Building relationships with students through weekly reflection

reflection and relationships

I care about each one of my learners, and I tell them that, but how do I show them I care? Most of my students are nontraditional so they often face significant barriers to success in higher education. I want them to know that it is possible for them to succeed and I understand their challenges and want to help them. Many of them don’t believe they are “college material”, so I want to help them develop this identity and make them feel like they belong. To achieve all of these aims, I have to build a relationship with each learner. How can you develop a relationship with a student you only see once a week in person, or never if it is an online class?

My strategy developed by accident when I was trying to help my students develop their self-regulation. I recognized the importance of self-regulated learning in distance education and came across Paul Pintrich’s (1995) theory of self-regulated learning (SRL). He suggests that students regulate their actions, feelings, and thinking as learners and that the better they are at regulating these domains, the more successful they will be as students. To help students improve SRL in these areas, he suggests the following:

  1. Students need to have greater awareness of their own behavior, motivation, and
  2. Students need to have positive motivational beliefs.
  3. Faculty can be models of self-regulated learning.
  4. Students need to practice self-regulatory learning strategies.
  5. Classroom tasks can be and should be opportunities for student self-regulation

(Pintrich, 1995, p. 9-11)

In his later work, Pintrich (2004) identified four phases of learning where students self-regulate: planning, monitoring, controlling, and reflection and added an additional domain of context. The table below from his article describes each of the areas and phases of self-regulation.

Table I. Phases and Areas for Self-Regulated Learning
  Areas for regulation
Phases and relevant scales Cognition Motivation/Affect Behavior Context
Phase 1
Forethought, planning, and activation

Target goal setting

Prior content knowledge activation

Metacognitive knowledge activation

Goal orientation adoption

Efficacy judgments Perceptions of task difficulty

Task value activation

Interest activation

Time and effort planning

Planning for self-observations of behavior

Perceptions of task

Perceptions of context

Phase 2

Metacognitive awareness and monitoring of cognition

Awareness and monitoring of motivation and affect  

Awareness and monitoring of effort, time use, need for help

Self-observation of behavior

Monitoring changing task and context conditions

Phase 3

Selection and adaptation of cognitive strategies for learning, thinking

Selection and adaptation of strategies for managing, motivation, and affect

Increase/decrease effort

Change or renegotiate task

Phase 4
Reaction and Reflection

Cognitive judgments


Affective reactions


Choice behavior

Evaluation of task

Evaluation of context

(Pintrich, 2004, p. 390)

I decided to take this table and add questions that students could ask themselves to regulate their learning and came up with this:

I share this file with my students each semester and tell them that I am going to help them with self-regulation to help them be more successful. Each week, they complete an exit ticket where they answer the questions from the last row “Reaction and Reflection”. I created a template in a Google Doc that I copy for each student and share with them privately. This way, only the student and I can see what they write and they can feel free to be candid. I can then read and comment on these, and they can comment back. The same file is used each week, so we have a running conversation that goes on the whole semester. Here is what the document looks like:

Here is a link to the Google Doc that you can copy and use yourself:

It takes about 2-5 minutes to read and comment on each one, so with a class of 20 students, I set aside an hour a week to do this. This is probably the most valuable hour in my whole week. I’ve shared this with faculty who have large classes, and they have their TAs help them read through the exit tickets.

The students really share a lot with me that I wouldn’t know otherwise. They tell me what they are learning, what questions they have, how they are feeling, lessons they’ve learned, and even suggest things about the course that I could change to make it better. I’ve implemented lots of changes in my courses on the fly based on comments students make in their exit tickets. I get weekly updates on the things that are posing a challenge to their success and I get to offer suggestions and encouragement. I really feel connected to each learner, and they feel connected to me. I tell them I care about their experience and their success in higher ed, and now they know I do.

If you do something similar, share it below! If you try this with your classes, please let me know how it goes.


Pintrich, P. R. (1995). Understanding Self-Regulated Learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 1995(63), 3–12.

Pintrich, P. R. (2004). A conceptual framework for assessing motivation and self-regulated learning in college students. Educational Psychology Review, 16(4), 385–407.