Seeking to give the “Wow!” gift to students

If you are fortunate enough over the holidays to be with people with whom you care and with whom you exchange gifts, you might be ruminating on how you felt when you received the “Wow!” gift or how you felt when the “Wow!” gift you gave was received.

This year, I had gifts for family, but I did not have a “Wow!” gift to give. I will fret over this and vow to do better next time. Today, I was thinking about how teachers, counselors, advisers, and all who come in contact with students need to strive for the “Wow!” gift every time we interact with them because there may not be a next time for that student to be encouraged to go further.

Before online courses became popular, I recall asking a faculty member whose class I had observed whether or not students might have gotten just as much from an audio or video of the lecture as they did from attending the class. This comment did not earn me any goodwill from this person, but I was so disappointed in the experience of being in the class that I just had to indicate that what I had observed did not positively impress me. The faculty member gave a lecture without engaging students in discussion and did not appear to care whether or not students were listening. There was no “Wow!” factor for sure.

While flipping through my recipe files recently, I came across a recipe that was written on the back of a partial sheet of paper that had handwritten course and section numbers on it. This piece of paper brought back the memory of being on the second floor of the Student Center at St. Louis Community College along with other counselors and academic advisers where we would work for 12- hour shifts seeing student after student to assist them in getting the courses, dates, and times they needed. The lines were long and often by the time students arrived at a seat to see an adviser or counselor, they would be out of sorts, to put it mildly.

Today, students can find everything they need for academic advising online and many students never see an adviser or counselor. If students know in what field they want to major, they may just follow the outline in the course catalogue. If they are at a community college and plan to transfer to a four-year college or university, they can go online to find out what courses the transfer college or university requires for particular majors. Why would these students take the time to make an appointment to see and academic adviser or counselor? They would want to see an adviser or counselor because they want the “Wow!” gift of a relationship and collaboration about their academic and life goals. Sometimes this gift may be just a check-in once each term just to insure that a responsible educator knows that they are working towards specific academic goals and remain on the right track.

Students who have had some challenges academically and/or personally and need support or students who just don’t know what among the many options they have that they want to choose may want to establish a trusting relationship with an adviser or counselor. Because of the context and nature of this encounter, when I was advising students, I would welcome students with the attitude and mindset that my role in advising them was critical to their lives.

I felt as if I had an obligation to meet them where they were without judgment and expectations and to walk with them on their academic journey. Through open-ended questions, I would gauge how much assistance a student needed and if the student appeared anxious and unsure, I would let them know that I was prepared to become a collaborative partner with them. I would explain what I could bring to the partnership and what they would need to do to form and keep the partnership.

It was important that the first meeting would set the stage for creating a relationship that would endure and that the student be assured that I would be there for  support throughout the student’s academic and career exploration experiences. Though I’m sure I did not succeed in all instances, I had a desire to give students the “Wow!” gift of my time, energy, knowledge, and most of all, my belief in them as people who could achieve their dreams.


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