Office of the Provost

Faculty Resources for Student Success

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Read Fall 2021 Welcome Letter with COVID Tips

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things you can do Now to Improve Student Sense of
Belonging, Engagement and Success

The following items have all been empirically validated to improve student success and equity of student outcomes. They represent high-impact, evidence based practices that you can implement to improve outcomes in your courses.

calendar Activity is low-level of complexity, easy lift rocketActivity is mid-level of complexity, heavier lift
  1. Send a welcome letter before the start of the semester  
  2. Include a statement acknowledging recent events in your syllabus 
  3. Include an Inclusivity Statement in your syllabus
  4. Use student-attuned language for the COVID-related content in your syllabus
  5. Learn about, and share with students, the campus resources available to students
  6. Share a belonging story in the first week of class
  7. Start the term with a course-readiness check in 
  8. Provide WISE feedback
1.  Send A Welcome Letter Before The Start Of The Semester 

calendar5 key elements of a welcome email:

1. Express your excitement to begin working with your students in the class

2. Share some personal information about yourself

3. Acknowledge the current situation (i.e., the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice) and the challenges facing many students right now

4. Emphasize the ways in which you are working to design a course experience that will be high quality and engaging, but also flexible, given the complicated and changing nature of the pandemic situation

5. Provide some basic information about your course modality and expectations for engagement on the first day (e.g., "log in to Blackboard Collaborate Ultra at 9:30 on Tuesday for our first virtual class together"; OR "I'll see you all in UH 2250 on Tuesday at 9:30 for our first class" OR "I'll see everyone whose last names begin with A-H on Tuesday at 9:30 in UH 2250 and I-Z will log in virtually using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra (here are instructions for how to do that). On Thursday I-Z will come to class in UH 2250 and A-H will log in virtually using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.")

Bonus points!
6. Ask students to respond to the email answering 1-2 questions about themselves (Important: You must respond to each response you receive, and in a timely manner. Otherwise, this strategy can backfire.)

You can also create a "Getting to Know Each Other" discussion board in Blackboard, post a few questions there, and ask students to introduce themselves and respond to each other (and you respond to the posts too). 

Sample Welcome Letters

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2. Include a Statement Acknowledging Recent Events in your syllabus, welcome letter, and/or Blackboard course page

calendara.)  We are all going into the next academic year navigating uncharted and challenging waters. Instructors and students alike will be adapting to new, and potentially fluctuating, requirements for physical distancing while also still grappling with the impacts of disrupted learning in the spring and summer terms. Acknowledging the reality of the situation up front will affirm for your students that you see them as whole individuals and recognize that they may be facing challenges. Let them know it is normal to feel anxious, frustrated, or overwhelmed in times of uncertainty and encourage them to seek out support resources if needed.

b.)  Example syllabus statement from UToledo FYE courses:

A note about recent events: Over the past six months, the U.S. has experienced both the emergence of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the painful consequences of continuing and long-endured violence against the Black community in the United States. These events have caused, and continue to cause, fear, anger, stress, and pain for many members of our community, and will continue to impact each of us in various ways throughout this term. Under these circumstances, it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and/or to have difficulty concentrating. I have designed this course with these challenges in mind and am committed to working with all of you to create a positive and supportive learning environment throughout the term. If recent events are impacting your health, well-being, or schoolwork, I encourage you to make use of the resources the University of Toledo provides for students, which I have included in this syllabus.

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3. Include an inclusivity statement  in your syllabus

calendara.)  Now, more than ever, it’s important that we affirm our commitments to equity and inclusivity in the classroom. The Office of Diversity and Inclusivity has recently updated an inclusivity statement that they are asking all of us to include in our syllabi.

b.)  UToledo Inclusivity Statement:

In this class, we will work together to develop a learning community that is inclusive and respectful. Our diversity may be reflected by differences in race, culture, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, socioeconomic background, and a myriad of other social identities and life experiences. We will encourage and appreciate expressions of different ideas, opinions, and beliefs so that conversations and interactions that could potentially be divisive turn, instead, into opportunities for intellectual and personal development.

c.) Learn more about the Office of Diversity and Inclusion faculty resources here.

Use student-attuned language for the COVID-related content in your syllabus

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4. Use student-attuned language for the COVID-related content in your syllabus

calendarAn important part of conveying support and building students’ sense of belonging is infusing these concepts into the language we use to communicate with students. Linked below is a version of the UToledo COVID syllabus language that is attuned to these student needs and highlights our shared responsibility, as part of the Rocket community, to support the safety of fellow students, faculty and staff. This attuned version of the COVID syllabus language does not change the policy information itself. It merely frames it in a way that focuses more on belonging and community

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5. Learn about, and share with students, the Campus Resources available to support students

calendara.)  Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the resources listed under the Academic Support and University Resources sections of the Rocket Restart Student Success page.

b.)  Include basic information on key resources (Success Coaching, Learning Enhancement Center, Office of Student Advocacy, Counseling Center, etc.) on your syllabi and in your Blackboard course shells.

c.)  Consider including a Basic Needs statement in your syllabi:

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support (Student Union 2509; 419-530-8852; deanofstudents@utoledo.edu). Furthermore, please contact me if you are comfortable doing so. This will enable me to connect you with an array of resources available on campus.

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6. In the first week of class, consider sharing a story about your own experiences feeling uncertain about your belonging in college and how you were able to overcome them

calendara.)  These kinds of stories can be powerful ways to assuage concerns that your students may have over their abilities to be successful in college and/or in your class. Research has found that sharing these stories are particularly helpful in supporting historically underserved students (i.e., first generation, lower income, and/or minoritized students of color). You can share your own story, or a story of a past student.

b.)  Here is an example of this type of belonging story: "Before I went to college, I had always made pretty good grades. But my first semester of college was different. I got Cs and D's on my first round of midterms and thought it must mean that I wasn't cut out for college. But the more I talked to my classmates, the more I realized that a lot of them were struggling as well. I reached out to them to study together, and we started to go together to the TA office hours each week to review the concepts we were struggling with. My classes continued to be challenging, but I learned in that first semester that getting a few bad grades doesn't mean you aren't capable of succeeding. I had to work really hard but eventually I was making A's and B's in most of my classes."

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7.  Consider doing a Readiness Check-Up

calendara.)  Many of our students are coming out of less-than-ideal spring learning experiences, and some may need a bit of support to shore up on the foundational knowledge they'll be asked to build on in your classes. Starting the semester with a brief self-assessment for students can help them (and you!) identify areas they may need to review. If you do this, make sure to provide students with resources to review the foundational knowledge and encourage them to reach out if they have any concerns about their preparedness. It's important to make clear to students that the purpose of the check-up is to help them be successful in the class and not to weed anyone out.

b.)  This can also be a powerful tool to help students track their learning over the term, if you refer back to these questions and students are able to reflect on their current levels of understanding.

c.)  Here is a sample readiness assessment tool

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8. Provide WISE feedback

rocketThe key elements of Wise Feedback are:

  1. Honest (but kind) feedback on the student’s work
  2. Statement that you have high standards for students’ work
  3. Assurance that you believe in the student’s capacity to meet those standards
  4. Specific suggestions and resources that the student can use to improve their work

Here’s an example of what this might look like in a large class, where you might provide group-level feedback on an exam:

“I’ve posted a brief list in Blackboard of the most frequently missed questions on the exam and we are going to spend time in class today reviewing them. It is very common for students not to get the grade they wanted on our first exam. Some of these concepts are very challenging and take time and continued work to truly understand. But I know, from your efforts on the quizzes thus far, that you all have the capacity to be successful in this course! We are going to take some time in the next couple of weeks to review study strategies that you can use before the next exam, and I encourage you to work with the tutors in the LEC or come see me in my virtual drop-in hours to discuss any concepts you’re having difficulty with.”

Here’s an example for individual-level feedback that you might provide on a homework or essay:

“While your essay followed the basic requirements of the assignment, these suggestions are intended to help you continue to improve. My goal in this class is to help you significantly improve the fundamentals and style of your writing over the course of the semester. I know from your engagement during class that you have the skills to use my feedback to improve in your next assignment, and I encourage you to visit my office hours next week to review a draft of your second essay before you turn it in.”

 And here’s a link to a few more examples of Wise Feedback.

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QUICK TIP ON MAKING EFFECTIVE REFERRALS

search iconTips  for making referrals for students who may need additional support. The resource below provides a simple process, based in evidence-based best practices, to make referrals in a way that increases the likelihood students will access available resources. 

The Art and Science of Making Student Referrals (adapted from Joe Cuseo)

  1. Normalize the experience of needing and seeking help. Explain that help-seeking is a key behavior of successful students, and that all students need help sometimes to stay on track and achieve their college goals. Reiterate the importance of focusing on well-being as a key component of success in college. It is also important to let students know that it’s okay to not be okay right now; that experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety is quite common given our current circumstances, which makes reaching out to available resources all the more important.
  2. Identify relevant resources for the student. It’s okay to say “I don’t know” and then seek out info. Success Coaches are an excellent resource if you aren’t sure where to refer students.
  3. Describe the goals and services of the referred service. Don’t assume the student already knows its purpose or function.
  4. Personalize the referral – Refer the student to a specific person whenever possible (give them a name), rather than just to an office.
  5. Reassure the student of the helpfulness and capability of the person you are referring them to.
  6. Help the student identify what questions to ask and how to approach the resource person.
  7. Make sure that the person knows where to go and how to get there. Offer to phone for an appointment while the student is in your presence.
  8. If possible, offer to walk with the student to the referred office.
  9. If the student is not willing to act on your referral at the moment, offer to check back with the student at a later point in time
  10. Follow-up the initial referral by asking the student if the contact occurred, how it went, and whether there will be future contact.
  11. Acknowledge the student’s effort reaching out to seek support and using available resources to help them maintain wellness and achieve their college goals. 

To support your efforts in making effective referrals, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the most commonly-used offices on campus. Towards those ends, you may find helpful:

General Tips for Supporting Students in Need:

  • Ask open-ended questions - “what, when, how, who”.
  • Listen actively! Summarize; don’t interrupt.
  • Attend and respond to both content and the affect – the issue, and students’ feelings about or reactions to the issue.
  • Let the student solve the problem. Just ask the right questions, encourage students to think the problem through, and provide info on resources. Doing so encourages the development of self-advocacy skills.
  • Refer to/use your resources. You are not expected to be a trained counselor or advisor.  Just develop a basic understanding of campus resources and assist students in making use of them. 

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FALL 2020 STUDENT NEEDS ASSESSMENT SUMMARY

tower iconOne of the most important things we can do to support student success right now is understand the myriad and complex challenges students are facing in and out of the classroom and implement some simple practices to support student well-being and capacity for academic success.

We ask you to review the summary and recommendations linked below:

 UToledo Fall 2020 Student Needs Assessment Summary of Results and Best Practice Recommendations

We call on every faculty and staff member to examine their practices, policies and interactions with students and strive for these 3 things:

  1. Create opportunities for connection with and between students
  2. Simplify experiences, clarify your expectations, and remove barriers that make it harder for students to learn and be well
  3. Show care, first! Treat every interaction with students as an opportunity to support their growth and improve their sense of being cared for at UToledo
Last Updated: 9/2/21