How to Talk to Students

How to Talk to Students

When students are in distress, faculty members are often the first to see signs of physical, behavioral, and emotional changes. When this occurs, you can help connect them to support. You don’t need to be the student’s counselor; you just need to be a caring professional and make a good referral.

  1. Be discreet

    Find a private place to speak. This will increase the likelihood that a student will share. It is important to remember that faculty are private resources on campus and should not make promises of confidentiality. See page 26 for the explanations of confidential versus private resources on campus.

  2. Express concern and care

    Knowing someone cares makes a difference.

  3. Listen reflectively

    Restate what you have heard from the student. This demonstrates that you understand.

  4. Ask open-ended questions

    This will help you gather as much information as possible while also allowing the student to feel heard. Ask the student what they think will help them.

  5. Focus on concrete behaviors

    Share what you have observed. Help the student understand specifically what you are seeing, while also letting the student know that you truly care.

  6. Be positive

    Being spoken to by faculty can sometimes feel intimidating or like being called into the principal's office. Being positive will give the student a sense of hope and collaboration.

  7. Avoid judgment

    Try not to express your personal opinion or diagnose the student.

  8. Be comfortable with a little silence

    Some people take more time to process things than others.

  9. Offer help

    Give specific information about resources and offer to walk them to the appropriate office. Destigmatize the practice of seeking help.

  10. Do not feel the need to solve the problem

    MIT is full of problem solvers; however, students' issues are often not solved quickly or easily. Do not feel that you must offer a solution. The most important thing is to listen and to try to understand what the students are experiencing so you can refer them to any of the support resources.

Example referral scenario

You are grading an essay and come across some concerning content that does not seem to fit in with the topic of the paper. The paper seems odd.

Call: S3, OGE, or Academic Administrators/Officers