When I look into the eyes of my students, I often imagine my six-year-old daughter sitting on the other side of the desk in eleven years. It’s unlikely that she will be sitting across from me, but she may be sitting in another office somewhere. What will bring her to the dean’s office? What experience do I want her to have? What advice will she get?
My daughter is just entering the public school system. She will be completing first grade in a few months. She loves school and is an avid reader, but last week she received a behavior ticket. I won’t say what it was for, because years from now when she runs for presidency I don’t want her campaign tarnished by her mom’s blog post that disclosed she threw applesauce down the slide and soiled another girl’s clothes (oops! there I said it!), but it has me thinking about behavior and choices.
Personally, I’m hoping my daughter makes all her mistakes in first grade, and it’s smooth sailing from here into adulthood. But since I realize that’s likely not going to be the case, I’m embracing these incidents for what they are…teachable moments. I also realize I will not always be around to clean up the metaphorical applesauce and, as a mom, I hope that there will be caring adults throughout my daughter’s life who will also help her navigate through the messy, sticky situations that come up.
Whether it’s a mistake, a personal challenge, an academic setback, or another life event that brings someone else’s child to my office, I try to treat all students with the respect, compassion, and attention I would provide to my own daughter in these five ways:
1. See their potential. Students who have been admitted to the university have already demonstrated they have great potential. Students also each possess unique strengths they can draw upon during challenging times. Looking for strengths and encouraging students to envision what is possible demonstrates our belief in them.
2. Believe them. It takes courage for students to share their stories. When we listen and validate their feelings, emotions, and concerns, students can ask for what they need and tell us how to best support them.
3. Give accurate information. Myths, out-dated information, and misunderstood policies can create stress and confusion for students. Empowered with information, students can make educated and appropriate decisions.
4. Advocate. Advocacy can take many forms. It can be connecting students to resources, speaking up for underrepresented students, creating a safe environment for students to express themselves, or educating ourselves on critical issues in order to contribute to positive change.
5. Offer unconditional positive regard. Psychologist Carl Rogers developed the term unconditional positive regard, which means showing complete support and acceptance of a person. By showing students our acceptance and setting aside our judgment, we create a safe space for students to take risks, explore their possibilities, and maximize their full potential.