CTL: Center for Teaching and Learning

no act of kindness no matter how small is wasted

Teaching with Compassion

Written by Amy Minervini


Have you ever heard the adage, if you care about something, then you’ll learn more? It’s true, and the same concept works with students. When you connect with your students on a more personal, authentic, and individualized level, you build a supportive construct that empowers them to engage with the learning material more meaningfully.

You likely have amazing strategies for relaying empathy and connecting with your students but if you want to beef up in the positive feels/TLC arena, check out some of these suggestions.

Learn Students' Names

In a recent study, 85% of students said it was important that their instructors know their names, citing improved communication, performance, and attitudes toward the professor and subject matter (Cooper, et al., 2017).

Sticky Note Challenge

Nothing says you’re being thought about quite like a random note. Choose a few students each day over the course of a couple of weeks and write down some positive feedback on a sticky note that you then give them. Tell them thank you for something, compliment them, root them on, or express how you would like to work with or talk more with them in the future. Verbal communication is great, but there is always something a little more special about a written note, no matter how informal.

Interview your Students

You don’t have to go all Anderson Cooper on them, but get to know them—really get to know them—beyond how they are doing in your class and where they sit. During office hours (perhaps provide an incentive for coming?) or in mini-conferences during down times, dig a bit. Find out where they went to high school, their hobbies, family structure, classes they are taking or struggling in, as well as their goals and dreams. Let them do all of the talking. Take a few notes and follow up with students who may be battling personal or academic issues.

Positive Digital Communication

As a student, there may be nothing worse than getting a terse or one-word response to an email, or goodness gracious, no return email at all from an instructor. Students are often more comfortable expressing their thoughts, questions, and yes, excuses more passively through email than face-to-face. Is your return communication as positive as you’d like it to be? Imagine yourself as the student receiving the email…it is life affirming or life draining? Here’s a few suggestions to keeping things on the positive tip: