Updated: Sep 30, 2021
Dear Someone Else’s Dad,
I’m a professor at a large university, where we just started live classes again. I’ve found many students are acting unprofessionally both in live situations and in rambling emails. They don’t seem engaged in lectures, don’t make assignment deadlines, and don’t respond to emails we send to see if everything is alright.
Also, last week a student sent me and my colleague an email that started with, “hey queens…” We are completely gender- and orientation-respectful and aware here, but I thought that salutation went a bit too far. Would love any thought or ideas.
Not a Queen
During the lockdown young people didn’t have mentors to model effective communication skills. Few organizations had the resources to talk about guidelines on how to read audiences and get messages across effectively. Zoom meetings work just so-so to foster the norms we expect people to follow.
I taught my first live university class last week and had to spend a good portion of the session reminding students that our masks muffle our voices, making it hard for others to hear us. Masks also don’t allow us to see each other’s facial expressions, which can help strengthen our messages when we’re speaking, and let speakers know that we understand their messages when we’re listening.
Now that your students are back I’d take some time in your next class to say that the pandemic has made all of you lose track of some basic fundamentals of human interactions. Then say that you’d like everyone to agree to the following guidelines.
Set expectations. Mention how important it is for students to complete assignments on time. Define how and when you expect everyone to communicate with you (email, text, MS Teams, Slack, etc.) Let them know you’ll constantly communicate with them too so everyone can be apprised of updates.
Agree to be direct and graceful. Remind people that demonstrating good manners and grace still are the keys to being successful. You should state upfront what you want in an email, but be polite about it.
Talk about inclusiveness. Bring up the example of the bizarre email salutation as a lesson in how people like to be addressed. Most university people include their preferred pronouns in their signatures. Unless recipients have specifically stated how they’d like to be addressed, use people’s first names or inclusive words like “everyone.”
It’s been a bizarre year for all. We all need a few reminders now that people are seeing each other again.