By this I do not mean that I take my friendship outside of the classroom with my students. Quite the opposite really, as I believe that there always needs to be that distinction between an instructor as an authority figure and a friend, where some may find it difficult to move between two levels of familiarity. Instead, what I mean is that, an open dialogue between instructor and all students is encouraged for others to talk about things from outside the classroom which may be troubling or concerning for them and for which advice or sympathetic ears are sought.
I'm sure that many of you are wondering why I promote this type of discourse and the reason for it is simple. When students come to class with their minds full of stressful things that are going on in their private lives, it consumes their thoughts and they are not able to fully focus their attention on the course material or their learning. They are unable to engage themselves in meaningful conversations relating to the tasks at hand simply because their thoughts are split between where they are at the moment (classroom) and with their troubles from outside the class.
So, in order to create a more positive classroom learning environment, I encourage my students to use one another for 'sounding-boards', and for sources of information including issues revolving around immigration, landlords, banking, transportation, and even relationship issues. Due to the nature of our program, where students may spend up to 18 months together for 6 hours a day, five days a week, they are able to quickly build up support systems which is imperative to their success here at the school and in their immigration and integration into society. Students are able to focus better on their studies and leave the personal issues aside when they need to.
Many students move to Canada and leave their families behind, and creating these strong interpersonal bonds with other students creates a classroom where trust and understanding helps to promote learning and even multicultural acceptance. Students are more willing to take risks because they feel safe amongst friends, and don't feel judged when their thoughts or understandings don't quite mesh with others. The right to be different, or unique, and to accept differing points of view are more easily accepted, opening the doors to even greater understanding of others outside the classroom.
Although not all institutions have the ability to enable such a positive classroom environment, I encourage instructors to facilitate in-class bonds as a way to encourage stronger learning environments and success in the classroom.