Building bridges: Strengthening the faculty-student connection for academic success

May 6, 2024 Watermark Insights

Building bridges: Strengthening the faculty-student connection for academic success

A strong student-faculty connection is integral to achieving academic success in and out of the classroom. Your teaching faculty is an incredible resource for your learners, and the relationships they establish can ultimately advance their careers. 

Your institution can utilize different strategies to strengthen these relationships and inspire your students and teaching staff to lean on each other. Learn more about the value of connecting faculty and students below.

The importance of a strong student and faculty connection

Your faculty has a direct impact on your higher education institution's reputation, learning outcomes, and overall student experiences. They play an integral role in preparing learners for their lives and careers after graduation. 

The importance of a strong student and faculty connection

Colleges and universities benefit from implementing strategies to develop student and faculty connections further. Explore the key reasons why below:

Academic achievement

Strong relationships between students and teaching staff result in greater academic achievement and engagement. These connections help learners feel supported inside and outside of the classroom. When a student respects and feels comfortable with their instructor, they will be more likely to raise their hand in class, participate in meaningful discussions, stay motivated, and seek help when needed. 

Faculty members who eagerly help students overcome academic challenges and create a welcoming environment for getting advice or feedback are highly valuable to your institution. They help remove the obstacles that keep students from getting the help and attention they need to succeed. 

Positive student-faculty connections can also facilitate greater academic and research opportunities. With the right support and guidance, students can more easily navigate new concepts, exercise critical thinking, and boost problem-solving. These interactions between educators and learners greatly influence student retention and success.

Professional development

The role of faculty and student connections goes far beyond the boundaries of campus. These relationships have a profound impact on the professional development of both students and their instructors. 

Your teaching faculty is an incredible resource for your students. They have real-world experience and expertise in their fields, making them excellent mentors for individuals at the beginning of their careers. They understand what it takes to be successful and have meaningful connections within their respective industries. 

Students who feel connected with their instructors can capitalize on this professional network to find job opportunities. Trusted faculty can also share letters of recommendation and references for learners after graduation.

In helping students take the next steps in their careers, faculty members can refine their communication and teaching skills to better serve the unique needs of different types of learners who come from diverse backgrounds. 

Sense of community

Community is essential in higher education. The connections between your students and faculty play an important role in establishing a strong sense of belonging. When learners develop meaningful relationships with their educators, they will feel more supported and valued. They'll also be more likely to participate in extracurricular activities with professors that they respect and feel comfortable with. 

With the increased emphasis on mental health in higher education over the last decade, instructors have a responsibility to foster open communication and advise struggling students. This support contributes to a strong sense of community that is vital for student and faculty retention.

Healthy student-faculty connections also enhance collaboration for research initiatives, community engagement activities, and other academic projects. These relationships make students feel like they can get the advice, support, and feedback needed to succeed. They are integral to establishing an inclusive environment where everyone's contribution is valuable. 

10 ideas for facilitating strong student and faculty connections

Colleges and universities can take steps to bridge the gap between learners and instructors. The following are useful tips for enhancing these important connections at your institution: 

1. Open communication

Open communication is the first step in connecting faculty and students. Learners need to know how to reach their instructors outside of class. Encourage your teaching staff to have regular office hours and share the best ways (by email or phone, for example) and times to get in touch with questions or concerns. 

Office hours are a great way for students and educators to get time one-on-one. They offer a time and place to discuss complicated concepts from class and deepen relationships. Students who actively engage with professors outside of class can enrich their academic experiences and gain more confidence. 

Open communication

When faculty and students feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feedback openly, it creates a supportive and trusting environment. Learners will be more engaged and eager to participate in a space where they feel their voice is heard and valued. 

Open lines of communication also allow your teaching staff and students to gain a greater understanding of one another, which is integral for building long-term relationships. 

2. Personalized attention and feedback

Another tip for strengthening the bond between your institution's faculty and students is to emphasize the value of personalized interactions. In today's academic landscape, students can easily fly under the radar, especially in virtual classes. By taking the time to get to know their students on a personal level, your instructors can understand their needs on a deeper level and tailor their teaching approaches accordingly. 

Personalization and adaptive learning approaches are increasingly commonplace in higher education because they are more engaging and impactful. Receiving individualized attention or feedback can enhance the academic experience and make students feel as though their institution values and supports them. 

Every learner is different. In catering to each student's unique strengths and weaknesses, your faculty can demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity and excellence.

Tailored support and personalized attention ultimately enhance the connection between your faculty members and students.

3. Mentorship and advisement programs

A proper mentorship program is a fantastic way to bring faculty and students closer together. There are a few different ways higher education institutions can facilitate these initiatives. 

The first is assigning each learner a specific instructor to meet with periodically. During these meetings, instructors and students will review current coursework and create a strategic plan for the future. These types of meetings tend to be academic, but they can also serve as a safe space for students to navigate challenges, make informed decisions and set goals with the help of an experienced faculty member. 

Mentorship programs can also be less structured and allow students and professors to create professional relationships organically. Learners can inquire about industry-specific questions, and their mentor can be a great resource when stepping into the working world. 

These mentor-mentee relationships can also inspire more individuals to connect on a deeper level with your teaching faculty. They are also an incredible tool for fostering a culture of continuous improvement where students feel inspired to find new ways to improve with the guidance and support of a trusted faculty member.

4. Feedback mechanisms

Feedback mechanisms

Your institution can also strengthen faculty and student connections by implementing feedback mechanisms, such as:

  • Course evaluations: Students can share their honest reviews of each course they complete, sharing their perspectives on the content and any obstacles they encountered along the way. 
  • Midterm surveys: Your faculty can distribute surveys or questionnaires halfway through the course to identify ways to serve individual students better for the remaining term. 
  • One-on-one sessions: Instructors can meet up with students to share personalized input on the individual's academic performance and receive insight into the impact of their teaching methods from each learner's perspective.
  • Focus groups: Your teaching staff can also host focus groups where they invite a few students to discuss the different aspects of the course and its content in depth.

Both students and faculty members benefit from receiving ongoing feedback, allowing them to connect over ways to improve performance and strive toward excellence.

5. Professional development opportunities

When your higher education institution's faculty has the tools they need to succeed, they can refine their methodologies, expand their understanding of new teaching concepts, and ultimately improve student experiences. By offering your teaching staff professional development opportunities, you allow them to gain new skills and expertise needed to advance in their careers and become better instructors for your institution. 

Some popular examples of professional development opportunities include training, conferences, workshops, and online learning platforms. These events and programs can help your teaching staff:

  • Discover their teaching strategies.
  • Explore new research findings.
  • Learn about current trends in the labor market.
  • Tailor their instructional approach to different learning styles.

When you equip your faculty with impactful professional learning and development opportunities, your institution's students directly benefit from this growth. 

6. Recognition and appreciation

Another way for your higher education institution to facilitate strong and meaningful connections between faculty and students is through recognition. Everyone enjoys feeling like their hard work and expertise are valuable to their workplace, and your teaching staff is no exception. 

Shed light on their accomplishments, particularly in terms of how they give back to their students. By highlighting the instructors who go above and beyond to get to know their students and guide them in their academic journeys, you can encourage more of your faculty members to immerse themselves in their classes and establish professional relationships with learners. 

Encourage your teaching staff to recognize their students, too. Showing appreciation for their dedication to learning and becoming better students can be highly motivating for learners, providing positive reinforcement for their diligence and effort. 

In addition to spotlighting the successes, your faculty can also benefit from recognizing when students are struggling with their coursework. Early intervention can help a student get back on the right track for academic success. Your instructors and learners can work together to find strategies to help, making students feel supported and closer to their professors. 

Faculty appreciation initiatives can also be a helpful tool in bringing together your faculty and students. Urge your institution's students to recognize the instructors making a difference in their lives. Create a culture of recognition and appreciation across campus.

7. Collaborative projects and initiatives

Your college or university can encourage its students and teaching staff to enhance their relationships through collaborative academic projects or community initiatives. These may include research endeavors, charitable causes, or curriculum-related work that goes beyond the classroom. 

These types of projects incorporate elements of mentorship, allowing your students to learn from instructors in real-world experiences. Your teaching faculty can share their expertise, help guide important decision-making, and become an invaluable resource for students.

Working on these initiatives allows your instructors to demonstrate professional collaboration and teamwork, helping students gain valuable working experience. Participating in extracurricular projects is an attractive quality to include in job applications, and it gives students an opportunity to connect with professors in a deeper way, making them an excellent reference for future employers. 

8. Social and campus events

If your higher education institution is interested in new ways to enhance faculty-student connections, social events may be the perfect idea. Whether your college or university hosts these meetups virtually or in person, your students and teaching staff can connect on common interests that extend past the course curriculum and work. Some ideas for these types of events include:

  • Networking sessions: Invite learners and faculty members to networking events where they can meet professionals in their fields and gain insight into potential career paths. 
  • Department gatherings: Consider hosting special events for each department. For instance, the English department may have poetry slams or coffee with an author. These meetups tend to be smaller and more intimate, allowing students and faculty to connect. 
  • Cultural activities: Allow your faculty and students to bond over cultural events, like international food, art, or speakers. These special events bring your campus together and encourage the celebration of each other's unique backgrounds. They are an excellent way to bring your entire community together and make every individual feel seen. 

9. Active participation

Your higher education institution can encourage faculty and students to come together and establish meaningful connections by emphasizing the importance of active participation across every facet of campus life. 

When your teaching staff engages with students in extracurricular activities or clubs, it creates a strong sense of community. Encourage your instructors to use campus amenities and immerse themselves in their student life. 

Promote active participation in your student body. Incentivize them to attend campus events, including theater, sports, speakers, and seminars. These events offer a valuable opportunity for students and faculty to have informal interactions that break down barriers, enhance communication, and establish a sense of camaraderie.  

10. Small group learning experiences

One tactic every faculty member can utilize to get to know their students better is small group instruction or activities. Dividing their classes into groups of less than 10 people allows instructors to connect with learners on a much deeper level and get to know their unique strengths and weaknesses as students. 

Smaller groups typically mean more time for individualized attention and care from the professor. Your instructors and students can benefit from direct communication and insight while also having the support of a few other students to bounce ideas around and further validate their experiences. 

Learn how Watermark's higher education software can help

The solutions from Watermark help institutions harness the power of data-backed decision-making to enhance the educational experience for faculty and students alike. Our Educational Impact Suite helps your university or college leverage automation to supercharge institutional efficiency and serve your stakeholders better. 

With Watermark Student Success, you can monitor each learner's journey and increase engagement to support boosted retention, graduation, and job placement rates. When paired with Watermark Faculty Success, your institution can also foster instructor development and achievement.

Are you interested in learning more? Request a demo to see higher education's leading software suite in action today. 

Learn how Watermark's higher education software can help

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