Reflecting on Your Welcome Back Session

Teacher helps student at desk with other students around

Are you thinking that your Welcome Back session with students reflected the “being back part” but missed the “welcoming” part? Did you meet your intended outcomes? What if you aren’t even sure what messages or goals the session conveyed? It’s not too late to start over!  Here are some tips on ways you can be transparent with students, engage them in a true pedagogical partnership, and feel good that you are being responsive to their needs.  

Tip 1: Conduct an artifact analysis

Grab some coffee☕, settle in, and then gather your meeting agenda, minutes, and feedback data from the class session you held. 

Artifact TypeKey StepsQuestions for AnalysisNext Steps
Agenda from class session Read through your agenda and highlight key words, actions, and topics.  1. How did the highlighted words (your findings) compare to your departmental or college vision, belief statement, and/or values?  
2. Who or what was centered in the meeting?  
3. If you are unclear about the focus areas for the session, it is likely that the students lack clarity as well.  
1. Identify what was missing from your agenda after comparing it to what you and your department espouse for students. Were the equity, scholarship, and interpersonal goals reflected?  
2. Identify who was missing from the planning. How did you involve the students in planning?  
3. Categorize the missing and present elements to determine the areas of focus.  
4. Reflect on your findings and select a diverse group of students to help you plan a re-do for next month!  
Class session “meeting minutes” Read through the minutes. Highlight the processes🟨 used in yellow, the content topics🟩 in green, and the agreed upon commitments🟦(products) in blue. 1. Apply adult learning theory to your processes. Were students talked at, or were they given choices and opportunities to connect with others, and time to reflect/relate applications to their lives? Who was doing most of the talking? How were students engaged and involved? 
2. For the topics captured in the meeting minutes, how do these compare to the ones you intended for students? 
3. As a result of this time spent together, what are you and the students expected to do differently? How do you know what was “agreed to” by students based on your session with them? Were statements made solely by you, or was time spent with students debriefing, acknowledging, questioning for clarification, and providing feedback? 
4. If you are not sure what occurred at the meeting, chances are the students aren’t either. 
1.Take your analysis and the students’ agenda analysis and bring this to the entire class.  
2. Involve the class in a true Pedagogical Partnership and have them help you evaluate, plan, and implement the “welcome back re-do” with you!   
Feedback data from participants Read through the feedback.  1. Feedback is only as useful as the questions you ask. Did you ask about understanding? Did you encourage questions and suggestions? Were agreements made for core concepts or ideas? 
2. If your feedback was about your processes and not students’ engagement, then you may want to re-do the feedback if your intent was to gather their perceptions. 
1. Ask students to design a four-item electronic survey for you once they have helped you plan and implement the session. Ask students what they want to know! Ask a student group to summarize the feedback and together analyze it and plan for a mid-term or another follow-up session based on the findings. 

Tip 2: Conduct a reflection. 

Based on what you learned, how might you slow things down so that a classroom community is built? 

Class sessions go by quickly in higher education spaces. How might time be allotted on a regular basis to bring goals and agreements to life? In some spaces, charts are maintained to retain class memory. On others, electronic discussion boards are used to keep agreements in the conversation as the semester moves forward. In most classrooms, the intent of a Welcome Back session is to focus the participants on goals, core values, shared responsibilities, and more. For your re-do, make the most of this time you have set aside to engage the students with you on this endeavor. Higher education students want to feel like they belong – it is a predictor of academic and social outcomes. Let them help you make the learning space one of which you all want to be a part. 

Dr. Katherine Orlando is a lecturer and the graduate program director for the Department of Instructional Leadership and Professional Development at Towson University.