March 13, 2014

Benefits of Fostering the Student-Faculty Relationship

by Jamie Amero, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, The Johns Hopkins Hospital

If asked “What contributes to students’ success in college?” many would respond with answers such as hard work, motivation, or talent. All of them are important contributors, but there is another component to success that often gets overlooked. Many people do not realize a positive relationship between the student and educator can have a large impact on a student’s success.

The influence the student and teacher relationship on student success in college courses has been examined.  Researchers have found that a positive relationship between students and the teacher increases student motivation, satisfaction, confidence, and learning.1,2 One study by Marina Micari and Pilar Pazos evaluated the impact of faculty-student relationships in an organic chemistry course using a survey tool. This study was designed to evaluate if there was a correlation between the students’ perceived relationship with the professor and their performance and confidence in the course. The results found favorable student outcomes were correlated with certain student feelings such as looking up to the professor and, in return, feeling respected by the professor.  Student success was also correlated with feeling comfortable approaching the professor. Positive relationships with the professor resulted in higher final grades and increased the students’ confidence.2  Other positive benefits include increases in student motivation to learn, influences on professional career choices, and increases in class attendance.3-6

Thinking back on my years as a student, the educators who made the biggest difference were the ones that created meaningful relationships with me. It is often easy to get “lost in the crowd” when sitting in a lecture of over 160 students.  Those educators which took the time to get to know me were hands down my best professors. Having a relationship with the professor made it easier to ask for help when I was struggling and I was more interested in the course material. There are a variety of ways to build relationships with your students.  Here are a few suggestions:

Conduct one-on-one meetings.  Make it a requirement for students to schedule a meeting with you at least once during the first month of the course. These meetings will give you a chance to learn more about the students and get to know them. One professor met with each student individually within the first four weeks of the class and found positive results from these meetings. The professor had created a questionnaire about basic personal information for the student to fill out and bring to the meeting. About 95% of the students reported they enjoyed the meetings and felt the meetings showed the professor was interested in them as more than just a student. Students also felt it was easier to speak up during class because of the rapport built from the one-on-one meetings.1

Know your students’ names.  It may sound obvious, but, learning someone’s name is essential to building a relationship. This small act demonstrates respect and personal investment in your students’ wellness. Dr. Mary McKinney, recommends to take roll call the first day of class, obtain a list of names from the registrar to use as a guide, try and connect the students’ names to another person you know with the same name, or frequently call your students by name.7

Make yourself available.  Hold office hours! Office hours are a time to make yourself available for students to come and ask questions. This helps create the image that you are available to help and take time out of your own busy schedule to give attention to students in need. The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Teaching Academy at the University of Illinois states office hours allow educators to help students by facilitating deeper learning, coaching students early to avoid poor performance as the course progresses, and learning how to guide a student who is struggling with the materials.8

Incorporate personal stories into the lectures.  Adding a personal story or anecdote related to the material can help students connect with you as a person and not just as the educator. It also helps create more of a conversational feel to the delivery of lectures. Wright and colleagues conducted a study to try and distinguish what characteristics make a teaching physician a great role model and teacher. The survey results found that if a physician took the time to share information about him/herself with learners, in this case residents, then they were more likely to be classified as an “excellent” role model.3 Being viewed as a role model can help create that positive relationship between yourself and the students.3

Provide prompt and meaningful feedback.  When delivered appropriately, feedback can greatly enhance a student’s success. Make students aware of areas for improvement and provide some suggestions on what they can do to improve. Chickering and Gamson include prompt feedback as part of the “seven good principles for good practice in undergraduate education.” They believe learning can be more focused by providing feedback to help the student become more aware of their weak areas.9
Taking the time to build rapport and creating meaningful relationships with students can provide numerous positive results for you and the students.  It will help you be an effective educator by increasing student engagement, commitment, and participation in group discussions. It will also help you earn respect.

As an educator, it may seem as if there is no room in your schedule for relationship building. I encourage you to find the time. As a professional who recently graduated, the impact of positive relationships with (some) faculty is fresh in my mind. I contact those professors for help both in my work and personal life.  A couple of hours a week can build relationships that will have a lifelong impact for both the learners and you.

  1. Starcher K. Intentionally building rapport with students. College Teaching. 2011;59:162.
  2. Micari M, Pazo P. Connecting to the professor: impact of the student-faculty relationship in a highly challenging course. College Teaching. 2012; 60:41-47.
  3. Wright et al. Attributes of excellent attending-physician role models. N Engl J Med. 1998;339:1986-1993.
  4. Haidet P et al. The role of the student-teacher relationship in the formation of physicians. J Gen Intern Med. 2006; 21:S16-20.
  5. Rimm-Kaufman S. Improving students' relationships with teachers to provide essential supports for learning. American Psychology Association [Internet]. Washington (DC), 2014 [cited 2014 Mar 10].
  6. Fjortoft N. Students' motivations for class attendance. AJPE. 2005; 69: Article 15.
  7. McKinney. What's your name again? Successful Academic News [Internet]. Chapel Hill (NC), 2005 [cited 2014 Mar 10].
  8. The Liberal Arts and Sciences Teaching Academy (LASTA), University of Illinois. Making the Most of Office Hours [Internet]. Urbana (IL) [cited 2014 Mar 10].
  9. Chickering A, Gamson Z. Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE 1997;39:252-262.

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