As an educator with nearly two decades of experience under my belt, I embrace a simple, yet time-tested educational philosophy: Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. My educational philosophy embraces the idea of teaching students where they are and guiding them to where they need to be. In other words, I view myself as a ‘guide on the side, versus a sage on the stage.'
A critical element of this philosophy is continually seeking to engage students in a meaningful exchange that encourages their intellectual, spiritual, cultural, and moral development while allowing them to add their individual voices to the collective discussion or debate. The intent of this is two-fold: first to mold students into informed, life-long learners and listeners, and the second to produce problem-solving critical thinkers who will contribute to the moral and economic fabric of this world. (Dyson, 2005).
Faculty advocacy for students, both inside and outside of the classroom, plays a key role in this process. Faculty who teach and counsel; advocate and prepare their students create the type of dynamic where both teacher and learner benefit.
Each One, Teach One
The practice of this philosophy can perhaps be best summarized by the adage, "Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forwards." - Soren Kierkegaard
The bulk of my initial concepts about life in general and teaching specifically were formed by my experiences and encouragement received from my Great Grandmother (Great Grand). Frequently she would take me out on the front porch for “sessions”, where we would talk, she would encourage me, and I would receive a little bit of praise for things I was doing well. That encouragement was transformative in nature; fostering a sense of confidence and inspiration to me. It is that type of advocacy – the small-scale but individual touches – that can help motivate people to have faith in themselves.
As a result of my own experiences, I deploy many of those same advocacy tactics as an educator today. Though I play many roles in the lives of my students as an educator, adviser, and mentor, I occasionally hit the ‘pause’ button in order to “take my students out on the front porch” and provide small measures of encouragement and advocacy.
For students of color, in particular, higher education can be a bit of a challenge due to the paltry number of faculty who look like them. “Like-person role models” is a concept presented by scholars like Tinto (1993, p. 186) which points to a need for realistic campus role models for students.
Research further supports the need of Black students to be connected to others who have successfully matriculated through their higher education journey (Burrell, 1980; Sedlacek, 1987; Willie & McCord, 1972). These connections have been directly linked to increasing self-efficacy for students of color. (Gloria & Robinson Kurpius, 1996; Hackett & Byars, 1996).
I became aware of this data at the beginning of my teaching career. As a result, I made an intentional effort to structure my pedagogical practice both inside and outside of the classroom to embrace these types of student needs. Here are my three main take-a-ways for faculty who are interested in doing the same thing.
Advocate through Action
I have served as a faculty advisor for three different student groups on my campus, all of which had a handle on some type of social issue that impacted marginalized communities in the City of Chicago. While the main organizational focus was related to marketing, media and/or communication, students made it clear to me that they wanted (and needed) to do something that had real meaning for someone other than themselves. This resulted in a fundraising campaign, in which students coordinated and managed themselves each semester. For this initiative, students hosted an annual Christmas Toy Drive for a local children’s hospital – advertising on social media, creating decorations, attracting donations, marketing to local businesses, etc. Their mission was simple: Bring a smile to the face of at least one child housed in the hospital on Christmas Eve.
While each experience can be vastly different and come with its own unique set of circumstances, one of the most critical aspects to come through a learning opportunity like this is for students to get a sense of how their work could have an impact. Teaching marketing, PR, advertising, and communication skills in a classroom, without a direct purpose or action, would have resulted in a much smaller impact and value of such skills. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."
Faculty advocates can encourage students to learn by doing. That advocacy for action can be an incredibly useful teaching tool – something that will leave an impact far beyond the classroom lessons.
Set High Expectations for ALL Students
This means that teacher expectations play a critical role in student success. Expectations themselves are guided by several factors. These include, but are not limited to, gender, age, race or ethnicity. There are additional output factors such as student behavior, climate, and feedback (praise or criticism). These factors often play a larger role when faculty do not have access to accurate information from which to form expectations, such as previous academic performance.
Further findings not only show that students increase or decrease their efforts to match the expectations laid out for them, but also that students are able to decipher with “reasonably accuracy” teacher favoritism for one student over another.
This discrepancy can be manifested in the form of placing different expectations on one group over another. For students of color, this has an even greater impact on their performance within the hallowed halls of higher education. For them, teacher expectations serve as a direct corollary to performance in both positive and negative ways. This premise is supported by a study authored by Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, an assistant professor of international education at New York University's Steinhardt School of Education that was published in the journal Social Science Research in 2002.
Cherng stated: “Based on my analysis, teachers' underestimating their students' abilities actually causes students to have lower academic expectations of themselves, meaning that they expected they would complete less school." It is reported that black students, especially, had lower expectations of themselves. The transverse of this is evident as well.
Cherng elaborates: “It is possible that black students anticipate that their teachers think less of them and work harder in class to prove them wrong, hence the less negative effect on their GPAs. Challenging teacher underestimations may be unique to black students, who have a long history of resisting discrimination within schools, Regardless, teacher underestimations are harmful to black youth."
At the opposite end of the spectrum are black students who meet regularly with faculty; receive regular and consistent feedback on goals and aspirations; and obtain authentic care and concern about their overall well-being, fare much better and are more successful in higher education. Douglas Guiffrida (2005).
Listen to your Students
Really listen to students.
I know, as faculty members we listen to students every day! Often our day-to-day handles logistical issues (missing classes, group project woes, confusion on classroom lessons) and grading issues (missing assignments and poor grade results,) with students. But true advocacy means taking a moment, pushing past the noise, and really listening to our students.
Other scholars agree. In an article written by Beth Pandolpho entitled, “Listening Is a Teacher's Most Powerful Tool (Education Week Teacher, March 7, 2018) the author shares an occurrence that took place in one of her classes following a class debrief activity that followed a reading of Romeo and Juliet, when she queried, "How does it feel to be a teenager when the adults in your life don’t listen?" Pandolpho states:
“Students shared stories of the crushing pressure to earn perfect scores and their parents' insistence that they disregard their passions and talents to pursue math and science. They understood the devastation of having few options and the accompanying feelings of isolation........and in that moment, I realized: We had together created a successful learning culture that represented and honored students as individuals, as well as gave them ways to connect. And it all began when I not only answered questions, but started asking them.”
An advocate empowers students. Taking the time to listen, even if it’s only to sympathize, can be an integral role in the success of a college student. A professor that gives advice, encouragement, or a listening ear. Someone who assists them in making decisions and that lets a student know that they have someone who believes in them and who is there for them. It’s a critical role and one that can have the largest impact on our students.
- Burrell, L. F. (1980). Is there a future for Black students on predominantly White cam- puses? Integrate Education, 18 (4), 23-27.
- Douglas Guiffrida (2005) Othermothering as a Framework for Understanding African American Students' Definitions of Student-Centered Faculty, The Journal of Higher Education, 76:6, 701-723, DOI: 10.1080/00221546.2005.11772305
- Dyson, M. E. (2005). Is bill cosby right?. New York: Civitas Books.
- Parker, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
- Gloria, A. M., & Robinson Kurpius, S. E. (1996). The validation of the University Envi- ronment Scale and the College Congruity Scale. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sci- ences, 18, 533-549
- Hackett, G., & Byars, A. M. (1996). Social cognitive theory and the career development of African American women. Career Development Quarterly, 44, 322-340
- J. Michael Palardy, "What Teachers Believe-What Children Achieve," The Elementary School Journal 69, no. 7 (Apr., 1969): 370-374
- Lumsden, Linda S., “Expectations for Students, “ERIC Digest, Vol. 116 (July 1997)
- Sedlacek, W. E. (1987). Black students on white campuses: 20 years of research. Journal of College Student Personnel, 28(6), 485-495.
- Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
- Willie, C. V., & McCord, A. S. (1972). Black students at White colleges. New York: Praeger