Go ahead. Describe your favourite student. Why are they your favourite student?
I’ve never been asked this question before.
This time of the year is the most wonderful time of the year for university faculty as we are often on the conference circuit, sharing research, and learning from other experts in the field. I try to attend as many workshops, speaker events, and conferences on teaching and learning as I can to help me reflect on the past year and to inspire me to make meaningful changes in my teaching practice for the year ahead.
I had a chance to debrief my responses to the statement and question above at a session hosted by my institution’s Centre for Teaching and Learning. The topic of the session was “How Do We Engage Students as Partners in Teaching and Learning?” and the speaker was Dr. Peter Felten from Elon University.
Once in a while I share stories about my stellar students with my colleagues or family, but I have to admit, I haven’t given much thought as to why those students are my favourites. More often, I talk about my frustrations with students. You know, the typical.
They show up late for class or they don’t show up at all. They are online shopping or texting during class. They don’t participate in class. They hand in assignments late. They seem to be struggling with the material, but they don’t ask for help.
Back to the favourite student part.
My favourite students tend to show up with energy, joy and curiosity. They are present, not just in body, but in mind. They don’t check their cell phones every two minutes but instead put their technology away and focus on what is happening right in front of them. My favourite students show me they are engaged by asking great questions, by offering information, by taking notes, by staying awake. My favourite students challenge me and help the whole class learn. They encourage others to get involved. They are kind. They are great team members. They do what they say they are going to do.
The best part of this list is that anyone can demonstrate favourite student behaviours. Notice there is no mention of grades in this list.
Let me flip the question for you. Describe your favourite professor. Why are they your favourite professor? Would your list be much different from the one above? Maybe a little, but I bet that many of the behaviours and attitudes you describe would be pretty well aligned with the favourite student ones.
What does this mean?
It means that we can all pay more attention to those behaviours that make a difference in engaging ourselves, our students, our classmates, and our professors in our classrooms. Learning in a university classroom is a partnership, not a one-sided deal. We each have our roles to play and I think if we understand those roles a little better, we just might have a better experience because of it.