Friday, August 16, 2013
We are wrapping up orientation here at UMass, and here are some thoughts about what can go right and wrong during orientation:
1) Orientation is the time to set the tone for law school.
Orientation sets the tone, and too often, the tone is "let's scare you out of your wits." It's hard to come back from that. Let them know it's hard work, but you are their for them, and they can succeed. If students start the year feeling like their faculty and administration are unapproachable, they will not approach. I know some crotchety professors think that is a good idea--they are wrong. If a student can't talk to you before a small issue becomes a major catastrophe, you will be dealing with that major catastrophe for a long time.
2) Orientation is not the time to practice "hide the ball" with new students.
Most law schools have a practice class during orientation (ours is tonight). Too many times, I have seen professors try to prove how clever they are by starting with "hide the ball." It's a very bad idea. "Hide the ball" is a bad idea, but it's a very bad idea during orientation because the students have no context. They have no idea that "hide the ball" is a method of teaching word clarification, examining ambiguity, or eliciting student opinions. It's a technique that alienates and confuses students when they already feel overwhelmed.
3) They don't need to know everything right now...so follow up!
I am guilty of the belief that I need to teach them everything up to outlining in orientation. But too much information too soon just confuses new students. They need the essentials; how to read, how to brief, and where to go for more information. Save the advanced lessons for workshops later in the semester. This also saves you a major headache; if you overwhelm students during orientation, you will just need to re-teach the lessons at a later date anyway.
4) Orientation should be a whole-school event.
Orientation should not be an ASP-and-legal writing affair; the whole school should be a part of orientation. Let students meet the amazing night staff in the library. Introduce them to the maintenance staff who will save them when they lock themselves out of the building, their car, or get trapped in an elevator or bathroom. Let them meet ALL the professors; show them that the entire school is behind their success.