Balancing Student Support and Responsibility
Faculty are often stuck between supporting students and holding them accountable to basic classroom fairness standards. While the initial response from most faculty is to ensure a student is getting proper support, they are often left with several lingering questions:
- How much leeway should be given for a student’s illness-related absences (if any)?
- When is it reasonable to deny a student an opportunity to make up work?
- Is it okay to suggest that a student consider a medical leave or other course withdrawal?
- How do I support a students well-being while not enabling unhealthy classroom habits?
Below, we present three important ideas toward creating and maintaining a balanced approach toward student support and responsibility:
1. Create syllabus policies that are well-defined and that encourage pro-active communication:
Faculty are encouraged to develop classroom policies that encourage pro-active communication. These can be policies that impact student grades based on late assignments, missed classes, or simply poor performance. Below, we included some sample syllabus policies that strongly encourage communication:
- Missed Classes: “Any student who needs to miss a class for unavoidable, extraordinary circumstances must notify me prior to the start of class. Any absence regardless of reason or excuse (but with an exception for incapacitation) that occurs without prior notification is considered unexcused and will result in a X-point deduction from the student’s final grade.“
- Missed Quizzes and Tests: “Any student who will miss a quiz or test for unavoidable, extraordinary circumstances must notify me prior to the start of class in order to schedule a make-up opportunity. All missed quizzes or tests must be made up within X class periods of the student’s absence in order to obtain full credit. Failure to schedule or make up a missed quiz or exam within X class periods will result in a zero for that quiz or test.
- Late Coursework: All assignments are due by the start of class on the date indicated in the syllabus. No late assignment will be accepted without an email from the student before the start of class sharing that the assignment will be turned in after the deadline. Grading for late assignments: assignments turned in after the start of class will immediately have X% of the total points available deducted from the grade for that assignment. Each subsequent 24 hour period following the start of class will result in an additional X% deduction in the total available points. Example: A 10 point assignment is posted to Moodle 5 minutes after the start of class. The student can achieve a maximum of N points (loss of X%). Example: A 10 point assignment is posted on Moodle 25 hours after the start of class; the student can achieve a maximum of M points (X% immediate loss + X% for each 24 hours = Y point loss). No credit will be given for final exams that are turned in late.
2. Maintain empathy and support while referencing course policies and university guidelines:
We encourage faculty to respond to student needs by expressing empathy while maintaining equity between the student’s needs and those of the other classmates. What seems reasonable may change based on the circumstances, but faculty should always be guided by their syllabus policies and university policies. Below are some sample empathy and balancing statements, along with a sample response in responding an incomplete request.
Sample Empathy Statements:
- I’m sorry to learn that you have been dealing with some health issues this semester. Based on what you’ve described, I can see how it would be difficult concentrate…
- This sounds very serious. How are you doing right now?
- It’s important to me that you’re connected to the right resources to assist you. Who are you talking to about this? Have you considered a connection to…
- Based on what you’ve shared, I might suggest a quick connection with my friends in _____. I’ve worked with [staff member name] there several times with good success for students in the past. Should I connect the two of you over email?
Sample “Balancing” or “Accountability” statements:
- “Based on everything that you’ve shared, I’m concerned about your ability to reach your potential with a grade that you would be satisfied with.”
- “Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is going to work out for this particular class.”
- “In situations like this, I have to rely on my syllabus and the academic policies.”
- “We also need to make sure we’re being fair to other students.”
Sample Combined Responses:
- Medical Injury and request to miss 2 weeks of class: “I’m so sorry to hear that you had been injured; I know that concussions can be pretty serious and I hope you are getting all of the support you need right now. If you haven’t already, you might want to set up a follow-up appointment with Student Health. They will do follow-up concussion assessments and can help you communicate with your other faculty about any accommodations that might be useful. You do have a bit of cushion in our course – the syllabus policy allows you to take two absences throughout the semester for any reason (medical or otherwise). If the health center recommends a longer period of cognitive rest, I hope you will focus on your health and consider utilizing the option to withdraw from this course. That said, it may put a lot of pressure on you to be present during the remainder of the semester to avoid a deduction in your final grade.”
- Mental Health Concerns and Request for Incomplete: “Thanks for your note and for being willing to share more about some of the difficulties you faced this semester. Your health is extremely important and I’m glad to know that you are taking steps to focus on maintaining your wellness. If you haven’t already, I suggest that you consider registering with the Disability Resources office for next semester – to ensure you are getting appropriate accommodations to assist you going forward. Unfortunately, there are some limits on how I might be able to help you as we near the end of this course. Our syllabus does not allow students to make up assignments after the due date. If I were to let you do so, it would mean allowing the same opportunity for every other student, which is logistically impossible and would be unfair to those to turned their assignments in on time. In addition, Elon’s incomplete policy is designed primarily as a way for students to make up assignments due to sudden and unforeseen circumstances. As a result, I’m afraid I have to deny your request. That said, let me share a couple of important resources that could be useful”: [explains Elon’s repeat policy, medical leave policy, and retroactive medical withdrawal policy.]
3. Keep any exceptions transparent and applicable to everyone:
Basic fairness demands that faculty make any exceptions to their classroom policies transparent and applicable to all students. Below are examples of situations that might warrant re-framing classroom policies in a way to ensure fairness:
- A student approaches you about their personal fear of public speaking (not based on a disability). You allow that student to present to the class by recording themselves in a video that will be played for the class instead. In this situation, the faculty member should announce to the class that anyone who has a fear of public speaking would be allowed to present using recorded video.
- A student has asked for and is granted an extension on an assignment because they were assisting their roommate with a personal issue. In this situation, the faculty member should announce to the class that those in need of an extension should reach out to the faculty member.