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5 Research-Backed Ways to Show Students You Care

Start the year off right by using these research-backed strategies to build authentic relationships with students.

Education is about more than imparting knowledge—it’s about nurturing students and supporting them on their academic journey. When you create a culture of care in the classroom, you build the foundation for a positive and impactful learning environment.

Research shows that few factors in education have greater impact on a student’s educational experience than a caring relationship with their teacher. Expressing care for students not only benefits them, but it benefits you by making your classroom more authentic.

When students feel cared for by faculty, the result is greater student enjoyment, improved attendance and attention, more study time devoted to the class, and more courses taken in that discipline.

One caveat to the student-teacher relationship is ensuring you express care in a way students understand. While your natural expression of care may include devoting energy to your work or coming to class prepared, students don’t always associate these behaviors with caring. 

In this article, we explore five research-backed strategies to strengthen relationships with your students and show you care in ways that students will be receptive to.

Address Students by Name

Using students’ names can help you build rapport with students while demonstrating care. You may think, “I have hundreds of students, how am I supposed to remember all their names?” But here’s a secret: Addressing students by name doesn’t require knowing students’ names. The solution is name tents!

One study found that addressing students by name can improve student-teacher relationships even if teachers use name tents. In the study, the instructor could only identify 53% of students by name, but 78% of students perceived their names were known. The results showed that perception of name recognition made students feel valued, more invested in the course, and more comfortable seeking help from the instructor.

Robust research shows that a caring encounter with a teacher is strongly associated with positive outcomes regardless of students’ majors and demographic characteristics.

Lalaine Sevillano, Assistant Professor, Portland State University

You should also take care to pronounce students’ names correctly. According to researchers, repeated mispronunciations can be considered racial microaggressions. 

Some ways to ensure correct name pronunciation include: 

  • Using an introduction activity so students say their names first.
  • Having students add phonetics to their name tents. 
  • Asking students their preferred pronunciation. 
  • Encouraging students to correct you if you get their name wrong.

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In addition to pronunciation, ask students about their preferred pronouns. Pronouns are important to identity, and getting them wrong can be triggering for students. 

Some ways to create a gender inclusive classroom include:

  • Asking students to add their pronouns to their name tents.
  • Conducting a pre-semester survey that asks about pronouns.
  • Using gender neutral language to address the class like folks, y’all, everyone, and all.

Communicate Outside of Class

Communicating with students outside of class can influence student engagement and satisfaction. There is evidence that “light-touch, targeted feedback” can positively affect students’ perceptions of the course and the instructor. Light-touch targeted feedback in this study involved reaching out to students individually via email just a few times a term.

Here’s a strategy for communicating with students outside of class:

  • Send a welcome email to all students. Start the email by using each students’ name.
  • Send a personalized email around mid-term that communicates the student’s performance in the course so far. Provide personalized guidance on how the student can improve or maintain their current performance. 
  • Send a final email before the end of the semester with a summary of the student’s performance. Include any ways they can improve before you report final grades.

Use these tips from Kurlaender and Carrell’s study to guide you:

Image Source: Social Science Research Network

When you communicate with students in ways that focus on improvement, you foster a sense of care and show your investment in students’ success.

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Your wording can make a difference in how students perceive your level of care. While the guidelines above use “office hours,” consider changing the name to “student drop-in hours.” This helps students realize that they aren’t interrupting you while working, and the purpose of you being there is to support them.

Provide Quick and Frequent Feedback

Feedback plays a crucial role in student learning and growth. Many students—particularly international students—express a desire for more feedback from their instructors. According to a survey by ELS Educational Services, 35% of international students said they wanted professors to provide more feedback, while 33% desired more of an understanding into international student perspectives.  

Effective feedback helps students of all backgrounds gauge their progress and understand their strengths and areas for improvement. When writing feedback for students, make sure it is targeted, concise, action-oriented, and timely.

Three types of feedback include corrective, epistemic, and suggestive feedback:

Corrective feedback highlights areas where a student met assignment goals and areas where they can improve. 

Epistemic feedback challenges students to think about their work more deeply.

Suggestive feedback offers examples for how students can improve their work or expand on it. 

Consider the examples below:

Image Source: Columbia Center for Teaching & Learning

Epistemic feedback paired with suggestive feedback can be a great way to express care to students, because this feedback challenges students to delve deeper, while offering suggestions for how to do so.

Create Moments that Matter

Creating moments that matter involves making learning student-centered. When you make students the focal point of class activities, you show care for them and their experiences. Research suggests that learning is more meaningful to students when you prioritize student collaboration, promote self-reflection, and initiate meetings with students. 

In addition to centering activities around student experiences, you can create moments that matter by tying activities back to the real world. 

Real-world teaching strategies may include:

  • Acquainting students with real-world research
  • Showing a documentary
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Encouraging students to ‘publish’ their works by sharing in class or online. 

Making learning meaningful also involves making assessments meaningful. Tie all assessments back to clear learning objectives and consider these alternative grading strategies to give students ownership over their progress.

Try this

Make it a priority to meet with students individually. Even if you have many students, this doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Have students work on an in-class activity while calling individuals up to chat. 

Ask questions like:

  • How best do you learn?
  • What are ways I can support you this term?
  • Do you have any concerns or questions going into this course?

This is a quick and low stakes way to get to know your students.

Offer Compassion and Support

Compassionate pedagogy involves noticing and addressing the pain and suffering students may experience in their academic journey. Compassion goes beyond understanding—it involves empathizing with students’ challenges and providing support to ease their difficulties. 

One way to offer students compassion and support is by actively listening to students. Ask students how they’re doing and whether you can support them. Suspend judgment of students and offer them flexibility when needed.

By listening, we tell students, “You’re not alone in this. I will support you.” Listening strengthens the relationship between teacher and student so the partnership in learning can flourish.

Jim Garrison, “Compassionate, Spiritual, and Creative Listening in Teaching and Learning.”

When you don’t have the resources to support a student, commit to what the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) calls a “warm hand-off.” 

A warm hand-off involves referring students to relevant resources or departments to ensure that students receive the help they need. This approach ensures that students feel valued and supported, which fosters a sense of trust and belonging within the educational community.

Create Long-Term Impact by Caring for Students

The impact of caring for students extends far beyond the classroom. Positive interactions with faculty lead to greater academic satisfaction, reduced dropout rates, improved communication skills, and enhanced personal and intellectual growth. Research by Gallup also reveals that graduates who strongly believe their professors cared about them are almost twice as likely to be engaged at work and to thrive in their wellbeing.

Education must be a practice done with hearts as much as heads, with hands as much as books. Care has to be at the center of this work.

Jesse Stommel, Pedagogies of Care: The Human Work of Course Design

When you incorporate research-backed strategies into your teaching practices, you improve students’ academic experience and contribute to their long-term success. The investment of time and effort in demonstrating care yields a legacy of engaged, empowered, and thriving learners.

Additional Resources

About the Author

Morgan Westling is an Associate Content Specialist at Course Hero. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Portland and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from The University of the South. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and has been writing for over 7 years. Find more of her work at http://www.morganwestling.com.

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