The Power of Student/Faculty Relationships – By Barb Bickart

For me, one of the most fulfilling aspects of teaching is getting to know my students. I feel that my students learn more when we have a closer relationship. Therefore, although I might not always agree with New York Times columnist David Brooks, a recent piece by him resonated with me (Students Learn from the People They Love). Brooks suggests that an emotional connection between students and teachers facilitates learning outcomes. He notes that central to this process is that when students and teachers have an emotional connection, the students are more likely to experience the “contagious passion” that a teacher feels toward the subject matter. Likewise, I feel that by having an emotional connection with my students I am better able to inspire students to go beyond working for a good grade to caring about the topic, or “turning ambition to aspiration” (see Aspiration, The Agency of Becoming).  On the flip side, when I fail to establish this initial connection and level of trust, students don’t feel my passion for teaching or the topic, and further, are likely to interpret a comment intended to be funny or supportive as mean or aggressive, inhibiting learning outcomes.

Therefore, building strong relationships between students and faculty, as well as the feeling of trust that goes hand-in-hand, is one of my major objectives as Senior Associate Dean of MBA Programs, particularly as we move toward delivering more content online and through hybrid channels. Here are my thoughts on how we can build relationships and trust.

First, it’s hard not to like people when we know them up close (see Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown). As a faculty member, I facilitate the “get to know” process in many ways—learning names quickly, arriving at class a few minutes early to chat informally, and using a survey at the beginning of the semester to understand students’ backgrounds and motives. Students can help by using name tents (making sure the name is clear and visible!) and stopping by during office hours to say hello. I’d also encourage you to sign up to have a meal with a small group of students and one or two faculty members. You can sign up on Questrom Common.

Second, I believe that, when used appropriately, social media can facilitate connections between students and professors. I’ve been using social media successfully to connect with the 8,000+ learners on my Strategic Social Media Marketing MOOC (massively open online course) on the edX platform. Social media can provide students with deeper insight into what motivates faculty members’ research and teaching interests, as well as a peek into how they spend their time outside of Questrom, identifying possible similarities and shared interests.

Twitter provides an easy way to get a sense of the questions driving faculty’s interests–many Questrom faculty share their research findings and provide thought leadership on business issues and current events. Try following Carey Morewedge, Bess Rouse, Robert Metcalfe, Rena Conti, Garrett Johnson, Kabrina Chang, Rachel Spooner, Marshall Van Alstyne, Frederic Brunel, Nina Mazur, N. Venkatraman, Keith Marzilli Ericson, and Dean Susan Fournier. And to learn more about research on technology and innovation, listen to Professor Andrey Fradkin’s podcast on Soundclound.

Most faculty encourage students to connect with them on LinkedIn. I use my LinkedIn network to find guest speakers or to connect a current student with an alum. If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to join the Questrom Connect platform, which can be used for networking within the Questrom alumni community. The more of us that participate, the more powerful this platform will be.

Finally, some faculty and staff connect with students via Facebook or Instagram (for example, see @deankarenphillips and @deanjp_questrom on Instagram). Those platforms provide a more personal perspective, which can facilitate a deeper connection. For example, I received much-appreciated encouragement from students when I shared my first Pilates class on @profbickart! Over the next few months, I’ll be using my Instagram account to help you get to know some of our faculty.  Of course, before accepting follow requests from faculty or staff, make sure your content is something you’d be comfortable with them seeing!

Personal connection, facilitated by deeper knowledge about another person’s interests, beliefs and behaviors, leads to greater trust, a more enjoyable classroom experience, shared passion for the topic, and ultimately, better learning outcomes. I hope that this semester, you’ll try out one of these ideas to better get to know your faculty.  I’d love to hear your thoughts (email me at on how we can foster an environment that allows for maximal learning at Questrom.

Barb Bickart, Ph.D. is the Senior Associate Dean for MBA Programs and Associate Professor of Marketing at Questrom School of Business