Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reaching Out To Doctrinal Faculty

With so many new folks joining our ranks, I wanted to add a suggestion about reaching out to doctrinal faculty. This is one of the more difficult parts of the job for many new Academic Success professionals. For younger ASP professionals, it can be intimidating. Many doctrinal faculty have been teaching their subject area for 20-30+ years. This would put some new ASP faculty in diapers or elementary school when their doctrinal counterparts first starting publishing. Another, more difficult stumbling block to establishing relationships with doctrinal faculty is hostility. Not all doctrinal faculty know what ASP does, some are skeptical of what ASP is, and a few are just hostile. Thankfully, these types are few and far between at most schools, and growing fewer in number with each passing year. Despite these difficulties, it is greatly beneficial to build relationships with doctrinal faculty at your school. It may not be possible to build relationships with all the faculty, but reaching will build bridges into the classroom that will make your job more rewarding and your life much easier in the long run.

I have a few strategies for opening the lines of communication.

1) Ask your students. The best way to open a conversation is to offer help. How do you know what to suggest? Ask your students. Ask them how their classes are going, what they are working on with their professors, and if they have any special projects coming up. If a class is holding a moot court, offer to help judge. If a class is turning in practice exercises, offer to help the professor help students  who are struggling. Most professors will jump at the chance to get extra help.

2) Ask to observe classes. This is especially useful if a class has a special project or presentations. Once you have a general idea from your students of the type of project and when students will present, email or call and ask to sit in to observe student work. By asking to observe student work, you are taking the pressure off the professors because they will be less worried you are there to judge their teaching methods. Use the observations you make in the class to open the door to a conversation with the professor. Let them know how helpful it is for you to see your students “in action.” More confident teachers will be interested in your observations from the back of the class; where the students playing games or surfing the net? Be careful if you are asked about student behavior to never name names, over unsolicited advice, or impugn teaching methods. Offering judgment-neutral advice if you are asked, such as suggestions about seating arrangements (circles instead of rows), will be welcomed by more confident instructors who want to increase student engagement but don’t know how.

3) Ask for syllabi, and ask questions. Most professors are willing to share their syllabus for a class. Use the syllabus to ask questions; such as why they chose to start with negligence instead of intentional torts. Tone is important when asking questions; judgment-neutral inquiries about why they made the choice. (RCF)


I will be presenting on this topic for the NY-area ASP Professionals Conference Nov 14 at Brooklyn Law School. If you are attending, please feel free to ask me questions about this topic. (RCF)

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