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Both my Mum and Sister work as teachers in a local primary school and record interactions with students to gain a better understanding on how the children in their classes are viewing the world at any given moment, on any given day. For my Mum and Sister “hello” is one of the most important words used to encourage interaction with their young students. It opens the door to further engagement and is normally the very first thing that anyone says to anyone they ever meet. They use a positive and cheery “hello” a lot, and their classroom observations are logged by the school to improve care, learning needs and support for their young learners.

Written by Lee Rawlinson, Director of Innovation at Kinetic

Before joining Kinetic in 2019, Lee has worked as Head of Accommodation at University of Liverpool, making positive changes to Liverpool's residential estate. With a great knowledge of the higher education sector, Lee is now leading on innovation and ideas for Kinetic to bring the education arena to the next level.

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Having worked in higher education for a number of years, I also have seen the importance of these positive interactions and can testify to their power of instilling a real sense of belonging to your students. It’s just like you may say “hello” to a neighbour on your street. It’s an almost humanly-automatic action as you walk across campus and you are that friendly smiling face.

Across student surveys at universities each year, I also found that the most positive feedback wasn’t necessarily about how shiny and new a student room was, or the amazing social facilities of the residence spaces – but it was more about their feelings and how they interacted with the university staff around the hall. From a warm welcome from the Residential Adviser, to those pleasant conversations with Sandra from the Domestic Cleaning team, universities’ employees do go a long way to promote a sense of inclusion and belonging within their community. The warm and familiar “hug” from home.

Looking deeper, there have been a growing number of studies in recent years to suggest that a simple “hello” actually goes way beyond just the acknowledgment of other humans. Proactive support stems from individually recorded “micro-interactions” and then understanding the collective power of these over a given period of time.

From my experience, I’ve found that some of the most successful student support professionals have built up an amazing “gut feel” through years of experience about anticipating those in need from simple observed behaviours.

Thoughts of a campus where everything is monitored didn’t initially sit that well with me but, after conducting further research, I discovered that it is actually more a case of directing teams to where “anticipated support” may be needed. The real value is in how these interactions are recorded and how signals were then interpreted across departments to improve engagement, support and student retention.

So, when I think back to my Mum’s and Sister’s classroom observations, I come to conclusion that these on their own don’t always mean anything in isolation – but if you’re able to interpret signals and “connect the dots” they could be used to make a huge difference to the life of your students.

If you’re interested in the research that I’ve done over the years, ping me a message on LinkedIn! Sharing is caring, and I do.