Productive Working Relationships: Who Needs ‘Em? You Do.

There’s a difference for instructors between getting along with students and finding a way to work with them throughout the duration of the class. Instructors who develop meaningful interactions with their students often find that they are also promoting the development of effective working relationships. When students feel that they have a connection with their instructor they are likely to participate in the class, maintain communication, and be receptive to the feedback and guidance provided.

The adult learning process is an active, developmental process that is dependent upon the student and the instructor being able to work together in a productive manner, for the purpose creating a learning environment that encourages the adult’s performance, engagement, and motivation in the class. When students have developed a sense of collaboration with the class and their instructor a transformative process occurs. Sara Rimm-Kaufman, Ph.D. has found that “positive teacher-student relationships draw students into the process of learning and promote their desire to learn.” Students who do not develop this type of connection may become disconnected from the class and withdraw their participation.

A productive working relationship also helps instructors convey expectations and feedback, facilitates the flow of effective communication, and allows adults to express their expectations, questions, concerns, and developmental needs. Within the book, Educator’s Guide to Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems by Mark Boynton and Christine Boynton, they have indicated that “when students feel that you value and care for them as individuals, they are more willing to comply with your wishes.” The more that the students are able to perceive openness from their instructors the less resistant they are likely to be when constructive feedback is offered.

Instructors have an ability to develop a personal connection with their students and establish a basis for effective working relationships through the following techniques:

1. Demonstrate responsiveness by addressing questions and concerns in a timely manner.

2. Offer feedback about performance by discussing students’ strengths, areas of development, and available resources that address their developmental needs.

3. Recognize contributions made by students during class discussions and build on their responses by adding insight and experience.

4. Challenge students to increase their capacity to learn through encouragement and the use of questions that help them develop a greater understanding of the course topics.

5. Establish learning environment conditions that allow students to participate in the learning process.

6. Encourage students to ask questions about the class or their progress in the class.

7. Pay attention to the tone that is used with all communication, especially within an online classroom environment when words represent the instructor’s presence.

When students have developed a strong working relationship with their instructor they are more likely to be engaged in the class, express their ideas, develop a sense of receptiveness to new information, consider feedback provided, and evaluate their existing knowledge and experiences. Through these positive relationships, discussions, and interactions with the instructor and others in the class, students are likely to find an environment that is conducive to learning.

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