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Meeting your Students

Meeting your Students  

Advisors often experience difficulty in working out how to organize contact with students. There is little doubt that the first meeting can be crucial in determining whether the relationship works. The student should be able to rely on seeing the Advisor at times they have agreed which should be organized early in the first few weeks of term.

Many students describe a sense of being lost in their first few days of college, so the early weeks of the first semester presents and excellent opportunity for Advisors to make links and contact with their students.

Despite the best intentions Advisors can be elusive to students. Students may want or need to drop in on you without notice and it helps both parties if you can make it clear, possibly with a notice on the door, when you are available. Posting office hours when you are available to any student who wishes to see you is a useful method. It also sets a good example if, on the rare occasion when you feel compelled to cancel an arrangement, you put a clear apology on your door and if possible an explanation.

If an Advisor system is to work properly it must be recognized by all the teaching staff and administrators as an integral part of the course. It would for instance make sense to have a standing item on Advisors at each department meeting with a chance to review the work and how it operates in maintaining the quality of learning and experience for students in the college.

 

Responding to Students Problems  

When a student comes to you with a difficulty there are several things that you can do. None of them is exclusive to the other and some of them may be taken in combination. You will have to work out which of them feels appropriate to a particular situation.

  • Ask the student what they have already done about it
  • Ask the student what they would like to do about it
  • Ask the student what ideas they have got for solving it and help them to make the sensible choice
  • Offer to see someone else or to refer them to someone who has the power to do something about it
  • Suggest a set of alternatives for the student to choose from problems and how that worked out
  • Invite the student to think of the worst thing that might happen to them; and to consider how serious it is.

 

Pitfalls in Communication

As Advisors you may be anxious about what you have to cope with when a student begins to talk about his/her personal 'concerns'. Try to avoid these common pitfalls or at least begin to be aware of them.

  • Asking too many questions
  • Transferring your anxiety on to the student
  • Finding a quick solution (only dealing with the issue the students presents as a problem, and not exploring deeper difficulties)
  • Identifying with the student (but imposing your own experience)
  • Feeling inadequate in the solution
  • Wanting to do everything for the student
  • Blocking the student's emotions
  • Wanting to be liked by the student
  • Being too busy to listen
  • Dictating and imposing your own values on to the student

Remember: The key to establishing a good rapport with your students is to be calm and at ease in yourself.

 

Distressed Students

Students may come to you who are distressed and they will expect you to help them. The source of the stress may be exams, relationships etc. Whichever, the student needs to be reassured that it is okay to display the vulnerability that accompanies the stress. They may cry, be clumsy, talk effusively, be silent, or easily distracted. Your job is to keep calm, help, them to compose themselves and to give supportive attention.

MacLean and Johnston from Strathclyde University have produced the following matrix for working through your time with distressed students. clearly if you cannot help the student calm down then there is a strong case for immediately involving the appropriate professional.

Phases

Student's Needs

Tutor Should

Action by the Tutor

Calming Down

Space & attention Reassurance that you accept distress

Give uninterrupted time with the student. Ease the immediate distress.

Divert phone calls; put up 'engaged' sign. Use supportive interventions.

Exploring

To talk, explain, share feelings

Allow the student to talk

Listen, pick up on cues-not just what is said but how it is said - tone of voice, body language

Understanding

Evidence of your understanding and appropriate response

Establish the reason for the distress; tactfully share opinion with student

Use gentle, open-ended questions. Check for understanding - repeat back the students own words

Action

A way forward. To feel they've been supported and are thus less vulnerable

Establish a course of action for students and yourself. Provide continuing support for student and feel effective as a tutor.

Decide on limitations of help. Do you have the knowledge/skill? Would referral be appropriate? Try not to be in a hurry to end the session. Make clear to the student any proposed action. Arrange a firm follow-up appointment.

 

 

Referring the student

Dangers involved in referring

When referring a students, be aware that the student may feel labelled as mentally ill or deficient. She/he may feel rejected or may see her/himself as a failure. It is important that you are aware of these dangers and that you try to correct student's misconceptions about the meaning of counselling.

When referring

  • Discuss this option with the student whilst being aware of the dangers listed above. 
  • Explain to the student what the referral agency has to offer which you cannot provide.
  • Explain that you will still be available for the student should she/he wish to keep in contact and that you would work in co-operation with the referring agency if so required.
  • If you are unsure as to whether or not to refer, discuss the case with the referring agency to see in what way they could advise.
  • It is best to get the student to make her/his own appointment rather that you making it for him/her.

In conclusion, don't underestimate your ability to help. In many cases a good listening ear does the trick.

 

Further information

For further information, please read this booklet "Recognizing and Assisting Disturbed or Disturbing Students: Guidelines for Faculty and Staff" produced by the ul Student Counselling service.