Great Student Expectations: A Guide for Faculty

Students come to courses with certain baseline expectations of faculty. Chief among these according to Blue Ridge Community College are:

  • Providing opportunities to learn
  • Acting with professionalism
  • Grading fairly and returning work promptly
  • Being accessible to students
  • Communicating in a timely and professional manner

At the community college level, we must also be respectful of students’ time, resources and life outside of the college. This balancing act is a challenge for many instructors who struggle to cover material and meet course competencies while keeping workload and time commitment manageable for students. This is a lot to juggle!

Student expectations are expanding in ways that go beyond traditional teaching, advising and college staff roles. Faculty are expected to be classroom referees, counselors and hand-holders. Advisors are expected to solve problems that reside outside the college environment.

Students may expect special treatment around due dates, grading, attendance, etc. What was once termed “timely communication” may now mean an immediate response regarding grading, emails and phone conversations. Students may make appointments to meet outside of office hours and then not show up. These annoyances may be par for the course, but they can absorb instructor time, erode enthusiasm and create a student culture that distracts from teaching.

While we forced to navigate complex issues when they arise, part of the solution may be in prevention. This starts on day one of the course with a carefully written syllabus and an explanation of what students can expect of the instructor.

The syllabus should include information about:

  • Course policies reading class work, attendance and late submissions
  • The instructor’s expectations of students
  • What the student can expect of the faculty, such as fairness in grading, office hours, communication preferences

When situations arise, it is much easier to go back to the syllabus and remind students of the rules of the class and the role of faculty and students. To be most effective:

  1. Be consistent in enforcement of rules
  2. Include class policies in the explain policies to students if they are uncertain what you intend
  3. Grade blindly
  4. Include communication preferences and guidelines in the syllabus and your general response time
  5. Communicate clearly and keep copies of emails
  6. Never react in anger and frustration

Sandy Chapman at Colorado State University recognizes that each semester there is often a student who crosses the invisible boundary in ways that can hinder learning, monopolize faculty time and energy, and create drama. Look at her helpful advice for staying on point and sane.  Strategies for Setting Student/Instructor Boundaries

Learn more about Email Boundaries and expectations from Nate Kreuter.

The article Connecting with Students While Maintaining Ethical Boundaries unpacks “professionalism” in a world of social media, power dynamics and much more.

The article Faculty Focus, Students Place a Premium on Faculty Who Show They Care, discusses the value of limits and carefully set boundaries.

Resources at the T & L site for:






Embrace Civility in the Classroom

Teaching is a demanding task. Challenges arise at every turn, which makes it an engaging and dynamic occupation. In addition to worrying about content and learning in our classrooms, we also need to be concerned with classroom dynamics and the erosion of civility. When it comes to promoting classroom etiquette and respect, instructors need to lead by example, set expectations and take action when needed. It starts with us and ends with us–so let’s see how to make a difference.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. ~Dalai Lama

More and more instructors are being called on to promote civility and classroom etiquette. Schroeder and Robertson’s article, Civility in the College Classroom, provides a glimpse into the problem of hostility, disrespect and aggression that is occurring in classrooms across the nation.  It is not a reflection of the instructor, the course or students in general. Remember this problem is coming into our classrooms and college campuses from the outside world. Without interventions, the problem can easily get out of hand. While there are often college-level policies and procedures to help, the role of the instructor cannot be understated. Here are some steps that can communicate expectations for student conduct:

Promoting Respect and Civility in the Classroom from the Academy of Art University

  1. Lead by example and model the behaviors you want to see by responding to students in appropriate ways. This means acknowledging really good work and comments from students, encouraging and modeling honest and tactful communication, and letting students know when they have been inappropriate. If a teacher ignores inappropriate comments, students may think the teacher is condoning them, or doesn’t care about students.
  2. Plan, in advance, ways you will address issues of incivility. A timely response is important, and if you have thought the situation and response through, you will be able to respond more effectively. It is often helpful to come up with a hierarchy of responses to potential situations. For example, if a student is talking over you, first make eye contact, and then move near the student and pause, before speaking to him or her in private.
  3. Keep communication open. Make a point to greet your students by name as they come into class. Try to seize on other opportunities to personally connect with all of your students, giving each student equal attention and a sense of value.
  4. Foster unity and inclusion through pair work, group work, and “roundtable” discussion that promotes the mutually respectful sharing of ideas and responsibilities.
  5. Respect students’ privacy and dignity. Never post grades that display the students’ names—only ID numbers. Even when using ID numbers, rearrange the order in which students are listed so that it’s not easily recognizable to others.
  6. Respect students as individuals, taking into account a student’s learning style, strengths, back-ground, and demands on time. This can be done without compromising the high performance standards you have set.

Discussions in online classes require ground rules and clear expectations—make it part of your class in ways that are positive and unambiguous. In the article, Netiquette: Make it Part of Your Syllabus, Mintu-Wimsatt, Kernek and Lozada provide suggestions for the syllabus and wording of rules of engagement in online classes.

Netiquette – Often-Overlooked Policy from Rutger’s may help you craft your own netiquette policy to help prevent issues in online classes

How to communicate and participate in online classes 

University of Missouri: Show me Respect, The Civility Toolkit is chock-full of resources, ideas and commentary on the need for campus and classroom interventions. This clearinghouse of resources has something for every instructor.

In Praise of Encouragement

There is a fundamental difference between praise and encouragement. This is a distinction to keep in mind as we wrap up the semester and provide students with feedback on their learning. We want our students to reflect on their learning in ways that move them toward their next goal—we need to do that, too.

We live in a “great job” world where students have become accustomed to hearing praise. It is, to some people’s thinking, cheap and easy to handout. Encouragement, on the other hand, takes more time and effort to dole out. The results of praise and those of encouragement differ greatly. Praise can signal that the job is over and we can sit back and admire the results. Encouragement lets us know that we are still working and that the job is not finished.

Think about your student as a runner. If you yell out “Well done” before the end of the race, the runner might get the idea that s/he is done and can rest. But, if you yell “Keep it up—your getting there”, the runner is bolstered by the support and keeps moving.

Encouragement can have the effect of keeping a desired behavior going. That can be attending class, being active in discussions or submitting work on time. It also communicates expectations, standards and models behavior for others.

Here are some resources to get you started:




Fall Semester at GCC: Welcome back!

As we start making plans for our classes and our students, we have to admire how much has changed in a few short months. During the summer GCC has been thriving, growing and moving in exciting directions. The commitment to students, staff, faculty and the community remains strong, but the tools that allow us to create and foster success have expanded and deepened.

For instance, you have probably noticed the new look of the GCC website—these changes make the site more mobile-friendly. There are new technology and moodle resources to help students and faculty. Plus there are new posts and links at the Teaching and Learning site to help solve problems, see common challenges in new ways and support the vital work that happens at GCC.

But perhaps most importantly, we have new students and many returning students who will be new to each of us. They will look to us to nurture, support and encourage their educational goals. While each of us has our own tried and true methods, the best teachers and staff are those who are looking to improve, innovate and take risks. Now is the ideal time to try something new…. and there are resources to help do that! Read about the moment that Eric Mazur’s teaching changed dramatically.

The start of the semester is exciting—full of transitions and fresh starts. This is the time to “hook” students and get them interested in your class and the work they will do! Take a look at 101 ideas for the First Three weeks of Class.

Syllabus help:

General Tips and Ideas:

Also available on the Teaching and Learning website are ideas for working with diverse populations, motivating students, designing courses and assignments, etc. You can use the search tool or the menu on the right hand side of the site. If there are resources you have to share or ideas for additional resources, please let me know at

Have a great semester!

Spring Semester: Let’s Get Started!

What an electrifying time of year— a new year and the start of a new semester! The next two weeks are sure to be filled with excitement and questions. Don’t worry! There are many resources to help you be successful in the classroom, with your advisees and colleagues.

Maybe you are teaching a new course or contemplating changes to an existing class. To design your course and overcome common teaching challenges look to Honolulu Community College for articles and useful tips. From first day success to course design, they have it all.  For those teaching a new course, the Step by Step: Planning a College Course can help take your course from concept to a fully-designed course efficiently. Allow yourself plenty of time at each steps to consider what you want students to learning and how to achieve those learning goals in ways that are stimulating and engaging.

You might be wondering how to be better organized and more efficient. Part of teaching is materials management…what to do with all the papers and course materials?! Saving materials from one semester to the next can plunge our offices into chaos. Get a handle on all the detritus of teaching without stress using these helpful tips from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Saving paper and materials is only part of the task…saving time and being efficient is also key.

Perhaps you are considering how to communicate better with your advisees and help them be more successful in their courses. The advisor-advisee relationship is often strengthened through clear communication and enhanced listening skills. Monmouth Community College offers some simple, yet effective tools to help you grow your academic relationships and be a better advisor.  Understanding our role as an advisor can help us to make the most of each interaction with students and be their advocate, mentor, motivating force and cheerleader.

Creating a Rubric: The why and how…

Creating an effective rubric can seem daunting, but is well worth the effort and will save time grading. Grading rubrics are valuable tools for both instructors and students not only for grading purposes, but also as a tool to communicate expectations about skills and information mastery.

Sharing student learning goals and how these will be measured helps students to understand your assessment strategies. Rubrics also describe the importance of individual grading items and can emphasize learning priorities for students. Rubrics help students meet learning objectives and actually do better on assignments. It is a measure of respect we provide to students about how they will be assessed—they are less likely to be caught off guard.

Many resources exist for rubric construction, but most start with learning objectives for each lesson that are clear, specific and measurable. Once we know what students need to learn and how they are going to accomplish it, we can look at how to assess their progress and how to weight each learning goal in terms of relative importance.

This link to Carnegie Mellon University provides a strong induction to using rubrics and examples of rubrics for assignments, projects, presentations and more.

This primer on creating rubrics offers a simple how-to for creating a rubric. How to Create a Grading Rubric

MA is now designated as a Leap State which means that the AACU Value Rubrics are important for measuring program level student outcomes. Look at this resource for more information on Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE).

For examples of rubrics for assessing different types of learning, multiple disciplines and skills, look at Stephen F Austin State University, Association for the Assessment in Higher Education or the University of West Florida.

If you have interest in sharing a rubric you use any an assignment, please do. Send them to and they can be added to the T & L site.

Education News: Retention and Degree Completion

In a new report with national implications for public higher education, the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) found that just 17 percent of the full-time students who entered one of the 15 community colleges in Massachusetts in 2003 earned a degree or certificate by 2010. Read more… This is not a problem unique to Massachusetts, look at graduation rates for community colleges around the nation.

As the MTA report suggests, part of the fix might be in how we approach advising and student services. Recognizing struggling students is not always easy and by the time we identify those who might benefit from additional help, the impact on self-confidence and grades might be significant. Here are some steps you can take early in the semester to help all students:

If you are an advisor, consider:

  • Email your advisees within the first two weeks to check on their classes and how the semester is going
  • Remind advisees of resources and deadlines for dropping classes




Communication and Writing Resources

Using Motivational Interviewing to Communicate with Students

Teachers and advisors who use motivational interviewing (MI) enhance their listening and problem-solving skills to become more effective communicators and create better rapport with students. MI has been shown as an effective method for creating dialogue, rapport and ultimately helping to motivate students. Following specific techniques and a methodological approach, motivational interviewing can help students move forward, see alternative paths toward their goal and take ownership.

Motivational Interviewing Thought & Action

WAC:  Writing Across the Curriculum 

Promoting Student Engagement

A common goal and challenge for online faculty is to increase student participation in online classes. Not only does participation help promote student retention and satisfaction, but it also helps demonstrate student learning and understanding of course concepts. Encouraging student participation involves well-crafted assignments that link learning objectives with appropriate online learning tools. Students need to understand what is expected in an online discussion and how these assignments will be graded to help them meet expectations.

Provide students with some Tips for online classes to get them acclimated to the online environment.


This presentation from the New England Faculty Development Consortium Annual Conference in 2012 highlights best practices for online student participation and ideas about how to engage students using blogs, discussions and online learning journals.Engaging distance learners NEFDC 2012

Writing strong discussion questions can seem daunting. The goal is to stimulate student interest and promote learning. Use this resource from the University of Oregon to get started. Discussion question types University of OR

What is the role of faculty in online discussions? How often should the instructor post? Faculty online posts

Learn more about structuring online discussions. Look for new and innovative discussion activities from Laurel Warren Trufant in her article Move over Socrates…Online Discussion is here


Students may be uncertain how best to communicate with their colleagues and their instructor in an online class–from emailing to posting in discussions, students often need additional information. It is the faculty’s responsibility to set the ground rules about communication and the tone of the learning community. While there are many opinions about communication style and the use of specific language, most faculty can agree that they want to promote an atmosphere of respect and tolerance where multiple voices can be heard and all students are encouraged to share their ideas.

This document on EMAIL ETIQUETTE explains to students how to create a professional email that is not only appropriate for college interactions, but is also helpful for students in the work world.

Click on the image for some ideas about Netiquette: the Social Code of Online Students and how to promote civility and communication among students.

Here is just one set of “rules” for posting in an online class. Edit the list to fit your course needs. How to communicate and participate in online classes. The University of Pittsburgh provides advanced tips on netiquette for students.