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For most academics, teaching makes up a large part of their role, and by working as a team with their students they can create a positive learning experience that lasts, says Imperial College Business School's Dr Danielle Lyssimachou.

Think back to your fondest memories from school. Did you have a teacher who was special to you? What was it about them that stood out? It is often the educators who go above and beyond to serve, empower and enthuse their students who win over their audience and pass on a love for their subject. This requires building a sense of anticipation and excitement about what is coming next, adapting the learning process to fit the needs of their students, and treating them with respect and humanity.

As an academic in higher education, I wonder how many of us are aware of the role our connection with students plays in their learning success. We are experts in our fields, but our pedagogical training is usually patchy. We are expected to learn on the job. Yet, teaching constitutes 40 per cent or more of our role and has a significant impact on the thousands of students we meet in our career. 

What we often fail to realise is that our duty as educators is to lean into our students

Most of the emphasis as a teacher is on covering the syllabus to help students master a set of learning outcomes. In the learning design process, the teacher must carefully consider how to break down and deliver the syllabus across a set number of lectures and how to cram in all these important concepts – and we rarely have enough time.

In this process, a pedagogically minded educator should consider that their audience will be made up of people with individual learning styles, requiring a variety of methods and activities. For example, some learn best by doing, whereas others prefer reflecting. Most of us tend to stop there.

What we don’t consider, or know much about, is the psychology of learning. Without a full appreciation of this, we are unlikely to reach our full potential as educators. We are led to believe our students should show up to class ready and prepared to learn, engage with our learning activities and make the most of the valuable time they spend with us.

We are experts in our fields, but our pedagogical training is usually patchy

What we often fail to realise is that our duty as educators is to lean into our students, to appreciate where they have reached in their learning journey and how best to support their practical learning needs. Then we need to design an educational experience, with this audience at the centre and us as facilitators, to provide memorable experiences that evoke a positive long-lasting relationship with the subject area. 

Let’s consider the feelings evoked among learners in two very different learning settings.

The traditional learning environment 

Traditional learning environments are often based on a strict teacher/learner divide and the educator may knowingly or unknowingly apply control and fear tactics to engage with them, with narrow end targets such as scoring well in an exam. These learning settings do not promote learning – quite the contrary; they obstruct it and risk damaging the learner’s aptitude.

Some learners may feel forced to comply in the short term, but they will not develop positive associations with the subject and will suppress or forget the information in the long run. It needs to be an enjoyable experience that carries deeper meaning. Other learners will flat out refuse to engage, as they do not feel safe in this type of environment. Ultimately, the educator fails in their educational mission in this type of setting. 

Working together as a team

In this set up, learners should be at the centre with the educator acting as a learning facilitator, investing time and effort in building a strong bond. Their students gradually feel a strong sense of trust and connection with the learning facilitator and become receptive to learning. This can be achieved in multiple ways:

  1. The educator can be explicit about their role as champion of their students’ learning success, show respect and appreciation for students’ contribution and engagement, displaying vulnerability and approachability on a human level.
  2. They can reach out to their students, converse casually with them, understand what works and what doesn’t work in the learning process. 
  3. They can also remind students that each one of them is on their own learning journey, setting their own learning targets that transcend short-term assessments but translate into meaningful development.

Understanding all of this can feel like a breakthrough. I have learnt to appreciate the small casual interactions and wins during the learning journey far more than the destination. I know that most of the subject-specific details I teach may be forgotten in time, but what I hope stays with my students is a positive feeling about the subject area, and the role I hope to model of how a successful learning team should operate.  


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Main image: Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images.

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About Danielle Lyssimachou

Principal Lecturer (Teaching)
Dr Danielle Lyssimachou is an award-winning educator, academic leader and consultant in the field of Accounting. Prior to joining the Finance Department of Imperial College Business School in 2023, she was an Associate Professor of Accounting at Bayes Business School (formerly Cass) (2013 – 2023), and an Assistant Professor in Accounting (2008 – 2013) and Marie Curie Fellow (2005 – 2008) at Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.

You can find the author's full profile, including publications, at their Imperial Profile

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