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Friendship as a Teaching Strategy for Graduate Students

Faculty Development Institutional Culture

Friendship as a Teaching Strategy for Graduate Students

Professors play an integral role in cultivating the hearts and minds of their students through the creation of a vibrant intellectual community. Fostering intellectual curiosity and academic integrity enables students to grow professionally and personally. A natural byproduct of such a community can, and should be, friendship. Meaningful friendships with peers and professors in the classroom shape hearts and minds, expand perspectives, and challenge positions because they are built on mutual trust and respect. Friendship is a partnership that assumes equal effort and contribution. As graduate students, we find that developing friendships with professors results in increased learning and performance. In such an environment, one is not afraid to reveal weaknesses or academic shortcomings, and it erases (or minimizes) any insecurity that could result from unequal content authority. We feel secure in asking questions, expressing frustrations, and asserting intellect. Therefore, friendship plays an essential role in the struggle for knowledge. A strong relationship between teacher and student “is a central component in successful teaching and learning” (Aultman, Williams-Johnson, and Schutz, 2009).

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Professors play an integral role in cultivating the hearts and minds of their students through the creation of a vibrant intellectual community. Fostering intellectual curiosity and academic integrity enables students to grow professionally and personally. A natural byproduct of such a community can, and should be, friendship. Meaningful friendships with peers and professors in the classroom shape hearts and minds, expand perspectives, and challenge positions because they are built on mutual trust and respect. Friendship is a partnership that assumes equal effort and contribution. As graduate students, we find that developing friendships with professors results in increased learning and performance. In such an environment, one is not afraid to reveal weaknesses or academic shortcomings, and it erases (or minimizes) any insecurity that could result from unequal content authority. We feel secure in asking questions, expressing frustrations, and asserting intellect. Therefore, friendship plays an essential role in the struggle for knowledge. A strong relationship between teacher and student “is a central component in successful teaching and learning” (Aultman, Williams-Johnson, and Schutz, 2009). Sertillanges (1965) addresses friendship by stating that “Friendship is an obstetric art; it draws out our richest and deepest resources; it unfolds the wings of our dreams and hidden indeterminate thoughts; it serves as a check on our judgments, tries out our new ideas, keeps up our ardor, and inflames our enthusiasm” (p. 56). By this definition, friendships between professors and students are not antithetical; rather, they are quintessential to higher education. They help students discover strengths while overcoming deficiencies. Genuine friendships allow professors to work with students through their most difficult moments and rejoice with them in their successes. Many if not all of us would say that a teacher or professor has been among the most influential people in our lives. Friendship facilitates a deeper connection to such important figures. Students’ attitudes regarding their relationships with their professors play a larger role in student success than many professors may realize (Micari and Pazos, 2012). Avoiding close relationships by way of professional distance limits the opportunity for students to have a robust and valuable collegiate experience (Bartnett, 2008), particularly at the graduate level. Here are some teaching strategies that will foster the development professor­–student friendships: Jennifer Farmer is a doctoral student at Texas Woman’s University. She currently works as an educational administrator in a K12 setting. Sarah Holman is a doctoral student at Texas Woman's University. She currently works as a dyslexia diagnostician in Arlington, TX. References Aultman, Lori Price, Meca R. Williams-Johnson, and Paul A. Schutz. "Boundary Dilemmas in Teacher–student Relationships: Struggling with “the Line”." Teaching and Teacher Education 25, no. 5 (2009): 636-46. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2008.10.002. Barnett, Jeffrey E. "Mentoring, Boundaries, and Multiple Relationships: Opportunities and Challenges." Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning 16, no. 1 (2008): 3-16. doi:10.1080/13611260701800900. Micari, Marina, and Pilar Pazos. "Connecting to the Professor: Impact of the Student–Faculty Relationship in a Highly Challenging Course." College Teaching 60, no. 2 (2012): 41-47. doi:10.1080/87567555.2011.627576. Pascarella, Ernest T., and Patrick T. Terenzini. How College Affects Students: Findings and Insights from Twenty Years of Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1991. Schwartz, Harriet L. "From the Classroom to the Coffee Shop: Graduate Students and Professors Effectively Navigate Interpersonal Boundaries." International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 23, no. 3 (2011): 363-72. Sertillanges, A.-D. The Intellectual Life, Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods. Cork, IR: Mercier Press, 1965.