Professional Learning · Teaching Excellence

Proactive Communication with Students (Or: How I Learned To Avoid Unnecessary Appeals)

Fleming has recently adopted a revised Academic Appeal Policy and Procedures, which places emphasis on specified grounds for appeal, and the use of restorative practice. The LDS Team had the opportunity to plan and implement training sessions for Appeal Panel members and, more recently at our Academic Retreat, for all members of the Academic Division. While this may not sound like an exciting topic (Editor’s Note: Zzzzzzzzz), these training sessions actually opened up some interesting conversations among colleagues, specifically related to how we can avoid unnecessary appeals through things like proactive communication with students. (Editor’s Note: I’m awake!)

No faculty member wants to be faced with an appeal, to have their student feel like they’ve been treated unfairly, or to have their course or assessment called into question. So what can we, as faculty, do to prevent these uncomfortable situations from happening? Here’s what’s come out of our conversation so far: As we know, the first day of class is an important opportunity to set expectations for our students. What happens during that first class can (and should) set the tone for the remainder of the course. So make sure that you include a conversation with your students (you probably do already) that goes beyond learning their names and favourite colours (Two Truths & a Lie, anyone?)(Editor’s Note: I’m 6 feet tall, favorite colour is green and I have 4 bikes). Introduce (briefly) the idea of restorative practice, and emphasize that you would far rather hear from students throughout the semester than wait to get an appeal form after the semester ends.

Things to address:

  • How and when can students best get in touch with you: during office hours (whether in person or online), by email, at the end of class?;
  • Your openness to proactive communication and feedback from students; and
  • What they should do if they require accommodations.

Conversations with students, especially about grades and constructive feedback, are not always easy. Faculty Focus addresses the “I Deserve a Better Grade on This” Conversation, asking faculty to come to these difficult conversations with an understanding that “whether you’re the teacher or the student, these aren’t easy conversations. It’s not in either party’s interest to back down. But that need to defend a position should not become an obstacle that compromises what both parties can learn from these conversations.”

We all get busy (Editor’s note: Phrasing!) throughout the semester, but wherever possible, try to communicate proactively with students who are struggling. Send an I-haven’t-seen-you-in-two-weeks email to someone who’s MIA; as the official Withdraw date approaches, try to let students know of their progress in the course (in addition to the D2L Gradebook; students sometimes struggle to understand how the gradebook is set up).

And when issues do arise, keep records of your communication with students. Ideally, after you have a conversation with a student, send a follow-up email to confirm what was decided (let’s face it, it will help you to remember, too!). Keep your sent emails (Outlook will do that for you!), as well as any supporting documentation provided by a student. That way, if a student does decide to appeal, you’ll be prepared. But hopefully, given your proactive communication, they never will!

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