Submitted by: Kelly Cuccolo, Laura Simon, William Ridgway, and Maaly Younis
In this month’s corner our focus is on the importance of maintaining consistency in our role as instructors throughout the semester. Similar to students approaching the end of the semester, we as instructors can also decline in motivation or performance. The purpose of the corner is to identify the importance of maintaining student rapport and the ways in which we seek to do so consistently throughout the semester. Specifically, how we allow for an immersive and enthusiastic classroom environment throughout the semester
Kelly: As we progress to the end of the academic term, students and instructors alike are feeling burned out and in need of a break. Given that rapport plays an important role in positive student outcomes, such as perceptions of learning (e.g., Demir et al., 2019) it is important for instructors to maintain those interpersonal relationships. Gratitude may be one simple way to promote student engagement and strengthen interpersonal relationships (Algoe et al., 2008; Flinchbaugh et al., 2012). In my classes, I work our mental health chapters into the end of the course given that this is a high-stress time for many students (and instructors). I express gratitude to my students for their hard work thus far in the course and acknowledge feelings of stress and burn out. This not only helps me remember all the effort and quality work I’ve gotten during the semester but also helps students’ feel acknowledged and visible. I also have students write letters to people who have been helpful in their personal/academic journeys, but whom they haven’t formally thanked. Many students get emotional during this exercise but feel re-energized and focused afterwards.
Laura: As primarily an Introduction to Psychology teacher, it is easier for me to be consistent as the semester gets tiring because the content, I enjoy teaching tends to coincide with the end of the semester. So, as it becomes harder to maintain energy and classroom dynamics, I get energy from the subjects I teach. Like with all jobs, some days are harder than others to be a positive and energetic force in the classroom, but I try to give myself grace on those days. I have also found that being transparent with students has been beneficial because they feel the fatigue throughout the semester and they may not realize that other people feel it too, making them feel understood or possibly less alone. Being transparent about semester fatigue is also a good opportunity to discuss coping skills and other healthy habits that I try to incorporate throughout my content as well, such as good sleep hygiene during Consciousness, study habits during Memory, etc.
William: Throughout the academic term, students’ engagement and motivation to learn can become compromised. To maintain engagement, motivation, and excitement, instructors – who can also decline in motivation or performance – can employ various strategies to combat potential disinterest and reluctance, especially as the term ends and impaired mood, fatigue, and sleep become more likely. First, instructors should always be a role model for student interest and get to know their students. This foundation allows for transparent conversations to take place that can address challenges students face collectively. Second, instructors should attempt to create assignments (e.g., term papers) that are both varied and novel (Patrick et al., 2000), and that provide a sense of control and choice over their learning (Patall et al., 2010). For example, consider a class like Forensic Psychology in which a term paper can focus on one of a multitude of well-known psychology and law cases, each focusing on a different area (e.g., eyewitness misidentification, repressed memories, false confessions, insanity defense, competency to stand trial). Such assignments allow for students to apply their interests, allowing for an enthusiastic approach. Last, instructors can combat potential disinterest and reluctance by engaging students in group discussions and assignments in which they are able to get to know one another and as a result, support one another. The collective pursuit of accomplishment can lessen feelings of overload. Overall, it is important for instructors to remain cognizant of the fact that student performance can become compromised – especially toward the end of the academic term – and implement strategies to assist with combating that moment.
Maaly: The end of semester burnout is real, and it hits both of us, teachers and students. As graduate teaching assistants, we experience it both ways as teachers and students as well given our unique positions. I tend to think of the ways that I would like to be supported as a student. As such, I encourage my students to take mental health days. I also talk to them about how managing stress is a big factor to end the semester peacefully and successfully. I tend to incorporate graded activities such as self-care, acts of kindness to help the students engage with themselves and others as well to stay motivated to learn and complete their final products. I also tend to incorporate fun extra credit activities to increase their motivation to complete school assignments. Students repeatedly reported on their evolution that these activities make them feel they are cared for as both humans and learners. I found that the key during this time of the semester is to demonstrate compassion and understanding along with providing the students with tools to combat the burnout.
Algoe, S. B., Haidt, J., & Gable, S. L. (2008). Beyond reciprocity: Gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8(3), 425–429. https://doi.org/10.1037/1528-35184.108.40.2065
Demir, M., Burton, S., & Dunbar, N. (2019). Professor–student rapport and perceived autonomy support as predictors of course and student outcomes. Teaching of Psychology, 46(1), 22-33.
Flinchbaugh, C. L., Moore, E. W. G., Chang, Y. K., & May, D. R. (2012). Student well-being interventions: The effects of stress management techniques and gratitude journaling in the management education classroom. Journal of Management Education, 36(2), 191-219. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562911430062
Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Wynn, S. R. (2010). The effectiveness and relative importance of choice in the classroom. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(4), 896-915.
Patrick, B. C., Hisley, J., & Kempler, T. (2000). “What's everybody so excited about?”: The effects of teacher enthusiasm on student intrinsic motivation and vitality. The Journal of Experimental Education, 68(3), 217-236. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220970009600093
Schriver, J. L., & Harr Kulynych, R. (2021). Do professor–student rapport and mattering predict college student outcomes? Teaching of Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1177/00986283211037987