We are approaching the end of a tumultuous and exhausting academic term – for instructors and students alike. The challenges we collectively faced leading up to, and throughout, the Fall 2020 term laid bare the inequities of higher education, and elevated the urgency of our mandate as educators to more fully support the success and well-being of our students. Over the past several months, we have watched our colleagues rise to the challenges of this term, despite facing obstacles in their own lives, in order to provide thoughtful, quality instruction in courses disrupted by physical distancing requirements and social unrest. We have also seen students demonstrate incredible commitment to their learning and academic success in the face of these challenges. In an unprecedented term, our students have shown us their resiliency, engagement, and determination to realize their academic goals.
As we finish this academic term, it is important to consider how we can continue to share messages of growth and inspire belonging for our students, even in the final weeks of the term and as we transition to thinking about the next term. The end of the Fall term is always a significant transition point for students — particularly first year or transfer students, who are wrapping up their first term in a new environment. Under normal circumstances, it would not at all be uncommon for students to be doubting their abilities, and wondering if they have what it takes to succeed in college, or in their desired major. During a term like this one, students, particularly those from underrepresented or underserved groups, are more likely than ever to be questioning whether or not they belong in college, and can reach their academic goals. When paired with the recognition that we will be heading into the Spring term facing many of the same obstacles that we faced in the Fall, and that the academic challenges faced during this term may be exacerbated in the next, motivation to engage through this term and persist to the next one may be harder to sustain.
Now, more than ever, the end-of-term messages that we send our students about their academic performance and potential for growth is critical for supporting students’ academic retention and well being. By communicating clearly that ability is something that can be grown over time, and that challenges in this term do not indicate a lack of potential, instructors can help ensure that students will remain engaged, and persist in their educational goals, despite any setbacks they may have faced. Messages that convey a belief in students’ abilities to learn and grow their skills can also decrease experiences of identity threat, and increase levels of trust among students who belong to groups that are targeted by negative stereotypes about their abilities.
Below, we share a version of a brief end-of-term email that SEP Lead Scholar Dr. Kathryn Boucher sends to her students in the weeks before finals. In this email, Dr. Boucher acknowledges the challenges students may have faced in their academic careers this term, and reiterates the key aspects of effective growth mindset messaging:
- Communicating that ability is something that students develop, and not the result of innate qualities
- Providing assurance that ability can be improved over time by applying effort, seeking feedback, and developing effective strategies for learning
Good afternoon all-
In this end of the week announcement, I wanted to send some encouragement for finishing out this semester strong. Across the course of this semester, we have focused on learning and applying our statistical knowledge. This hard work has required our effort, learning from feedback, and trying new strategies to succeed on our quizzes and homework assignments. I have seen growth, big and small, across the term. Importantly, it is not too late to grow in our mastery of our course content: ask questions, review my feedback, try out the additional practice problems, and find new ways to focus on our remaining course pieces. Even if your final grade in this course prompts the need to retake it in a future semester, this work will not be in vain. You will have a firmer foundation to start from and have more tools in your toolkit for how to be successful from the outset. Also, this semester isn’t the best yardstick for your eventual success in our major and in college. It’s been a rough one for many, so you should be proud of your persistence and resilience; I know I am. I might not see you in another class until closer to graduation, but I will look forward to seeing you then.