Three Ways to Connect with Students, Without Having to Babysit Their Children!


A University of Louisville professor is getting well-deserved kudos after he babysat for a student’s children so she could focus on her final exam.

ABC News reports that 28-year-old student Monica Willard faced a dilemma two weeks ago when her babysitter abruptly cancelled. The single mother had a final exam in her U.S. military history class, but she’d now have to take it while keeping an eye on her two young children.

Professor Daniel Krebs volunteered to look after the kids so that Willard could focus on acing her exam. The act of kindness went viral when a classmate snapped a photo of Dr. Krebs playing with the children and posted it to her Facebook page.

Dr. Krebs said what he did was “common sense,” because he wanted to do everything he could to help his students succeed. “A person like Monica, she’s a non-commissioned [ROTC] officer going to school, she’s a mom of two kids,” he told ABC News. “Me handling her kids for 40, 45 minutes, that’s not impressive.”

Adding day care to a faculty member’s long list of responsibilities and expectations isn’t the most practical way for professors to connect with their students.

Yet the story illustrates why establishing close connections is powerful pedagogy practice. Dr. Krebs is known for connecting with his students, and he’s left a lasting impression. “He really got to know us on a personal level, so we built that relationship with him outside of class,” one student said.

Research shows that connecting with students both increases their motivation and their ability to learn. Alexander Astin found in his landmark 1993 book, What Matters in College, that students were less likely to drop out and more likely to advance on to graduate school when they felt professors showed an interest in their academic problems and were approachable outside of the classroom. Those findings were affirmed in 2010 by Susan Ambrose, Michael Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha Lovett, and Marie Norman, in their book How Learning Works: Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching. 

There are many ways that professors can forge closer bonds with students. ACUE’s “Connecting With Your Students” module includes many of the best research-backed techniques. Below are three basic techniques, along with explanations from top college professors for why they work.

1. Get to know students by name. Use seating charts, take roll, and display tent-style name tags at their desks.

“I pride myself on getting to know my students’ names as soon as possible within the first day or two of class. If I have a larger class, obviously it takes a few days longer.” — Robert Puhak, PhD Associate Teaching Professor, Mathematics, Rutgers University, Newark

2. Go deeper than names. Use short surveys to understand important things about who your students are, what they know, and what they’re hoping for out of the class. Ask about their outside interests, hobbies and career plans.

“My whole teaching philosophy is to be able to understand my students at the beginning of each semester. I give them a survey letting me know what their objectives are, what their background is. What do they want out of this class? When I talk to them in class, I can bring their goals up.” — Ece Karayalcin, MFA, Film and Television, Miami Dade College

3. Encourage students to learn from their mistakes. Welcome questions before, during and after class. Welcome student input, whether it’s correct or not.

“Incorrect student answers happen all the time. Incorrect answers can actually be opportunities, because one student may give an incorrect answer, but it’s usually a few students in the class who are thinking the same thing.” — Kristin Webster, PhD, Mathematics, California State University, Los Angeles

Have your own techniques or tips for connecting with your students? Let us know in the comments section. 

8 thoughts on “Three Ways to Connect with Students, Without Having to Babysit Their Children!”

  1. Much of what has been discussed I already use in my class. I think it’s because of my own personal experience with teachers who demonstrated an interest in me as a person. For me it’s important for me to get to know my students so that I can better service them.

  2. ‘deeper than names’ allows me to know more about what motivates each individual student and connect with them. this improves mt rapport with each student and they participate more thoroughly in class.

  3. The first day of class I have my students complete what I call a Personal Profile, asking them to provide information about where they’re from, their personal interests, other classes they’re taking, academic goals, and skill levels on a variety of computer application and devices. This helps me start getting to know them quickly.

    1. Hi Lallie,
      That’s a great idea. I’m interested to hear how often you refer back to the Personal Profiles throughout the term, and anything you do with the information once you get to know the students better.

  4. I like “engaging the early birds,” because that encourages more students to know that the professor is approachable. Any tips on how to take advantage of mistakes as opportunities?

  5. I wonder how common place it is to allow students to bring kids…I had a student who brought her 3 month old to almost every lecture…It was fine…I was able to use the baby to help illustrate early development in the immune system…and she was very well behaved…My preceptors (students who help in the classroom) took turns holding the baby and playing with her during all exam periods (in fact, would have been disappointed if she hadn’t come)…In the same class (as well as others), I’ve had students bring their children when they couldn’t find child-care…I’ve never found it annoying or a distraction…Maybe because I used to go all the time to classes when I was a child (my father is a professor)…

  6. One of my favorite ways to connect with students is to “engage the early birds.” I make it a priority to arrive to every class 15-20 minutes early so I can talk to students as they trickle in. I always ask them about how their other classes are going, what challenges they experienced completing specific assignments for my class, what extracurricular activities they are involved in, and how they are managing their time. This has enabled me to build a good rapport with students, helping them feel comfortable to discuss both course content and general learning strategies with me before, during, and after class. Going “deeper than names” and using students’ interests, obstacles, and goals to motivate them allows me to engage and connect with students in a way that simply knowing their names can’t do.

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