An online educator has many roles to fulfill for each class. They must provide guided instruction and meaningful feedback, manage and control classroom conditions, and facilitate the learning process. The most important aspect of educating students is meeting their developmental needs. When is an educator most effective with that task? When they develop a mindset that is student centered. That means putting the student first and considering their needs and perspective with every learning activity and interaction. It is an instructional strategy that is both supportive and nurturing.
Willingness to Assist
Becoming a student advocate involves demonstrating a caring and compassionate attitude, which requires taking and absorbing input from students and replying or responding with a willingness to assist them. This can be accomplished within the online class discussions and feedback provided for written assignments. When interacting with students during class discussions it becomes important to read, reflect, and respond with insight to students' posts, while building upon what they've written and engaging them in the course materials and topics. For written assignments, it means reading and not just glancing at students' papers and instead, highlighting key points and including comments that are meant to help further their thinking based upon your knowledge of the subject matter.
It can be challenging at times for an educator to maintain this type of posture, especially when students feel free to say anything without considering the tone of their communication and / or demonstrating a lack of respect for the educator's position or authority. However, all concerns, requests, and frustrations hold some degree of validity. There is something embedded within this form of aggressive communication that requires consideration. The student may be trying to get attention, even if it is a misguided attempt. Not all students know how to ask for help in a productive manner, which means the educator can use it as a teaching experience.
Use Verbal Communication
Another challenge for educators is providing assistance for students when they do not have the authority to change school policies. For example, there is often a strict late policy in place and it can be difficult to help a student who is fallen behind when they are not allowed to make up the work. As an advocate it then becomes necessary to guide the students and provide an explanation while demonstrating support as you guide them back on track. Make every response personalized and offer personal contact as you are able to, based upon your schedule. Why is verbal communication more effective? Because email replies can become lengthy and veer off track. A frustrated student can become more aggressive, which means it is better to communicate with a call to provide immediate assistance.
Productive Personal Contact
Personal contact with students can help diffuse conflict and allows you to get to the heart of an issue, while building working relationships. It demonstrates that you really are an advocate for their needs. While communicating with the student through personal contact, ask open-ended questions to engage them in the resolution process. Develop steps for them to take and establish a follow-up contact timeframe. Create an advocacy log and record student names, their issue (in two or three words), and then a follow-up date to check in with them again.
A Physician's Approach
An advocate's approach to addressing students' needs can take a page from the work of a physician. A physician will generally demonstrate a proactive attitude, address symptoms and potential causes of issues, and suggest resolution methods based upon the needs of the patient. Educators can take the same approach and develop a process of making the rounds or checking in with each student on a regular basis, especially with those students who are losing progress or have been absent from class.
A Proactive Advocate
The advocacy process requires a proactive and responsive approach, rather than reactively addressing issues after they have escalated. This means assessing students individually by examining their classroom performance and academic skill sets, providing a diagnosis based upon root causes instead of symptoms, and providing solutions that support ongoing progress. An educator can prescribe resources, tools, techniques, and strategies that support success. The goal is to teach, lead, mentor, and guide students as an advocate for their personal needs. Assist them in the learning process and develop your role as someone who takes a solutions oriented approach. As you become student focused you will find students become responsive and better engaged in the classroom and the learning process