Establishing Rapport with Your Students

My Top Ten Tips for establishing and maintaining a good relationship with your students.

    1. Ask Them About Themselves – During your first class session, have your students complete a questionnaire. I have usually asked students about prior college history, major, educational goals, and employment. I also asked them to tell me whatever they wanted me to know about them. In addition, I would ask them to rate their comfort level in my course. The scale I gave them ranged from “Piece of Cake” to “I’d Rather Sleep with Snakes.” You may also consider asking about their hobbies and interests. I encourage you to indicate that completing your questionnaire is optional. Give them the opportunity to complete it to the degree each student is comfortable, thereby respecting their right to privacy.


  • Address Them By Name – Learn their names and address them by name in class. My goal was to know every students first name by the 3rd class period. Now, I never had more than 32 students in a class, and I never taught more than one class each term. This would be a very ambitious goal if you are teaching a large lecture, and it can get challenging if you teach more than one course in a term.



  • Relate to Them as Individuals – During class, make reference to what you know about your students. If your statistics student, Roger, loves baseball, get him to talk about baseball statistics. If your photography student, Tanya, lives on a farm, ask her if she has taken many pictures of barns. If your automotive technology student, Juan, owns an antique car, ask him about the challenges of adjusting a 4-barrel carburetor. If your chemistry student, Nikki, wants to be an artist, talk about the chemistry of acrylic paints. You get the picture.



  • Respond Promptly to Their Voice Mail and Email– You need to be available to your students, and part of that means checking your messages regularly. You may think that once or twice a week is enough, but if students need your help, they expect to get it quickly.



  • Return Homework and Tests Promptly – What do I mean by promptly? No later than the next class period.



  • Answer Their Questions – I recently read about a young lady who approached her instructor with a question. Her instructor said something like, “Oh, sweetie, just go sit down, and see me after class.” The student left immediately after class, dropped the course, and dropped out of school. Overreaction? Maybe, but you never know what impact you will have on a student.



  • Arrive Early and Leave Late – If you rush into class at the last minute, or even worse, if you arrive late, you are sending the signal to your students that you have more important things going on in your life. If you rush out immediately after class, you are robbing students of the time some of them may need with you. Not good ways to establish rapport!



  • Give Them a Voice – No you would not be turning the asylum over to the inmates. It’s called a learning-centered environment. One-minute papers are just one of the methods you can use to get feedback from your students.



  • Admit It When You Are Wrong – When a large percentage of students missed a particular test question, it was usually because I had constructed it poorly. I would admit my error and make it right, often by giving them all credit for that problem.



  • Care – This is not something you can learn. Either you do or you don’t. If you don’t care about your students and their success in your class, find another part-time job.


What do you think is the most important piece of advice? CAST YOUR VOTE

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© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted March 7, 2010

About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.


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