The teacher is encouraging, supportive, and approachable.

The goal of teaching is for students to learn. Regardless of an instructor’s personality traits or teaching style, with intentional choices, instructors can set up courses that encourage and support student learning. In addition to the course structure and design tips below, the following sections may be helpful in being encouraging, supportive, and approachable for your students:  

Encouraging and Supporting Learning

One of the easiest ways to encourage learning is by implementing a Backward Design Model. This model starts with the end outcome in mind. What do you want students to achieve or learn by the end of your course? Once you have identified the desired results, you can build learning experiences, instruction, and resources to align with those results. With this model, your focus is on the "learner" rather than the "teacher" and ensures instruction has a purpose.  

The first step in backward course design is to build your course-level objectives which specify what the student can expect to gain from taking the course. These objectives should be clearly listed in your syllabus. The objectives should be written clearly from the student’s perspective and should reflect observable behavior that can be measured. Effective learning outcomes are expressed as knowledge, skills, or abilities that students will possess upon successful completion of a course. They frequently follow the prompt, "Students will be able to (VERB)___________." For example, "Students will be able to build a model of an electrical circuit." Learning outcomes are frequently organized around Bloom's taxonomy, and it is important to consider the "level" of learning that should be happening in your course.  

After establishing your course-level objectives, ask yourself: 

  • What are the criteria that students will be evaluated on? 
  • What authentic tasks are students going to complete as evidence? 

It is important that assessments align with outcomes, particularly the level of the outcome. For example, a multiple-choice exam may be appropriate for an outcome that focuses on students being able to recall information, but probably wouldn't be appropriate for an outcome focused on students creating something. Rubrics are a great way to clarify expectations for students. Rubrics contain descriptions of levels of performance for each component/criterion. They can also focus on the quality of the entire document/performance/project. 

Once assessments are developed, begin planning how you will present relevant course information. It can be easy to unknowingly overload students with readings, videos, and other instructional content. Organize content in the manner you wish students to learn. Course content should build on previous content and progress through a logical sequence. Lower-level skills developed in prerequisite courses or early in the current course should be later used to support the development of higher-level skills. Higher-level skills can be taught and assessed through assessments and active student participation.   

If you are interested in learning more about the Backward Design Model, check out these guides: 


What Does it Mean to be Approachable?

Being approachable to students does not mean you are available to them 24/7. What it does mean is letting your students know your availability and how to reach you. Inform your students early of your preferred method of communication and set a standard for that communication that can remain intact throughout any semester schedule changes. Rename your “office hours” as student-support hours, learning hours, or connection hours, and consider incentivizing student visits to help students take advantage of the opportunity to talk. Be sure that your syllabus includes your contact information, office hour times, and your preferred form of communication.  

At critical points in the semester and your course, remind students that you are available for help, whether that is through your office hours or other support channels. Coleman (2022) recommends a short statement at the beginning of class such as, “I know this is a stressful time for a lot of students. Please reach out to me if you feel like you are falling behind, or if you just want to talk.” Each of your students has a unique level of comfort and experience with seeking help from an authority/teacher/expert, it may not be enough just to list your availability in your syllabus and expect students to approach you… a simple statement could go a long way in letting students know that you want to support their learning and success!