Welcoming and Supporting Students During Office Hours

Some content for this article was adapted from a submission to the Teaching Tips Consortium of the POD Network by Judy Ableser, Director Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Oakland University.

For many years, a major part of my staff role was supporting first-generation college students. Often, when I’d suggest students visit faculty during office hours, I would be greeted with a blank stare or sometimes even the air of panic.

Office Hours Sign

Research shows that relationships with advisors and other staff and faculty on campus is integral to student retention and success. One critical way these relationships are built is through office hours, which allow for more informal interactions and where a significant amount of academic and professional mentoring occurs.

However, it’s valuable to remember that office hours are a new phenomenon to many students. Most high schools don’t have such a structured way for students to connect with teachers. And, students may feel more intimidated by their college professors, uncertain about how to engage during office hours or even why to go.

While the value of student/faculty relationships has been well-documented, it is imperative to remember that students success is driven when faculty are responsive, supportive and accessible (Kuh et. al., 2010; Tinto, 2012). Interactions during carefully advertised and facilitated office hours can be one bridge to help build these important connections and reduce the fear factor some students may experience regarding interactions with their professors.

Below, find some suggested practices to encourage students to attend office hours:

  1. When advertising office hours, use student-welcoming language. An example might include, “I am here to support your learning. I encourage you to meet with me when you feel that you need support or assistance.”
  2. Include both set office hours and “by appointment” to accommodate students who cannot attend during scheduled time.
  3. For online courses and for students who have difficulty meeting during set times, offer virtual office hours using Skype or Zoom.
  4. Hold your office hours at the Davis Center, Library, or in other central locations (students may feel intimated to come to your office).
  5. Divide the class into groups of 4-5 and assign them a time to come and visit you in your office. This can be a short (10 minute) introductory meeting. This may help “break the ice” so the students are more comfortable to come back when they need help.
  6. Reach out through a personal email/text, early in the semester, to students  who are struggling, and invite them to meet with you.
  7. When students do come, provide them prompts and questions so they can articulate their needs. Remind them of how much time you have for the meeting and give them reminders a few minutes before it is time to leave.
  8. Have candy, snacks, or coffee available if possible.

What other suggestions do you have for building productive relationships with your students?

References

Kuh, G., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J., Whitt, E. (2010). Student success in college: Creating conditions that matter. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons.

Tinto, V. (2012) Completing college: Rethinking institutional action. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press.

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