By Scott J. Kalicki, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, School of Education, American Public University
Remember those early years of elementary school and the feeling you got when your teacher returned an assignment? Often, the paper would have a good grade highlighted by an exclamation point, a gold star sticker or a simple comment such as “Good job!” That kind of personal touch produced feelings of excitement and warm reassurance.
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Although we didn’t know it at the time, our elementary teachers were giving us purposeful and thoughtful personal touches. This type of personal touch positively impacted our self-efficacy, gave us important feedback on how we were doing as students and helped us feel at home in this still-new-to-us educational system. Without knowing it, they created simple communication moments that had the power to influence our new sense of ourselves as capable students.
The Power of a Personal Touch and Connections with Students
In his articles and presentations, Syracuse professor Dr. Vincent Tinto notes the power of personally connecting with students, which he calls “academic integration.” Just like that elementary school experience, feedback is important to college students and impacts student retention.
As instructors, there is power in a student’s connection with us. Tinto notes the impactful role that a teacher has on a student time and time again. That impact affects the student’s sense of belonging, confidence, and drive to persist, particularly as the student transitions into the college experience.
An Instructor’s Personal Touch May Take Different Forms
No matter the age of a student, his or her educational history, or the teaching platform (face-to-face or online), taking the time to provide a personal touch goes a long way to connect, inform, engage, encourage, and motivate. A personal touch can take a variety of forms:
- Thoughtful and encouraging feedback about an assignment
- A cheerful emoticon
- A friendly email that recognizes the life of the student beyond the classroom
- The sharing of a bit about ourselves
- A lighthearted story
- A show of humor
- An inspiring quote
Personal touches do not have to be sent just to an individual to be effective; an email blast to a class can touch everyone personally. And the potency of a personal touch can be exponentially increased by its timing and frequency.
Just like in elementary school, a personal touch from an instructor will likely produce a smile on the student’s face and make that student’s day. It can also help the student to feel a sense of belonging if he or she is new to online learning.
About the Author
Dr. Scott Kalicki is a part-time instructor for the Student Affairs in Higher Education graduate program in the School of Education at APU. He is a career higher education professional having served as the chief student affairs officer for four post-secondary institutions and as the president of a community college.
Scott has also served as a board member for the New Hampshire Higher Education Commission. He holds a B.A. in business policy and an M.A. in public administration from the University of Hartford and a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University at Albany.
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