Dealing with Grade Appeals

Recently, four people found Adjunct Assistance with the search phrase “advice for dealing with grade appeals,” which prompted me to write this article. The best advice I can give for dealing with grade appeals is stick to the facts.  However, the grade appeal process starts long before grades are assigned.  It starts by taking steps to avoid grade appeals.  It also involves being prepared to deal with grade appeals should they arise.

How to Avoid Grade Appeals

The best defense is a good offense.  No wait.  That is not a good analogy.  We are not fighting with our students; at least we are not starting fights.  But grade appeals can turn into verbal fights.  Therefore, a good instructor takes ever precaution to avoid such disputes. Here are 12 actions you should take to avoid grade appeals:
  1. Write a good syllabus, one that students will read.
  2. Keep it simple.  Adopt a simple, straight forward grading policy.  Your grading policy should not require a Ph.D. in Logic & Mathematical Foundations of Informatics to be understood.  But if it does, Indiana University has a great program for your students.  You might want to make that a course prerequisite.
  3. Be careful if your policy includes objective measures like class participation.  Is it wrong to grade on class participation? Not necessarily, but it can lead to disputes.
  4. Do not “round up” for effort.  For example, assume that two of your students earned 88 percent, and 90 percent was required for an A.  Do not give the one who you feel really tried hard an A unless one of the course learning objectives was “Display good effort by asking questions in class and convincing the instructor that you really, really worked hard.”  (Note:  If this is one of the learning objectives you list in your syllabus, I encourage you to remove it.)
  5. Do not violate your grading policy.  If there are no provisions for late work or extra credit, do not extend such courtesies no matter how deserving you judge the student to be.  One of my adjuncts did this, and that student immediately told her friend.  Guess what the friend then demanded?  The instructor was violating rule one of grading – Be fair and equitable to all your students.
  6. Make sure your students know where they stand during the term.  No surprises!
  7. Return all graded homework promptly, ideally the following class.  Some students attempt to  justify their grade appeals by claiming they did not know they were doing poorly.
  8. Do not make assumptions that you could not defend in front of an appeals committee.  For example, if you believe a student cheated but did not personally witness that student copying answers off another student’s test, you better have compelling evidence to support your claim.  An adjunct of mine once made this claim and gave a student a zero on the test.  The tearful student came to me to complain.  I asked the adjunct to give me a copy of the student’s test and the test from which she allegedly copied.  I did not see any evidence of cheating.  As it turned out, the alleged cheater and her accomplice were difficult students who openly argued with the instructor.  The instructor let her negative feelings toward these students to cloud her reasoning.
  9. Double check your calculations before finalizing grades.  Yes, even an instructor as intelligent and gifted as you might make a mistake.  Okay, maybe not you, but maybe someone almost as good as you.  Keep the following incident in mind.  A very good adjunct, a science instructor no less, gave me her grading spreadsheet to validate the grade about which a student was complaining.  After close examination, I realized the formulas in the spreadsheet did not accurately reflect the grading policy as written in the syllabus.  The student had actually earned the grade she was demanding.  I asked the instructor to go back and recalculate all grades and make any grade change corrections that would raise other grades.)
  10. If your college has a formal grade appeal process, commit it to memory.  You need to be aware of the due process rights that you are required to extend to your students.
  11. If your college does not have a documented grade appeal process you still need to be prepared.  Establish a fair and equitable process that you will follow.  However, do not document it in your syllabus.  You will only encourage grade appeals.
  12. Maintain good records, and retain them for at least one year.

Dealing with Grade Appeals

Grade appeals are not pleasant.  They can consume your time and energy that of others – a counselor, your dean, members of an appeals committee, and sometimes even senior administrators.  Grade appeals can go all the way to the provost or college president. Here are steps to take when students complain about grades:
  1. Remember, students earn grades and instructors only report them.  Maintain this perspective when communicating with your students.
  2. Follow your college’s procedures “to the letter.” *  (*I know that many of you readers live outside the United States and, some of you may not be familiar with the idioms I use.  I’ll do a better job of communicating in my books.)
  3. Be sensitive to students allegations, no matter how unfounded they may seem.  If students think you are angry with them, it only fuels their fire and makes them more aggressive in their pursuit of a better grade.  (Did I say it fuels their fire?  No, I am not suggesting a student would set fire to your office or car.  Sadly, however, we must remain mindful of the fact that a few of our students may have emotional or mental issues and may not act with rational civility.)
  4. Communicate with the students professionally and respectfully no matter how angry and accusatory they are.  Never say or do anything that you would not want your dean to hear.  Remember, you have your integrity and that of your institution to uphold.  You never know when that complaining student might be a close relative to the president of the board of trustees.
  5. Check your calculations.  Be open to the fact that you may have made an error.  Admit it if you made a mistake.
  6. Don’t give in.  If a student didn’t earn the grade he or she wants, don’t change it just to get that person off your back.  (Oops, another idiom.  Hopefully, a grade appealing student will never literally jump you from behind, through you to the floor, and sit on your back.  Of course, if that happens, you may want to give in to the student’s demand.)

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

January 30, 2011


The Best College Teaching Book Ever

The Best College Teaching Book Ever

As you may know, one reason I created this website, and the more spartan College Teaching Tips website, was to serve as a launching pad for writing a book or two.  I really need to move forward on this.  Below, you will find some introductory information that may appear in my first book. I know you are thinking, "Rather arrogant of him to predict the best college teaching book ever."  Okay, you are right.  Actually, maybe I can write a pretty good book. BUT FIRST ... What book title would attract you the most?  Please take a minute and answer the SURVEY at the right.
Introduction Each semester, college instructors confront a myriad of problems and challenges.  Some are brought on by students, and others are of their own making.  Inevitably, there were steps instructors could have taken to avoid some problems or to deal more effectively with ones out of their control. Background “He can’t teach.”  “I don’t understand anything she says.”  “He hasn’t returned any our homework.”  “She tested us on things she didn’t cover in class.”  “He can’t even answer our questions.”  These are some of the complaints students lodge against their instructors. “She thinks she is entitled to good grades.”  “He thinks he knows more than I do.”  “She misses half the classes and then argues with me when I don’t explain things well.”  “He shows up late for every class and sits in the back of the room texting his friends.”  These are some of the complaints instructors have about their students. “She didn’t enter her final grades, which were due last Friday.” “His student told me that he does use the textbook.”  “She dismisses class early every evening.”  “He didn’t hold class last night.”  These are some of the complaints college staff lodge against instructors. “If he really said that in class, no wonder his students are angry.” “She never told me she would be canceling class.”  “This student may be right; it does look like he calculated the grade incorrectly.”  “What she did for that individual was unfair to the rest of her students.” These are some of the thoughts that go through a dean’s mind when he or she discovers that an instructor has not performed up to standards. Who Should Read this Book If you are new to college teaching, this book is for you.  If you are struggling to deal with difficult students, this book is for you.  If you are receiving complaints from students, this book is for you.  If you are not having problems and want to keep it that way, this book is for you. The assumption is that those who read this book have the subject matter knowledge and interpersonal skills to be a good college instructor.  However, in many cases these individuals have been thrown into a situation, teaching college students, for which they have neither training nor have experience.  This book is a safety manual for these individuals to help them avoid the problems that can bring an otherwise promising teaching career to an abrupt end. This book does instruct the reader on how to find a college teaching job.  There are numerous resources available to those seeking part-time college teaching positions. Note:  This would not be included in the book, but here are a few resources I can provide:

This book is not a how-to manual for teaching.  Teaching is both an art and science.  There are many books with much helpful advice written on this subject.  In the real world, many new college faculty members, particularly adjuncts, learn on the job.  Some confront problems that keep them from About the Author My name is Paul Hummel.  More than 14 years ago, I left the manufacturing industry to start a new career in higher education.  I still introduce myself as a recovering engineer and probably will continue to do so until I no longer get laughs.  In January of 1996, I began my first of four full-time college positions as a consultant to manufacturers.  Manufacturing Extension Program Manager was the title on my Elgin Community College (ECC) business cards.  A few years later I became the coordinator for non-credit professional development programs, and a few years after that moved into the most rewarding position I have ever held.  I joined the ECC TRiO Students Support Services program, and over a four year period I had the privilege of helping more than 400 disadvantaged students pursue their educational dreams.  In addition to my full-time employment, I also did some part-time teaching for ECC and two other colleges.  In actuality, my part-time teaching endeavors began more than twenty years prior when I taught my first course for ECC, Business Statistics. I began work on my doctorate shortly after starting at ECC.  My concentration was instructional technology with a focus on educational psychology, and my research culminated with a dissertation entitled “An Explanation of Continuous Quality Improvement Practices by College Faculty.”  Graduating in 2005 and armed with my degree, I left ECC to accept the position of Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at Waubonsee Community College . At the time of this writing, I am hiring from 70 to 90 adjunct instructors each semester to teach more than 200 course sections.  Each semester I am gratified to see so many faculty members, including many brand new adjuncts, dedicate themselves to serving our students.  While I have drawn heavily on my observations of their good teaching practices, this is not what prompted me to write this book. Each semester, there are a few adjuncts who struggle.  Some of those problems are of their own making, often because instructors did not follow college policies and procedures.  Some other problems are student related, and a few of these situations escalate into crises.  As a dean, I have gained valuable experience mentoring my faculty on how to avoid problems and helping them solve problems that arise.  These experiences are the basis for this book. Dedication I dedicate this book to the hundreds of adjunct faculty members and dozens of full-time instructors with whom I have worked.  It is through those relationships that I have learned so much about what it takes to be a successful college instructor.
So, that should give you a sense of what I have in mind. As those of you who have been following me know, my mission is to help college adjuncts and new faculty in general avoid to problems that all too many of them confront. If you have your own advice to share, pass it along! :-)

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

January 23, 2011

Give Your College Students What They Want and Need

This is an extremely broad and encompassing topic.  It’s far too large to answer concisely.  However, here is my question.  If you could give one piece of advice to a new college instructor related to this topic, what would it be?  Do you want to hear my response? An Instructor’s Guide for the First Day of Class June 6, 2010, I wrote an article by this title.  Recently, I addressed a group of my adjunct instructors.  I touched on some of the points in my article.  I also talked about some of what I wrote in my recent article How to Prepare to Teach a College Course.  However, I forgot to mention one simple bit of advice of college faculty, which I will mention in a minute. College faculty members are evaluated in several ways.  As a dean, I evaluate them based on student feedback.  I also evaluate them based on student success.  I want to see a high percentage of students passing the course coupled with a low percentage of drops.  Of course, I do my best to determine that my instructors are upholding the integrity of the college and not just easy graders.  There are other intangibles I use, but I will save all that for another article.

What occurred to me is that there is an often overlooked and undervalued resource for college instructors to use to help them give their students what they want and need.  And every instructor should make good use of it.  It is the course evaluation form that their students will complete near the end of the term. Student Evaluations My March 14, 2010, article by this title, was subtitled Make Sure Your Evaluations Aren’t “Evil-uations” The piece of advice that I plan to email to my adjuncts is to review their past evaluations, look for opportunities to improve and make self-improvement plans. For first time instructors, my message is to keep a copy of the evaluation form handy.  Review it regularly, and assess yourself against the criteria your students will be using. What do College Students Want? Here is another tactic you can try.  Ask your students what they want and expect from you.  There are a number of ways to go about this, but I would advise soliciting anonymous feedback.  Ask them open ended questions like “What is the most important thing you want me to do to help you succeed?”  Give them some examples of the things they might want to consider, or you may get a lot of worthless responses like “teach me something” or “go easy on the grades.” Word of Caution: When you ask your students for advice, you are giving them a voice.  There is an expectation that you will not only listen to them but act according to their requests.  For this reason, it is important that you give them some feedback.  Summarize the feedback you receive and share it with your class.  It might go something like this.  “To those of you who requested I dismiss class early every evening, my response is no.  But I will do my best to keep the class interesting so you won’t have any problems staying awake.  A few of you who expressed concern about the two major papers required in this course.  This is a college course, and I intend to uphold high standards.  I expect a lot from you, and I do want you to succeed.  For that reason, I will be guiding you through these two projects.  You will have opportunities to submit drafts for me to review which will not count toward you grades.  Furthermore, you will have one opportunity to resubmit your graded papers if you are not satisfied with the initial grade you earned.” It's all about getting to know college students - your college students. Here’s hoping you give your students what they want and need!

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

January 15, 2011


How to Prepare to Teach a College Course

You know the material.  Your syllabus is ready.  You are confident that you have prepared in every way possible.  But have you?  Are you ready for a good teaching experience? Advice for New College Instructors - Be Prepared One of the top ten complaints (don’t ask me for the other nine right now) that students lodge against their instructors is that they are not prepared.  I have offered teaching advice to new college instructors in the past.  The first item on my list of college teaching tips was to be prepared.  A question I have posed is, “Do Boy Scouts make the best instructors? In previous articles, my emphasis has been on being prepared to teach.  June, 2010, I published "An Instructor’s Guide for the First Day of Class."  Being prepared to teach was the first thing I advised.  In each case, the operative word was been teach.  Want more information?  Check out my resource at the right - Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis. Why be prepared?  The reasons are obvious (or should be), but the consequences seem to be ignored by some instructors.  As a college instructor, you should ask, “Are student blaming their problems on you?”  Often, the answer is yes.  And often, the reason is that you were not prepared. Note:  If you answered no, you are either the most exceptional college instructor to walk the face of this earth since or you are in denial.  I would hate to lose you as a reader, but if you are the former, God bless you.  Nice having you aboard.  If you are in denial, get over it!  If you answered yes and you are still reading, great!  I have the utmost confidence in you.

Why College Students Should Like Their Instructors This was the title of an article I wrote in October, 2010.  I discussed how students react when they like their instructors.  In short, they enjoy the course more and are usually more motivated to learn.  Instructors enjoy their courses more too. Perhaps, however, there is another reason students should like their instructors.  What, you ask?  If you like someone, you are much less likely to wage war against that person.  Wage war?  Students and their instructors don’t wage ware.  Their relationship is never warlike.  (Hold on!  I can see your eye rolling.  I can read your thoughts.  I hope you picked up on my sarcasm.)  Unfortunately, sometimes seem like war. Difficult College Students Who Cause Problems A short time after writing that article I became aware of problems two of my adjuncts were experiencing.  Both situations were sadly similar.  They each had students who contacted me to complain.  The complaints were similar.  Students did not question their instructors’ subject matter knowledge, but rather how they taught.  They also alleged that their instructors dealt with them disrespectfully.  They accused their instructors of demeaning them in front of the entire class.

Some instructors do not know how to deal with difficult students.

I tried to help my instructors.  After talking to both of them (now, I can’t divulge specifics) I learned that there were similarities in their situations.   In one way or another they each sent a strong message to students that they were not performing up to their standards and conveyed, unintentionally, their anger and disliking for some of the students. When it comes to student/teacher problems, I have learned that there are always two sides to the story.  Often, students exaggerate or otherwise misrepresent their side of the issue.  In these two instances, however, I was convinced that there was some merit to the students’ complaints.  But it just didn’t fit with what I knew about these instructors.  I also concluded that the instructors had reason to be angry with a few of their students In both cases my adjuncts reported that, in front of the rest of the class, a student had yelled at them and used profanity.  YIKES!!! OUCH!!!  Call the police!  These &*$^& students should be arrested!  College instructors deserve respect, and these types of behavior cannot be tolerated. Wait, what did I just say?  Did I say that these types of behaviors cannot be tolerated?  Yes I did.   These aggressively disrespectful students were clearly at fault, but what about my instructors.  Did they actually tolerate these behaviors?  My conclusion was that they did.  :-( Be Prepared for the Worst Bottom line – there is more to preparing for the course you are teaching than lesson plans.  A college instructor should prepare mentally to deal with unacceptable student behaviors.  When caught off guard, unprepared instructors may respond inappropriately.  They may lower themselves to the level of their problematic students.  Don’t let that happen to you! Ever watch a comedian deal with hecklers?  They have the quickest comebacks.  Sure, they are talented improvisation performers.  But you can bet they had prepared retorts and stored them in their bag of tricks.  A college instructor can do the same.  However, sometimes you may be at a loss.  You may not have prepared for that disrespectful attack.  Stop.  Think it through.  Then respond like this guy in the YouTube video entitled “Comic owns heckler, wins back crowd.”  ;-)

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Updated:  August 17, 2011


Acting and Learning in the College Classroom

You can help your students learn through acting, just one of the many creative instructional techniques you can use in the college classroom.  Of course, we are not talking about performing Hamlet in a Calculus class.  Shakespeare does not “integrate” well into mathematics.  Anyway, read on and see I mean. How Can Acting out a Play Help Students Learn? Writing and acting out a play, one that relates to the subject at hand, can help your students learn.  There are three reasons for this:
  1. Active Learning – When students write a skit related to a course topic, they become actively self-engaged in the learning process.  They learn the material because they use the material.
  2. Multiple Learning Modalities - The students who are cast into the “staring” roles exercise all three learning modalities – Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic.  They will read their lines, and they observe their fellow actors.  They hear themselves and their costars speaking their lines.  And, they act.
  3. Student Engagement – Inevitably, a classroom skit that is written and acted by students is going to be humorous.  A little bit of over-acting and a muffed line or two will certainly precipitate a few giggles from their classmates in the audience.  And isn't classroom participation something you value? Face it; some of you students will pay closer attention to their classmates than to you. :-(
Should Acting Come Into Play? The next time you assign a written paper, consider giving students the alternative of writing and performing a short play.  Or maybe, if you give your students extra credit opportunities, this could be one.  However, first a few words of caution.

Acting does not lend itself well to all subjects, Anatomy and Physiology for example; and an in-class performance can rob valuable time from other learning activities.  You will want to establish strict time limitations.  You should also provide a very specific grading rubric, without which there may be little educational value.  The play may be all play with no learning.  In addition, you will want to assess your students’ learning, particularly that of the students in the audience.  To that end, you might engage the class in a follow-up discussion, which can become a richer learning experience than the play itself.  Or maybe you assign the students in the audience the role of critics.  But again, some ground rules would be prudent.  You will want your play critics to discuss how well the cast communicated the topic and what they learned from the performance as opposed to blaspheming the acting performances. Students as Actors, Not Writers Do you think it a bit too much to ask your students to write and perform a play that achieves worthwhile learning objectives?  You may be right, but that doesn’t preclude all opportunities for thespian inspired learning.  Write you own skit, and have student volunteers perform it in front of the class.  That is exactly what one of my adjunct instructors did.  If you are like Dr. Philip Nubel you may want to give it a shot yourself. Phil Nubel is a Ph.D. chemist who continuously strives to engage his Introduction to Chemistry students, something that can be a challenging, and sometimes even frustrating, task.  Many students take this course only because they need a general education science elective, and it fit into their schedule.  Few if any plan to major in chemistry.  What Phil did was to write a short play to help his students understand the basics of chemical reaction rates.  He incorporated a little humor and created a parody of the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger, which he entitled “Dr. Goldlove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Alchemy.”  There were three roles, those of Narrator, Corporate CEO and Dr. Goldlove, a chemist who had been working 10 years on a project to turn lead into gold.

Script for a Chemistry Play

Phil shared the play script with me for two reasons.  First, he was justifiably proud of the creative way he designed this classroom learning activity.  Second, he was paying homage to the dean who kiddingly refers to this discipline as “alchemy.”  (At least I tell my chemistry faculty I am kidding.  It really is alchemy, you know.  ;-) ).  I read the script.  While Phil’s future as a playwright is off Broadway (way, way off Broadway), I could see the instructional value.  That is why I requested his permission to talk about his work in this article. Is Playing Around a Good Idea for You and Your Class? A classroom skit may or may not be right for you and your students.  It depends on your creativity as a playwright and/or your ability to effectively structure and manage such a performance assignment.  It also depends on the subject and topic at hand.  Then too, personalities come into play.  You may be a wonderful college instructor for whom such an activity just doesn’t work; it isn’t you.  Don’t go down this road if you are not comfortable with it.  Or you may have a group of students whom you judge unlikely in their ability to make this work. Don’t be afraid to experiment, however.  The lesson that we can all learn from Phil Nubel’s experience is that there can be rewards for taking a pedagogical chance on a new, creative instructional activity.  Unconventional learning activities can help students learn.  Besides, they can be fun for the teacher and the students.  Yes, it is permissible to have fun in class.  :-)

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

December 30, 2010

Why College Students Should Like Their Instructors

Why Students Should Like You

October 14, 2010, four people found this website with the search phrase "getting students to like you." I posted a question to a LinkedIn group to which I belong. I asked those in the group if they thought is was important for students to like their instructors. The feedback to date can be summarized as follows:
  1. It is more enjoyable for the instructor if students like him/her;
  2. It is more important that student's like the course; and
  3. Students may be more motivated to learn if they like either the instructor or the course.
This seems like stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious is not ... well .. obvious.

A Lesson for College Instructors

Students are more motivated if they like their class. They may like the subject or they may like the teacher or they may like both the subject and the teacher. Logically, it would seem that students who like both would be the most motivated. I have read several articles recently that address student motivation. Most researchers agree that intrinsic motivation is the most important factor for student learning. Some academics believe that self efficacy is the most crucial factor. This would explain how students stay motivated in online university courses such as an online accounting degree when the instructors are not present physically. Student learning is paramount. So, isn't the real goal for college instructors to get students to like the course no matter how that comes about? Shouldn't instructors help struggling students gain confidence in themselves and their ability to learn?

Changing College Students' Attitudes

It is a good idea for instructors to attempt to get students to like them. If students come into the course disliking the subject, a well thought of instructor may be able change their attitudes. This seems like common sense, but the basis for my contention is rooted in psychology and attitude change theory. It comes from the work of Fritz Heider in 1944. Heider posited what he called "Balance Theory" to explain how people form and change their attitudes. The principle is simple and best illustrated with a few examples: Positively Balanced System - George loves history and he likes his history instructor very much. It is fair to assume that his instructor likes history too, which means all is in balance. There is no motivation for George to change his feelings about history. Negatively Balanced System - Christopher dislikes his English literature teacher who loves Chaucer, and Christopher particularly dislikes Chaucer. The fact that Christopher dislikes both his instructor and Chaucer is consistent. Certainly, someone he dislikes is not going to change his opinion. Unbalanced System - June likes her math instructor, but she dislikes algebra. This is not consistent. The system is not in balance. Perhaps her instructor can help her gain an appreciation for algebra. If June really likes her instructor, she will be open to advice. Heider contended that people strive to be in balance. So, it is reasonable to assume that a likable instructor can have an impact and his or her students' attitudes. I have seen this happen. I remember the math instructor who could hardly hold back the tears when she told me about a math-phobic student who struggled the first couple weeks. The instructor tutored her and encouraged her. Not only did the students grades improve, this young lady who was scared to death of math now wanted to be a math teacher.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

October 21, 2010


Servant Leadership in the College Classroom

Is a good college instructor also a servant-leader?  Perhaps.  Servant-Leaders and Servant-Teachers have a lot in common.

Practicing Servant Leadership in the College Classroom

I recently published an article entitled Servant Leadership Basics on Suite 101.  I was motivated by the keynote speaker at a conference I recently attended.  The speaker, Dr. Kent M. Keith, immediately got me thinking about how servant leadership relates to college teaching. I was able to chat briefly with Dr. Keith, and I mentioned my thoughts on this matter.  Basically, with a small tweak or two, there is no question.  Good college teaching, all teaching for that matter, is a form of servant leadership.  I choose to call it “Servant-Teaching.”  (Note:  I really thought I was on to something, but a quick Google search shattered my hope that I was about to coin a new term. :-( )

The Practices of a Servant-Leader

Much of Dr. Keith’s talk, as well as the breakout session he led, were addressed in his book The Case for Servant Leadership (2008).  In it, he identified seven behaviors that characterize servant-leaders.  I recommend you get the book.  It is a short, easy reader.  It typifies that old adage that good things coming in small packages. Here are what Keith identified as “The Key Practices of Servant-Leaders”:
  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Listening
  3. Changing the Pyramid
  4. Developing Your Colleagues
  5. Coaching, Not Controlling
  6. Unleashing the Energy and Intelligence of Others
  7. Foresight
Let me explain how these practices can be applied to teaching college students.

The Practices of a Servant-Teacher

With a bit a tweaking to Keith’s work, here are my seven key practices of the college Servant-Teacher:
  1. Being Self-Aware – (Sorry Dr. Keith, but I am a stickler for parallel construction.  I choose to make my list entirely of present participles. :-( )  Similar to what Keith stated, Servant-Teachers are aware of their strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge proactively to improve their art.  They are also aware of how what they say and do impacts their students.  They know that a joke in poor taste or a sarcastic comment can alienate their students.  They know that just by the attitude they display they have a profound impact on their students and their learning.
  2. Listening – Servant-Teachers solicit feedback from their students in a variety of ways – quizzes and tests of course, but also techniques such as classroom discussions, one-minute papers, one-on-one meetings, and a variety of classroom assessment techniques (CAT’s).  They know that students will not always speak up, so they work at getting students to open up.  They know this requires building trust in the eyes of their students.  They know that the feedback they get will help them become better teachers.  They know that each student is different; each has his or her own needs.  They know that only by listening to each student can they begin to create a learning centered environment, which is a great segway to the next practice.
  3. Creating a Learning-Centered Environment – Keith used the term “Changing the Pyramid.”  The term pyramid refers to the hierarchical management structure that is prevalent in many organizations, one where the “boss” sitting at the top.  Changing the pyramid can involve tipping it on its side so information can flow laterally as opposed to up and down organizational silos.  It can even be inverting the pyramid so those formerly at the bottom, the front line workers, have a voice in directing the work.  This is exactly what it means to create a learning-centered, or learner-centered, classroom.  Students take ownership for their learning.  They are given a voice and help direct their own learning.
  4. Developing Your Students – A Servant-Teacher may practice Keith’s fourth item, which was “Developing Your Colleagues.”  However, students are not colleagues, at least not in the traditional sense.  It goes without saying that college teachers are there to help their students develop in terms of knowledge and skills.  But Servant-Leadership, and therefore Servant-Teaching, goes deeper.  The Servant-Teachers help students develop critical thinking skills.  They help them find the motivation that lies within.  They even, upon occasion, ignite a passion that their students will carry forward throughout their lives.
  5. Coaching, Not Controlling – Let me just say this.  Coaching is important.  It will be included on my next edition of 50 Roles for College Faculty.  I could argue that it is already there.  Three of the roles in my first version are synonymous with coaching – Cheerleader, Mentor, and Team Builder.  Now, let’s consider the “Not Controlling” part.  Adult Learners like to be treated as … well, you’ve got it … they like to be treated as adults, not slaves or prisoners.  My article entitled Community College Basics for University Professors touches on this subject.
  6. Unleashing the Energy and Intelligence of Students – That pretty much says it all.  If you require an explanation, then maybe you are in the wrong profession.  Sorry, just have to be honest.
  7. Anticipating the Future – Dr. Keith called it “Foresight,” which is a noun, not a verb.  (If I sound like I am being critical of Kent Keith, it shouldn’t.  If you chose to study his background, you will share my own awe and respect for this man.)  For college instructors, that can mean adapting and changing during the term.  However, the bigger picture is the future of their students.  Servant-Teachers are always taking that into consideration and doing their part to help prepare their students for what lies ahead.
Adjuncts as Servant-Teachers Can you be a good college adjunct without being a Servant-Teacher?  Yes.  Heck, many tenured full-time college professors miss this mark.  Can you be a great college adjunct without following the Seven Practices of a Servant-Teacher?  No. The adjunct who truly is a Servant-Teacher is a special educator.  Every institution of higher learning would be proud to have this part-time faculty member on board.  To those colleges and universities who employ such an adjunct, shame on you!  Why haven’t you given this person a full-time position?  ;-)

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

November 23, 2010


Getting Students to Like You

How can a college instructor get students to like him or her?

This is a great question! In fact, it was the search term some of you entered when you found me website. I have so many thoughts to share, and now I have another one. Perhaps some of you would be so kind as to share your thoughts on this subject. If you are a regular reader, you know how opinionated I am. But trust me, I value the opinions of others. For now, I will pose this query. Is it important for students to like their instructors?

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

October 17, 2010


College Students Should Be Proactive

Be Proactive is Steven Covey's 1st Habit for Highly Effective People

Steven Covey's book, The 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, is one of my favorites. It prompted several of my article on this blog. And it prompted me to write an article directed at students, which I published on Suite 101. It is entitled Be Proactive – A Habit of Highly Successful College Students. You have read my article about college teachers being proactive, right. No? Shame on you! It is entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective College Adjuncts. Yes, it applies to all college faculty members, but as you read the article you will understand the unique importance being proactive plays for adjuncts. My recommendation to college instructors is to make your students aware of what it means to be proactive. Clarify your expectations in that regard. Maybe even refer them to my article.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

October 15, 2010


More on Engaging College Students

Two dozen tips for engaging college students.

As I mentioned in my previous article, I did a self-assessment by looking through the 88 articles I had posted as of October 10th to see how well I have addressed this issue. I identified 24 articles that I pulled together for you. Here are my remaining 12 tips for engaging college students with links to the related articles:
  1. When students ask questions, be careful how you answer them. They way your respond can either promote discussion or it can stifle it. For more information on this topic, click here.
  2. Provide them with prompt feedback. Failure to do so turns students off. For more information on this topic, click here.
  3. Maintain a civil classroom setting. Do not tolerate disruptive behaviors. For more information on this topic, click here.
  4. Know what constitutes disruptive behavior. Even the most benign actions on the part of one student may make it less likely that other students will participate. For more information on this topic, click here.
  5. Be mindful of how you interact with your students. Know what not to say to them. If you are not showing them respect, how in the world can you expect them to show you respect? For more information on this topic, click here.
  6. Don’t send negative signals to your students. If they think you think they are incapable of succeeding in your class, they will pick up on that. It may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For more information on this topic, click here.
  7. Apply Steven Covey’s 6th Habit – Synergy. Make sure your students know their joint responsibility with you to make the class the best it can be. For more information on this topic, click here.
  8. Know that some of your students will not approach you no matter how approachable you think you are. For more information on this topic, click here.
  9. Be prepared to deal with disturbing behaviors in a mature manner. Don’t let students trigger your hot button. For more information on this topic, click here.
  10. Make sure your students know your expectations are and what they will be held accountable for. They should understand that you cannot cover every piece of information that may appear on a test, so they need to ask questions and seek assistance if they don’t understand something. For more information on this topic, click here.
  11. Be sensitive to the emotional needs of your students. Students who are withdrawn may have personal problems. As an instructor, you have an obligation to deal with potentially serious situations. For more information on this topic, click here.
  12. If you sense problems, be proactive. You are the instructor; it’s your job to make things better. For more information on this topic, click here.
So there are my 24 tips for engaging college students. Teaching college students can be a bit challenging at times. (By the way, that is my submission for understatement of the week. :-) ) There are few things more aggravating than students who disrespectfully ignore their instructor to attend to other diversions. I hope these suggestions are helpful to you. And let me know if you have any recommendations to add to the list.  

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Revised August 6, 2011