You can now listen to the latest episode of “Conversations with Student Affairs,” the podcast managed by the Student Affairs team at Penn State World Campus in collaboration with our many colleagues and partners across the University’s Student Affairs teams.
Title: How to Talk to Your Instructor
Participating guests: Denita Wright Watson, associate director of equity, inclusion, and advocacy; Katie Marshall and Michelle Henry, mental health case managers; Joe Buffone, program manager; and Andrea Buffone, academic advising manager
Summary: Not sure how to approach a conversation with your instructor? How much or little should you disclose? This episode brings together staff from Academic Advising, Student Affairs, and Academic Affairs. Learn how to prepare for a conversation, get helpful tips for crafting a message and guidance for managing expectations, and find out how World Campus can support you.
Three interesting or helpful takeaways from this episode:
Be proactive and reach out as early as possible. If you have already made an initial connection with your instructor, it will be easier when/if you need to initiate a conversation about a challenge or concern you may have.
Keep your communications clear and concise. Think about what you want to say beforehand. “Maybe create a mental outline, at least,” Joe suggests. “And you don’t have to write an encyclopedia, either. Just a few sentences about whatever it is that you’re experiencing. And then directly ask for what you’re seeking. Don’t dance around the issue. Just say what you’re asking for, and if that is a further meeting with the professor, do that, too.”
Take advantage of the support resources and network available to you. Denita says, “I want students to recognize that we have our Office of Care and Concern that’s here to help coach students through whatever difficulty they’re facing, and I’d rather a student reach out for help than try to handle certain things on their own and not know how to go about it, and possibly make things even worse. It’s OK to reach out for help. It’s OK to get assistance and navigate in difficult conversations.”
Catch up on all episodes:
“Conversations with Student Affairs” Podcasts
- Student Services — learn about services and resources available to World Campus students
- Contacts & Help — find out how to reach departments and offices you may need
- Blog Post: Tips for Communicating with Your Instructor — get more tips on how to maintain positive communications with your instructors
- Blog Post: How to Talk to Your Instructor About Challenges in Your Courses — if you are experiencing (or anticipate) an issue with one of your courses, these strategies can help you engage in a positive dialogue
Transcript for Podcast Episode: How to Talk to Your Instructor
JEN TOOF: Hello, welcome to Conversations with Student Affairs. I’m your host, Jen Toof. In today’s episode, we’re going to be discussing how to speak with your instructor or connect with your instructor on challenges that you might be experiencing. This could be in the course or extenuating circumstance. And today, we have several guests on our show, many of them you have heard on our previous episodes, and some may be new voices that you’re also hearing. So our first guest, I’m going to toss it over to my colleague here, who I work with frequently in academic advising, Andrea. Could you introduce yourself?
ANDREA BUFFONE: Sure, sure. Happy to be here, everyone. My name is Andrea Buffone and I am one of the Assistant Directors of the academic advising and student disability services team here at the World Campus. I work with students in undergraduate programs for all of their academic advising needs. So I, myself, was a Penn State graduate way, way back in the day, so happy to return the favor and help other students find their way to get their degrees. And I will turn it over to Denita.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Thanks, Andrea. Hi, everyone. My name is Denita Wright Watson and I’m the associate director of equity inclusion and advocacy for World Campus student affairs, and I also oversee the office of care and concern. I, too, am a Penn State alumni, a double alumni, so I’m really glad to be here supporting, yes, so I’m very glad to be here supporting other Penn Staters. So again, just glad to be here with you today. Thank you.
JOE BUFFONE: My name is Joe Buffone. I’m a program manager in World Campus program planning and management, also a double Penn State alum and a World Campus alum as well. And part of my role is to help with the more academic concerns that are presented to our team. And with that, I’ll pass it over to Katie.
KATIE MARSHALL: Thanks, Joe. Hi, everyone. I’m excited to be here. My name is Katie Marshall and I’m one of the mental health case managers for World Campus. I have been working in this office about 2 and 1/2 years. Prior to that, I was with some other offices with Penn State over the last decade or so. So I’ve been around a while. I’m also an alum of Penn State, so it’s always nice to chat with people about how to best succeed in their career goals and to really thrive while they’re in college. So I’m excited to have this conversation. I’ll hand it over to our other case manager, Michelle.
MICHELLE HENRY: Hello, everyone. Michelle Henry, World Campus case management as well. I am also a Penn State alumni, many years ago, but I am learning right along with you as I am a very brand new hire to World Campus. But a pleasure to be here with you all and looking forward to learning with you.
KATIE MARSHALL: We’re excited to have you here, Michelle, so welcome.
JEN TOOF: Our student affairs snapshot is our next major segment, but before we get into that student affairs snapshot, I want to do an ice breaker for our listeners to get to know our guests a little bit more. And for our listeners, you’ve probably heard some of our guests talk about some of their favorite ice cream flavors, maybe their advice that they give to their younger self, or their favorite Penn State memory.
And since we’re talking more academic related and approaching conversations, I always think about the environment. And so I want to ask our guests here, if you could have any study environment, what would that location be or what would you include in that environment that makes you feel like you’re a totally connected for being an engaged student?
JOE BUFFONE: One of my favorite things in life, whether we’re talking about personal lives or school life, is that I love peace and quiet more than almost anything else. With a toddler, that doesn’t get to happen to often anymore, but when I was working through my master’s program at World Campus and also working full time at World Campus, it always really helped me to have a nice set up desk in a quiet room.
JEN TOOF: I always need to enjoy a little hum with my silence. Like, I want silence in this 95% range.
JOE BUFFONE: Well, there’s the rule in our house that a background fan has to be running at all times in almost all situations.
JEN TOOF: I can agree with that. I could agree with that.
KATIE MARSHALL: I don’t mind going next. So I love beautiful views and perspective. So if it was a location where, again, a quieter space, but just being able to look out over a beautiful view. In particular, I got married in Mexico a few years ago, and so we were — the place that we stayed was this beautiful location tropical, like overlooking the ocean with an infinity pool. And it was just gorgeous. So I would say maybe there, as long as a fan was on. I overheat easily, so I can’t get too hot. I need to have a temperate — like, can’t be too hot or cold, not too many bugs or distractions, but a beautiful view and I’m there.
JEN TOOF: I’m with you. Katie, do you happen to have a really memorable picture from that trip? Because you could have a window picture made to stick on the wall and you could have it next to you.
KATIE MARSHALL: That’s true. We were actually thinking of yeah, maybe taking a picture from our wedding, like a scenic picture, and blowing it up at some point and putting it in our house just because it was such a fun memory. But yeah, that’s a good idea. Effective.
JEN TOOF: In the student conduct office, there’s a couple of my colleagues who have those faux pictures that make it look like a window with the scenery out it, and that’s because there are — a couple of their offices don’t have windows, so they definitely put it up. So I’m, like, oh, that’s a great creative aspect that you can be anywhere in the world, or maybe get that view that you might want anywhere in the world.
MICHELLE HENRY: I have envisioned, since you’ve all been talking, an instant pop into my mind — being in the woods, so very peaceful. But yes, few sounds here and there, a babbling brook would work quite well. But very peaceful, yet the beauty of the woods and the trees.
JEN TOOF: I like that. I like that. I’m originally from Maine, so I can definitely enjoy the woods view, and Pennsylvania also has a lot of great woods views as well.
MICHELLE HENRY: I’m a big fan of New England, so I definitely agree.
ANDREA BUFFONE: I can go next. So I always, as an undergrad, liked to study in the hub, which was the student union building for Penn State University Park. And it was just this huge building. There were two floors — right? Two floors? Yeah. And there was a bookstore in there. There was this just big lobby area with these big fluffy chairs.
Thinking of it now, sitting in a chair that somebody else sat in without sanitation, it seems a little iffy. But back in the day, that was my preferred place to just chill out because my thing is I can’t — it can’t be too quiet because then my mind will wander and I can’t focus, but it also can’t be too much of an interesting sound because then I’ll be distracted in that direction.
So I have to have that balance. So that gentle hum of background conversation and commotion of people moving around, doing their things. Yeah, that was always my jam. So that’s — if I can have something like that, of course, I get it in today’s world, they probably wouldn’t choose that, but that was always — like, say non-COVID, that would be what I would choose.
JEN TOOF: So it sounds like where Joe was mentioning the hum of a fan, you need the hum of a few fans and probably that toddler walking around.
ANDREA BUFFONE: Yeah, yeah, the toddler. That’s — I’ll tell you what, whether I like his sounds or not, he does not like to not be paid attention to. So he will let you know if he’s displeased.
JEN TOOF: All right. Denita, you want to take us home on the category?
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: I’ll round it out. So I am the polar opposite. I would say my ideal study environment when I was in grad school, I like water. I find water very calming. There was a spot that I used to like to go study near the local river. Where I live, there was a park. There, at the river, and it was very peaceful, very quiet. There would be people around, but it was usually quiet. It might be joggers, walkers, bicyclists, but very soothing.
I’m easily distracted, so I don’t like a lot of noise, not even the hum. Not even the babbling brook or the white noise. Nothing. I like silence. So yeah, that would be my ideal study situation until I get chased out by a spider. Yeah. So until nature comes, until the bugs come, I’m good studying at the river.
JEN TOOF: I’m with you there on the spider.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Yeah I’ve had many a study session interrupted by spiders. Yeah, that’s my ideal study environment. Some type of water situation nearby, so obviously it has to be warm. Warm temperature, water, and then I’m good.
JEN TOOF: And no spiders.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: And no spiders.
JEN TOOF: Our student affairs snapshot, usually, there’s this deep reflection that I give. And for this reflection in this episode, I want to reflect back on all the hard work that each of you do. So I know some of you might be a office of one in your role or you may be a part of a larger team, but you serve as the liaison or maybe contact person. And oftentimes, you’re that initial person who can help triage the situation, and that’s some of the hardest work that I think that we do in our profession of student affairs and student services.
And so I just want to take the time to thank you all for the work that you do. It’s meaningful to our students. I’m really grateful, having been in my role for five years, to be able to see all of the student services that have been built for students, and all of the support that I’ve witnessed for each of you.
I know, Michelle, you’ve recently joined us, and so I know you’re also in that category as well, already having been a part of some of our student support here. And so I’m excited whenever we get an opportunity to talk about the work that we do, but I don’t think we always take an opportunity to thank each other for the work that we do and the support that we provide. So I thank you.
KATIE MARSHALL: Thanks, Jen, that means a lot.
JEN TOOF: So Denita —
— yeah, virtual group hug.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: And it’s mutual.
JEN TOOF: Thank you, thank you. So I want to get into our two main segments that we do. So we always do our On the Corner segment, which is our intersecting topics, and then our Toolbox for Success, so we always want to talk about where can we help the student get to that next aspect for support, or what does it look like to come up with a strategy towards more student success for them?
And so for our On the Corner segment, where we’re talking about helping students when they’re faced with those challenges. How do they have those conversations with their instructor? Joe, since you work quite frequently with academic concerns, I want to start with our first question here in our conversation. So it’s really about preparing the student for going into that conversation. So if a student needs to discuss challenges, so these could be in that personal world or could be course-related. How should they prepare for that academic communication that they need to send?
JOE BUFFONE: That’s a great question. I think, first and foremost, the one piece of advice I have is to do it as soon as reasonably possible. The earlier you can, the better, of course. You need to take care of yourself and gather your thoughts and whatnot. But professors really like to get as much notice as possible. The other thing is think about what you want to say. Maybe create a mental outline, at least, in the email.
And you don’t have to write an encyclopedia, either. Just a few sentences about whatever it is that you’re experiencing. And then directly ask for something, for what you’re seeking. Don’t dance around the issue. Just say what you’re asking for and if that is even a conversation or a further meeting with the professor, do that too.
JEN TOOF: Thanks, Joe. And Denita, that leads me into the diverse lived experiences that all of our students have. And I also know that students can be triggered by events that are connected to their identity, could be connected to their community. And so oftentimes, it’s that personal piece, and there is that being a student piece. There’s being a human being, then there’s a student who has responsibilities, and then there’s having responsibilities for your family and keeping yourself safe.
So when this happens and a student experiences these personal challenges, how should they navigate those boundaries and that advocacy piece, as well as personal confidentiality because students don’t always want to say exactly what’s going on. So how can they navigate going into that conversation, what Joe was just describing?
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: I would start off, actually, with the same thing that Joe said. The sooner they can reach out for support, the better. The sooner, rather than let things wait and fester and sometimes get out of hand. I think we’re all dealing with a lot right now. There’s just so much happening in the world around us that’s affecting us mentally, emotionally, physically, and that can’t help but bleed over into a student’s academic performance.
So I want students to recognize that we have our office of care and concern that’s here to help coach students through whatever difficulty they’re facing, and I’d rather a student reach out for help than try to handle certain things on their own and not know how to go about it, and possibly make things even worse. It’s OK to reach out for help. It’s OK to get assistance and navigate in difficult conversations.
We see students that hold things in and see things happening around them and it’s affecting them. Some students are offended by certain things that are being said or happening around them, and they don’t feel that they have the voice to speak out. That’s where we come in. We want to empower students to use their voice. We want to empower them to speak up and advocate for themselves.
And for students who aren’t quite there, who aren’t quite there yet to be able to self advocate, that’s what we’re here for. I want to advocate for students who haven’t yet found their voice and coach them through so that they can pick up the baton and take it from there. But it’s OK to reach out for help. It’s OK to reach out for support. We acknowledge that there’s a lot happening in the world right now. We acknowledge that there are stressful situations that our students find themselves in, and we just want to give them some support. So that’s my greatest message for the students. We’re here for support, so just utilize our services.
JEN TOOF: Thanks, Denita. And I know you’re an office of one who is working quite frequently with students on that care and concern aspect, and I know students are very grateful for that support that you’ve been able to provide. Shifting a little bit to, really, that mental health component that can accompany the stress that one is feeling with these traumatic events or even navigating a conversation, Katie and Michelle, what advice would you give for students when they’re navigating those extenuating circumstances, and then approaching, asking for help?
KATIE MARSHALL: Sure. I mean, really, depends on the circumstances and situation, but I think typically any time that somebody is experiencing some type of extenuating circumstances and change, whether it was expected or unexpected, that brings with it certain stressors, certain pressure and in various areas. And so I think what Denita said and Joe said about reaching out early and proactively when something’s happening, I think actually fits in this realm, too, just to reiterate that point.
Because sometimes when we — when something’s going on, there are certain circumstances, where there maybe is an emergency and you just have to deal with what you’re dealing with in the moment, and you need to take care of what you need to take care of, and after the fact is when you need to reach out. But the majority of the time, there are times when you actually have the chance where something is starting, and I think that can give you a little bit of a sense of control.
And being proactive can really be helpful as a way to actually do self care, really. It’s taking care of yourself. It’s putting some things in place and some supports in place to help you. So it’s not just in the academic realm or your classes, or maybe you’re needing to reach out for additional support, which is where we all come in. But also, as stressors start to arise, thinking about what are other areas in your life where you may need extra support through your family, through your friends.
You may need to think about other ways to engage in self care for a little bit as the stressor takes the priority, or whatever that circumstance is. How can you still have a baseline for yourself? A functioning where you can put things in place to help you be resilient and get through that time, that difficult time? Michelle, do you have anything to add? Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share?
MICHELLE HENRY: That was definitely where I would have gone as well, reinforcing be as proactive and try to handle that stress that’s occurring as soon as possible, for sure. And then the navigation piece, it’s often heard and said. It’s so difficult, sometimes, looking at what’s out there and what kind of support is available. And that’s where many of us in case management role come into play.
I mean, in essence, that is our expertise, helping — hopefully helping — individuals connect with resources, services, supports that will help ease that extenuating circumstances that is occurring at the time and very much encourage everybody to reach out. We’re here to help. We’re here to support.
And looking at the whole self is really the last piece I’d like to mention because when you look at your whole self, you have the dimensions of you. And as you go through life, things get off balance, as it does with everybody. And it’s a matter of, again, being proactive and looking at what is off balance and getting support to help regain balance in your life. It is possible and people are here to help, such as the lovely folks that are with us today, and I’m happy to be part of the team. And hopefully, we’ll help create some additional resources as well. Thank you.
JEN TOOF: I know one of the areas that comes up from students is they don’t want to overshare and sometimes, they don’t share enough when they are crafting that message or identifying that extenuating circumstances coming in because they don’t want to air out their laundry, as they might refer to it, and feel as though like everybody has challenges and concerns and issues that they’re working through.
In this team of people here that we have on today’s call for our podcast, we’re a great starting point. So if it’s in that academic realm or if it’s in that case management realm or that care and concern realm — and we haven’t connected with Andrea yet on a question or Terry. But we can help you identify that priority piece so that you feel as though you can maintain some of that confidentiality and not feel like you need to share all of your personal details when communicating to your instructor.
So the people here are a great starting point for identifying that piece, with what Joe was sharing at the beginning and what Denita and Katie and Michelle have been supporting. So I just want to say to our students and our listeners, you don’t have to share everything, but let’s help you identify what that priority piece is, and what does crafting a response look like? That can be helpful if you feel like you are in that position of being concerned about what to share. Does anybody want to add anything about that confidentiality piece and identifying what to share?
ANDREA BUFFONE: It would be to add just one piece related to ‚ if you feel like you really don’t want to share specific details, it might sound counterintuitive, but it is good to talk about, at least minimally, what’s going on, even if just to say, “I’m having a family emergency” rather than sharing exactly what it is. With the folks in the room here, academic advisors in particular, I’ll speak on behalf of them, only because if there’s something that we can do to help, if there’s some sort of academic action that we can take, such as like a lead drop or withdraw, or something.
If there’s something that we can do, it’s much better to do it within the deadlines of that particular action because — coming back to the not wanting to share a lot — if you don’t say anything, if you miss the deadline, if you need to come back later then, really, the only way for us to take an action retroactively is through a petition, where you do to share the details of what was going on and you have to have documentation that shows that what you’re saying actually was happening.
So it gets to be a lot more personal at that point in the process, where you really do have to share because you have to prove that there was an extenuating circumstances. And so it’s always better just to get things — just to talk about it early on. That way, you don’t have to share the exact details. We can just help you get to the correct or appropriate action that might be helpful at the time, rather than having to share it later on, when you really don’t want to.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Just to bounce off of what Andrew said, I would say the amount of what’s shared probably depends on what we’re trying to accomplish, depends on what the situation is. For example, students might share a lot with me in our talks together, and then I might be advocating on their behalf to their professor for, say, flexibility, a little extra time because they’re dealing with a lot on their plate.
I don’t have to necessarily relate to the professor every single thing that the student has shared with me, but I can give a general idea that the student had some type of extenuating circumstance, some type of medical emergency without going into detail as to exactly what it is. And I always tell students the same thing when they’re advocating to their professors on their behalf.
Share as much as you’re comfortable with. You don’t have to go into the granular, all the specific details, but you can just give an overview because it helps for the professors to have an idea of what you’re struggling with, so that they can work with you and offer you some type of flexibility, some type of leniency.
TERRY WATSON: I’m Terry Watson. I am the assistant director for disability services. I am a Black male with a Penn State blue background and the Penn State road campus logo on the left hand corner. So perfect timing and talking about confidentiality and disability services.
Of course, everything that’s disclosed to myself or anyone on our team is confidential. We specifically tell students we do not share any of that information, including the documentation with faculty or staff. The only thing that we share is what’s the reasonable accommodation and how it’s to be applied. The one thing I would echo though, too, is proactivity is key, right?
So we talk about when is the best time to come forward if there is a circumstance that you’re dealing with or if you have a disability or whatever it may be. I think proactivity is key, making sure that you communicate either to disability services, or care concerns, academic advising. And again, what you disclose would give us some insight to what resources may be available to you.
I know with disability services, again, the accommodations themselves are not retroactive, but based on a certain situation, we may be able to communicate the faculty to provide an exception or something like that, right? So I think proactivity is key, keeping in mind that the information shared to our office is confidential, and that we advocate on your behalf based on the current functional limitations. But I would love to pitch that back to you, Andrea, if you don’t mind because I think that we work very closely together. And thinking about this as the challenges that our students face, I mean, for us, telling us as soon as possible is what I will say. But I would love to hear from you about that thing.
ANDREA BUFFONE: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, thanks, Terry. Yeah, so I agree 100% with everything that Terry said. The earlier, the better, even if you think maybe you’re not sure if it might impact your education. Even just reaching out, we’re never going to say, oh, we don’t want to talk to you about that. We’ll talk to you about it. So even if you are not sure, talk to us. We’ve probably heard it all, so don’t feel like — at the same, it’s — let me back up a little bit.
Don’t feel like we don’t want students to feel like that they’re just another person dealing with something and they should reach out because everybody has their own stuff. At the same time, don’t feel embarrassed about or ashamed or any negative thought towards what you’re going through because you probably have heard it all. And we’re happy to help. That’s what we’re here for.
So even if you’re not sure if it’ll impact your academics, we can still have that conversation and give you maybe some options of what we could do in the future if it ends up impacting. We can give you dates, we can give deadlines, we can give you processes, just things to think about. So
Yeah, absolutely the earlier you can get in contact with your advisor, probably the more options that we can offer, too. It’s not just the earlier that we know what you’re going through, it’s likely that there will be more options on the table to choose from. So we’re always happy to talk it through. Again, even if you’re not sure. So never hesitate to reach out. And even if your academic advisor isn’t specifically the person who can help you with something, we can probably direct you to the appropriate person that can.
So that’s probably true, really, of any of us in the room here, if we’re not the correct person to be talking to. We can point you in the right direction. But that’s our job, really, to know where to go if we’re not the ones that have the answers. So please reach out. That’s what we’re here for. We would much rather have a conversation when it’s still early enough to do something, rather than after the fact, when maybe some options have been potentially taken away.
JEN TOOF: Thank you so much, everybody. Those were very robust answers for some action steps that students can take. Joe, you can start us off with talking about that academic piece. I want to bring it back to you about what does it look like from managing the expectations? Because we’re also talking about success and students needing to have those tools, and I think being able to manage what an instructor’s response might be when they’ve made a disclosure, or made an ask? Could you share with us some tips for managing that response and what responses might look from an instructor?
JOE BUFFONE: Yeah, that’s a great question, Jen. Instructors are always willing to help students in their journey in their class. Again, as everyone else has said, reaching out early is key because sometimes after the fact, there might not be a possible solution, especially in classes where there’s group work and heavy group interactions. It gets really difficult to clean something up after the fact rather than say something in advance in the beginning.
But your goal is to enter a dialogue with the professor and have a conversation, whether that’s via email or Zoom or whatever. There is a back and forth sometimes and you’ve just got to, again, advocate for yourself.
JEN TOOF: Is it possible that decisions from instructors, in regards to flexibility or combinations, maybe get limited to department policies? So Terry, I know you mentioned that accommodations can’t be retroactive, but what about from an instructor perspective?
TERRY WATSON: Well, the most important piece on our end is that there is a engagement between the instructor and the student and the support person that they’re working with, right? So we recorded the interactive process. So not every instructor, but most instructors will always say, as long as you communicate to me what’s going on and how we can help, they’re typically OK with that, right? I think the success piece comes in when students do communicate, right?
So I always tell my students, for example, who may have flexibility accommodations, the key to this accommodation is how you communicate. And when you communicate to your instructor, if you send an email, say, I need an extension, that doesn’t say anything. It doesn’t tell us much.
I always give them a template like, I’m working on assignment, enter assignment here. I am this much into the assignment. I’m 3/4 done. I need two or three more days to complete this. Can I please have those two or three days? That’s how you can make it to instructor what your needs are. Not just say, I need an extension because that doesn’t say anything.
Again, with our office, instructors are not — faculty should not be asking about the disability or the functional limitations. If they have questions about the accommodations, they are directed to come back to our office. And that’s part of that support for the students, so they don’t have to say to the instructor, I’m dealing with this health condition because, again, that’s confidential.
But the purpose is that they’re communicating their needs, they’re being clear what they’re asking for, and they actually are communicating. The instructor should not have to guess or track down a student to say, hey, where is this assignment? Because that’s not what they’re doing for every other student in that course.
So for me, again, I know that I do want students to be successful, but my main goal is this equity within the class, within the program itself, meaning that if the student does well, as long as the student has the accommodations that has been identified by our office, that’s the most important piece. If they do well, it depends on the actions that you take within that semester.
JEN TOOF: Thanks, Terry. Joe, for students who do not have a functional limitation and are receiving accommodations from Student Disability services, what academic policies might an instructor hold to on some of these requests? For flexibility, for example?
JOE BUFFONE: You ask good questions, Jen. So the first thing that folks want to keep in mind is that grading is under the purview of instructors. It is something that the University has in its policy, and from there, there may be departmental guidelines on how to handle things for instructors.
So as you can see, to bring it all back together, reaching out early is key because similar to what Terry said, if you go through a whole semester and don’t communicate, then you’ve got a problem at the end of the semester as you’re trying to get your grades and move on to your next courses. So again, really important to reach out in advance and communicate and have that interactive dialogue with the instructor because grading is under their purview.
JEN TOOF: Thanks, Joe. I think that’s a great way to now send us into our final thoughts. I’d like to give each of you a final thought. And Katie, would you like to start us off?
KATIE MARSHALL: Sure. I think everyone’s been giving good insight. As I’ve been listening, in my mind to summarize a little bit — and other people can jump in their thoughts about this — but it’s almost like a process, like Terry was saying, of recognizing what’s going on and what kind of support you might need because of the circumstance and from there, determining how much information you want to share about it.
Being proactive in reaching out, so like sharing enough information to get the need met that you need, sharing the impact that situation is having on you, and then as a result of the impact, here’s the support or flexibility that you need. Like, here’s the ask that you’re making. So almost like, what is the thing and how much information do I need to share because of the level of what’s going on and the need that I have, the impact it’s having on me as a result? And then from that, what I need because of that impact that it’s having on me, and being specific about the ask. So that’s some of what I’m getting to summarize, but curious other people’s thoughts and final thoughts and how they would conceptualize that.
JEN TOOF: I thought it was an excellent summary.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: I’ll jump in. I think that Joe got the ball rolling at the top of the podcast, with the whole idea of the sooner you reach out, the more proactive you are, the better. I think that was a great way to start us off and it held true throughout the podcast. And also, like Andrea said, when students reach out sooner, the earlier you reach out for help, the more options might be available so that we can assist you, the more favorable options that might be available the earlier you reach out.
And I would also say, connecting with what Katie said, another overarching theme for all of us that we really want to drill home is it’s about communication. Because none of us can do what we do to assist you without some type of communication. And like I said earlier, for students who haven’t found their voice, for students who aren’t comfortable speaking up and asking for help, that’s one of the purposes of my office.
Let me coach you through those conversations. Let me help you to be comfortable to reach out to Terry’s department, to advocate for your accommodations. I can help you reach out to Katie and Michelle to get the mental health services that you need. I can help you initiate that conversation. I can help you initiate those conversations with Andrea and Joe to get your academic concerns taken care of. So it all starts with communication. So again, if you’re not there yet, then I can meet where you are and help you become comfortable advocating for yourself.
JOE BUFFONE: And similarly to what Denita just said, we here and those of us on this podcast are a team. We don’t work in silos. We talk to each other frequently and enjoy talking to each other frequently, and I think that’s the point. We’re all here to help and we all know where to go to get help. So we are always available. And again, just please reach out to us and let us know what’s going on and we’ll be glad to help.
TERRY WATSON: I’m going to add a nuance here, just because I think we all work in a student support capacity. After you have your conversation with any one of us, I think the one thing you want to make sure you take away from it is what am I responsible for as the student, and what is this office going to do on their end, right? I think after any conversation, that should be some type of template to say OK, I’m going to do this as a student. I’m going to do XYZ.
And at the same time, this person in this office is going to do X, Y, and Z. I think that’s the, again, part of the communication piece, right? So I know after I meet with the student, I usually say, OK, here’s the to-dos. You’re going to do this, you’re going to do this, I’m going to do this, and I particularly put out an email. I think the reason why I do that is because usually, if you’re coming to us, you may already be in a mindset where things are difficult to put things together in order, or what have you not.
The most helpful thing that I could think of is knowing what the responsibilities are and making sure that’s very clear. So no matter who you talk to on this call, I think when you’re done talking with that person, having a clear understanding of what you have to do as a student and what the office you’re working with is going to do to help. So that would be my final thoughts for that.
ANDREA BUFFONE: I can add some just a few too, just to turn it around a little bit. So I know the purpose of this podcast is to talk about academic concerns, but just from the advising perspective, you don’t have to just reach out whenever you’re having a rough time. We’re happy to talk about positives, too. We’re happy to talk about — we want to hear about your successes, we want to hear when things are going well.
That’s always nice. So happy to talk about those things, too, and it’s — you don’t have to reserve conversations for advising whenever you’re in a tough spot. So we’re here for other things, as well. So if you ever wonder what class to schedule, what degrees you might want to do to, reach out to advising. It’s not all — we want to hear about the positive stuff too.
JEN TOOF: Yes, we do, Andrea.
MICHELLE HENRY: I should never go last in this conversation because it’s following all the experts being new, but so very well said. And I have nothing better to say or add other than yes, we are here. Please take advantage of the help. We’ll make it as comfortable as possible and create some of those warm handoffs amongst each other. I think the big thing is just being open to receiving the support.
JEN TOOF: Great, thank you, everybody.