Sunday, July 13, 2014

Letting My Students Know What I Want From Them

On Tuesday (July 15) at 11:00 a.m. I will be hosting a 35 minute webinar on “The Flipped Classroom.”   I am doing this program in connection with my Financial Accounting textbook (coauthored with C. J. Skender of UNC).   However, I hope to keep the textbook marketing down to a bare minimum because I really am interested in talking about the flipped classroom.

I would love for you to join me if you can.   You can register in advance at:


Below is an email that I sent out this evening to all of my students for the upcoming fall semester.   I am trying to plant a seed in their minds about what I want from them in the fall.   I always believe that a semester goes better if the students know before they ever meet you what you want from them.   They don’t have to waste important classroom time trying to figure out what you value.   As you can see, I just tell them.


To:   My Accounting Students for the Fall Semester

From:    JH

For a number of years now, I have maintained a teaching blog on the Internet where I discuss my teaching and classes and whatever else is on my mind about my students and my job.   I’ve had over 115,000 page views over the years so a lot of people have read about my teaching of accounting here at the University of Richmond.  

This evening, I was doing some work in my files and uncovered a posting that I had written for that blog on July 9, 2010—almost exactly four years ago today.   As I read the post, I immediately realized that this was an excellent idea but that I had not been following my own advice.   I sent out the note in the summer of 2010 but had not done so since that time.   (Sometimes it is easier to give advice than it is to follow it.)  

I thought it was good advice in 2010.   I think it is still good advice in 2014.   (I hope all the students in-between were not harmed too badly by my failure to send out a note like this one.)

Five Great Characteristics (blog entry, July 9, 2010)

I am not sure that any student knows what a professor really wants from them.   My guess is that if you sent a note to your students for the upcoming fall semester and simply asked—what do you think I want from the students in this class—you’d get some simplistic answers like “learn the material” or “pass the tests.”  

Is that really what you want?   It sounds so dull.   No wonder students find education boring.   No wonder they often put out less than an excellent effort.

If that is not what you want from the students in your class, why not tell them?   First, you’ll shock them by your honesty.   Second, you’ll take an immediate step toward having them think differently about your class.   You might even move them closer to what you really want.  

I had a very interesting class last spring.   Okay, I didn’t have that many A students but the class was just very lively and really got into learning about accounting.   I looked forward to working with them and I think everyone got a lot out of the class.  

I wanted to encourage my upcoming fall class to be just as lively.  Maybe it had never occurred to them.   So, I sat down a few weeks ago and tried to figure out what characteristics I really wanted from my students.    As a result, I sent the following short note to all of the students who have signed up for my fall class.

“I had a great class last semester.   It was a lot of fun.   The students were active, engaged, curious, questioning, and thoughtful.   When you have students like that, it is unbelievable the amount that can be accomplished in a class.   My wish for you and the upcoming semester is that you’ll wind up demonstrating those same five characteristics.”


If you could get a class that demonstrated those five characteristics, wouldn’t you be able to accomplish an almost unlimited amount?   Notice that I did not include “smart.”   It is nice to have smart students because it makes the job easy but if teaching is really what you want to do in this life, aren’t you better off to have active, engaged, curious, questioning, and thoughtful students than smart ones?   Smart students probably don’t really need you.

Why did I tell these five characteristics to my new students?   Simple—I wanted them to know walking in the door on the first day that I wanted to them be alive and use their brains.   I don’t want them to sit there and mindlessly take notes.   I want them to know that I have different expectations.   I want them to get excited about their own education because if they get excited, there is no end to what they can accomplish.  

I wanted them to know what I wanted even before they had ever met me.

Okay, if you can send emails to your fall students, why not think of the characteristics that you would like for them to display in your class?   Then, provide them with that list.   It should be no secret.  

You may want characteristics that are totally different from mine.   That is fine.   But, if you really want your students to demonstrate those characteristics, give them a head start.   Just tell them.  




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