Preparing for and talking with a student

The preparation for your meeting is as important as the meeting itself. Your positive attitude and information-seeking approach are vital to the success of the meeting. You play a big role in setting the tone, building trust, and incorporating the student’s perspective into solutions. Reflect on what you are seeing that appears concerning to you.

It’s easier to engage fully in the conversation with your student when you feel:

  • calm
  • hopeful for successful outcome to the meeting
  • physically comfortable
  • curious about what’s going on for the student
  • open to finding solutions
  • that there are solutions that will benefit everyone
  • glad that you have this opportunity to turn around a difficult situation

Once you’ve noticed that a student may be in distress, you can speak to her/him about your concerns. Research regarding brief interventions supports several strategies for initiating and having an effective conversation, even when the source of the problem is unknown. The key is to try to understand the student’s situation better so you can gather more information about what the student is experiencing and to make an appropriate referral. By expressing concern, you communicate your willingness to be of help and create the possibility for the student to confide in you. Don’t be afraid to point out specific changes you have observed about the student such as changes in behavior, attitude, etc. Avoid making statements that may be perceived as judgments, such as “you seem really anxious” “are you feeling depressed”.

Share your concern and ask permission to speak about it further:

Some examples include:
I’m concerned about…I wonder if we could talk about…” “Can you tell me more about that is happening?”

Refer to specific behaviours or patterns of behaviour:

Some examples include:
“I’ve noticed that…”
“I noticed that you were crying during the lab yesterday. Would you like to talk?” “I’ve noticed that you have been more quiet than usual in class. Is everything okay?”
“I noticed that you fell asleep at your desk today and you seem more tired in class than usual. Is everything okay?”
“I’ve noticed that you’ve been absent from class lately and I’m concerned. Is everything okay?”

Ask permission to talk about the topic and explore the student’s concern with open- ended questions:

Some examples include:
“What concerns do you have about…?”
“So, what you are saying is you are feeling overwhelmed with school and your job but you need money to survive?”
“Would it be okay if we talked about…”
“What problem has that situation caused you?”

Provide room for disagreement:

Some examples include:
“I may be wrong, but…”
“This may seem like it’s coming out of left field, but…”

Practice active listening; let the student tell her/his story:

Some examples include:
“I can certainly understand why that would be stressful. What happened?”
“It sounds like you are frustrated with your parents.”

Acknowledge and support the student’s courage in disclosing a personal difficulty:

Some examples include:
“I know that talking has been difficult; it is good that we talked.”
“It sounds like things are tough right now. But it doesn’t mean things will always be this way.” “That sounds so tough, I am sorry to hear you are going through such a hard time.” “I know that talking about your significant other has been difficult.”