Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Building Bridges to Student Success

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Building Bridges to Student Success

Article excerpt

On a recent Friday, I enjoyed a spirited discussion inside the student center with a student at our university. After a time, this student said to me, "You know, there aren't too many faculty who cross over the bridge." Indeed, a pedestrian bridge crosses the street that bisects our campus, with dorms and student center on one side and administrative and classroom buildings on the other.

The bridge seems to symbolize our work with students. Simply put, bridges offer safe and expeditious passage over often dangerous terrain. The university's mission statement attests to its desire to provide enriching educational experiences to help students cross personal and professional bridges to fulfilling life opportunities.

This concept applies especially to our students, many of them first-generation college students from neighborhoods disconnected from liberal arts education. But students sometimes get an implicit message from professors that their experiences aren't relevant or valuable as they "move ahead." Certainly, the curriculum doesn't regularly celebrate the usefulness of their background. If students feel obligated to leave everything behind when they jump from one side of the riverbank to the other, they may internalize a kind of oppositional consciousness to our efforts and stay on more familiar terrain.

This student found it revealing that students must cross the bridge daily to the "academic" side of campus, although, in his opinion, many faculty don't make the reverse trek to the students' world. As Sonia Nieto asks, "Who does the accommodating?" For the most part, we expect students to come to us, think like us, talk like us, be like us. This ignores the considerable talents and insights that students bring into the classroom. Not only can we learn from them, but by more fully knowing our students, we can better prepare lessons that tap into their interests and knowledge base.

One of my favorite adages reminds us that "students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Learning is potentially more an affective than a cognitive process, since students' abilities to connect with the curriculum and establish emotional bonds with the instructor are significant factors in their desire to learn. Nel Noddings has said the ethos of care is inextricably connected to engaged intellectual work. Knowing and caring about others engenders a willingness to consider alternative views and to seek mutual gain in the classroom. …

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