Recognising the individual: re-thinking engagement and the staff student relationship

Jon Down (Grit Breakthrough Programmes)
Ellie Garraway (Grit)
Rachael O'Connor (University of Leeds)

Tuesday, April 9, 2024 9:00 AM - 9:45 AM

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Session Outline

As the student body becomes ever more heterogeneous, one of the greatest challenges for universities has been to see and understand students beyond a single demographic label or identity in a sector where students have historically been categorised and grouped by such labels. As we acknowledge these complex, intersecting social identities, approaches to engaging and supporting students become much more than a question of using the right language. They become about supporting every student to feel seen, heard and valued as an individual, beyond a single identity characteristic.

The question of how to engage students within the current and future landscape, then, becomes ever more complex. The UKAT Professional Framework sets out how staff should appreciate students’ views and cultures, maintain a student-centred approach and mindset, and treat students with sensitivity and fairness, respecting individuality and individual needs and perspectives.

The focus is shifting towards the conscious development of “the whole person” in a way that enables students to breakthrough the limitations other people, including Universities, put on them - whether resulting from their social/educational background, personal characteristics or academic discipline.

This holistic view of the student is one that moves the relationship with the member of staff on from the simply transactional – the giving and receiving of information – to one more in line with what students are increasingly coming to expect: students actively look for these interactions for a familiar face and to establish a relationship which leads to a sense of community and belonging.

For staff, this can be challenging. It means a different approach to interactions with students: understanding the student perspective in a more holistic way; and the ability to deploy a range of different modes to engage students – instruction, leading, coaching or any other mode.

It means setting aside the feeling that you need to have all the answers and engaging in a willingness to be vulnerable. This is, by its nature, challenging for academic staff who are often used to being experts. It means coming from a place of inquiry and active listening, instead of assumption, expertise and certainty (which is also, of course, what we ask of students).

It’s also about judgment: for example, making a judgement about which technique will best engage the student and then suspending judgement about how the student finds their way through in a way that you (or even they) expect.

We will discuss the University of Leeds approach to personal tutoring and lead interactive exercises on taking coaching approach:

Coaching as a mindset – inviting participants to reflect on some of their beliefs, assumptions and behaviours that might get in the way of taking a coaching approach.

Listening to give students spaces to speak into

Asking future focused questions that keep the interaction focused on the student

This session addresses the following competencies of the UKAT Professional Framework for Advising and Tutoring
R1 - Build advising and tutoring relationships through empathetic listening and compassion for students, and be accessible in ways that challenge, support, nurture, and teach
R3 - Motivate, encourage, and support students to recognize their potential, meet challenges, and respect individuality
P2 - Appreciate students’ views and cultures, maintain a student-centred approach and mindset, and treat students with sensitivity and fairness