This article is Part 2 of The Importance of a Good Bedside Manner for
Doctors Teachers. It is recommended to first read Part 1.
The art of the check-in
As doctors need to check in on their patients to ensure they are on track to a successful recovery, so must teachers check in on their students throughout the term. These check-ins should be helpful, constructive, and friendly.
In-person: When operating in an in-person class, I often have students work individually or in partners to solve a problem based on the material covered in lecture. When they are working, I meander through the class, peering over shoulders quietly as they work. It’s not creepy (I don’t think), but this “check-in” provides physical proximity and attention, and I find it to be one of the best ways to increase student engagement and communication. A student who may be too apprehensive to speak up in front of the whole class will easily turn to me as I walk by and quietly ask me their question. If I walk by and a student doesn’t ask a question, I will make an audible callout so they know I’m looking and I recognize their hard work. Simple positive comments such as, “I like how you setup the problem” or “Nice format” are typical. I have even been known to make comments off-topic such as, “I like your backpack” or “Your coffee sure smells good!” I don’t mind having a one-minute conversation about coffee instead of accounting if I can help them relax and allow them to see me as a fellow human (not a scary professor). That’s why even if I have email to check or other papers to grade, I force myself to walk around the room while they are working. The time I invest will yield dividends in their increased learning, comfort, and connection.
Online synchronous: The same type of assistance for the in-person classroom can be replicated in the online synchronous format. Often, before class, I prepare interactive exercises based on what we will be learning that day, using shared documents like Google Docs or Google Sheets. I duplicate the document five to seven times, depending on the size of my class. Then, when we reach that part of the lecture, I separate students into five to seven groups (roughly four to five students per group) using Zoom’s random breakout rooms. The students then work in the shared document that corresponds to their breakout room number. My class tutor and I peruse the shared docs in real time, providing feedback within the document (Are their figures correct? Are their formulas correct?). We make sure to include positive feedback for their accomplishments with comments such as, “Hooray” or Great job” when they reach a correct answer. Sometimes, I’ll even provide fun feedback on benign tasks (i.e., when they all enter their names on the first line of the document, I might write comments such as “You did it!” or “That was the hard part and you did awesome!”). The students know my personality, which follows more of “Patch Adams” style, and they know I mean those comments in a playful and encouraging manner. Whatever comments you leave, make sure they are encouraging and based on your personality (we may not all lean toward the “Patch Adams” style after all). In addition to commenting on their work in real-time, I make sure that I (or my tutor) visit all of the breakout rooms. This way students see our faces and know we are there to help. I normally prioritize the rooms I visit based on what I am seeing in the shared doc. The groups that appear to be struggling are visited by me or my tutor first so we have enough time to assist them.
Online asynchronous: The asynchronous format may be a bit more difficult to provide instant, unique instructor feedback, but custom feedback is especially important for this type of class. I have students in this class format tell me that the individual feedback I provide is when they learn the most. I try to give feedback as soon as a student turns in an assignment and encourage them to do this well before the due date. This way I can let a student know if they are correct. If they aren’t, I let them take another attempt and resubmit before the due date. I see it as the perk they earn for getting the work done early. This may be difficult to implement for large classes, or really at all, so consider modifying based on what works for you; maybe only provide early feedback for the first few assignments. After the due date, I publish the assignment’s solution on the class LMS for everyone to view. If the assignment was particularly challenging, I might also post a quick video explaining the solution or the trickier parts of the exercise. Consider, too, including a video in the assignment’s instructions with tips on setting up the problem or identifying any potential pitfalls ahead of time. While I might only do these videos for exceptionally tough assignments, I always include check figures in the instruction sheet on the LMS for every assignment. I also include where the material is covered in their textbook or class notes, and where they can go for further assistance (usually a link to my office hours, the tutor’s hours, or the class Q&A discussion board). This is yet another way to let your thoughtful bedside manner shine through, providing them with timely feedback, guided posts, and access to helpful resources to foster their success in the assignment and class.
The after class summary
Each time I visit my doctor’s office, I receive an “After Visit Summary” (both in hard copy and email). This document summarizes what was discussed during the appointment, any prescriptions or treatments assigned, a list of upcoming appointments, and other helpful resources. I have incorporated this practice in my classes. At the end of each class (or week for asynchronous classes), I send out a “Recap & Reminders” email. In it, I include a brief description of what was discussed (just one or two sentences), links to any slides or documents used in class, reminders of any assignment due dates, and office/tutor hours. I survey my class at the middle and end of the semester, and the “Recap & Reminders” practice was rated as the single most helpful online material.
This practice also increases engagement as students who were absent from class now know exactly what was covered, the materials used, the upcoming assignments, and where to get help if they need it. I have found this routine has helped students feel engaged and able to come back to class prepared for the next topic even if they had to miss a previous session.
The last day: Thank yous
It is important and healthy to practice gratitude. At the end of the term, tell your classes how much you have appreciated their attention and hard work.
In-person: On our last day of instruction, I make sure to let students know that a good class can make the difference between enjoying work and not enjoying it. So far, I’ve been lucky to have exceptional students that excite me for the day and that I’m happy to tell my family about at the end of the day.
I invite students to keep in touch and tell me about all of their wonderful future adventures. And, if you are willing, you can let them know to contact you in the future whenever they need a letter of recommendation or a work reference.
If you have a teacher’s assistance (TA) or an in-class tutor, make sure to thank them for all of their hard work as well. I normally circulate a thank you card around for all the students to sign (if they choose to), and I then present it to the tutor on behalf of the whole class on our last day of instruction. I like to acknowledge the tutor for all their hard work in front of the class so that all of the students realize the effort that went on behind the scenes. And if you don’t have an in-class tutor, but your school has a tutoring center, consider sending personal thank you notes to the tutors that support your subject. What a great way to show appreciation and open the door for more communication that will undoubtedly help your future students.
Online synchronous: Just as you would in-person, tell the class how much you appreciate them and that you are here to support them in the future if they need it. For the tutor thank you, since I can’t physically send around a thank you card, I just acknowledge the tutor in front of the whole class. I notice that when I do this, students take the time to put their own nice thank you messages in the chat. Consider other online platforms such as Kudoboard or Padlet to build custom congratulatory messages.
Online asynchronous: The same items apply from the in-person class but all of it can be done in a class announcement or video (or both). I also stress how proud they should be of themselves for succeeding in an online asynchronous format. I believe this is the hardest learning format out there as it demands so much time, dedication, and time management from the student. I am proud of their accomplishments and they should be too.
So, be that doctor teacher that makes a difference. Show your students through your actions throughout the term that you are there listening and supporting them. It will encourage them to be a motivated partner in the journey. Together you will emerge happier, successful, and healthier.
Teresa Thompson is tenured faculty at West Valley-Mission College District where she enjoys teaching accounting to her wonderful students. In addition to teaching, Teresa runs West Valley’s Entrepreneurial Center helping support students in their entrepreneurial pursuits.