underperforming student into one who can become a class champion!The opening hours and days of any class go a long way in establishing sets of expectations. I promise my students that they will not be looking at the back of my head as I read from slide after PowerPoint slide.

Instead, I’ll be looking at them, engaging them.The same holds true in an online classroom setting. Looking at them takes the form of personal interaction and feedback. Timeliness and personalization are key here.

There is a profound communication concept going on here. How can I expect them to open their minds – even just a little – if I’m not genuinely interacting  with them, referring to them by their names and having them participate in the conversation, both online and face-to-face?

It may sound like a trivial detail, but I believe doing so, creates a respectful setting for meaningful professor/student relationship. I am entirely mindful of this whenever I walk into a classroom, whether on-ground or online.

I believe our classrooms are filled with smart minds. We simply have to peel back the onion a bit and tickle their curiosity!

Although it takes A LOT of energy (and preparation), I never lose sight of my responsibility to my students. They made their choice clear when they chose Post University, and we have a choice every time we step into a class. One of the pillars of our competitive advantage is to engage, excite and encourage, and I never let ‘em see the back of my head.

What do you think are best practices to ensure a student is engaged in the classroom?


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