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4 Connections: Home


When, as part of its 2010 Drop-Rate Improvement Program, Odessa College found that "course drop rates differed significantly across instructors regardless of the subject, course, time of day, level of rigor, or students’ level of preparedness”, they set out to discover why. What they found was that those instructors who retained their students at higher levels shared “a common thread of connectivity with their students” (Kistner & Henderson, 2014). From this common thread emerged four key practices:

  1. Learn and use students’ names
  2. Check in regularly
  3. Schedule required one-on-one meetings
  4. Practice Paradox

Students in classes where instructors use the 4 Connections to create rapport and engagement have an increased sense of belonging, higher in-class retention rates, and are enabled “to learn and to achieve their long-term goals” (Ames & Heilstedt, 2019).

While the key practices of the 4 Connections reflect approaches to teaching and learning that many faculty already use in their classrooms, the intentional implementation of these small but meaningful practices has an outsize impact on student course success.

Incorporating these practices into your classroom - whether face-to-face, online, or hybrid - can be as straightforward as adopting a new technology or as involved as redesigning your curriculum. Learn about the rationale for adopting the 4 Connections and then click through to see strategies, tools, and resources you can start using now.

1. Interact with Students by Name
Learn and use your students' names and encourage them to learn and use each others’ names as well. Reduce anonymity in the classroom by getting to know your students’ interests and goals. Share your own experiences as a learner and teacher.

2. Check-In Regularly
Use formal and informal approaches to collect feedback on student learning, classroom climate, and course progress. Review and respond to student comments, using feedback as an opportunity to make changes, intervene when students are struggling, and connect students with campus resources.

3. Schedule One-on-One Meetings
Incorporate short individual meetings, conversations, or student conferences into your class schedule. Encourage students to see you as a resource and a partner in their success both in your class and at COD.

4. Practice Paradox
Empower your students by providing both structure and flexibility throughout your course. Regularly communicate your high expectations and, at the same time, be flexible when issues arise and students come to you with their concerns.

Learn More

Felten, Peter, and Leo M. Lambert. Relationship-Rich Education : How Human Connections Drive Success in College. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020.

The co-authors argue that the best undergraduate education is one that brings students into sustained relationships with peers, faculty, staff, and other mentors. Students learn best in an environment of high expectation and high support, and all faculty and staff can learn to teach and work in ways that enable relationship-based education.


Ames, S., and Heilstedt, S. (2019). The 4 connections: Moving from intuitive to intentional relationship building to improve success and reduce equity gaps. Instructional Leadership Abstracts.

Kistner, N.A., & Henderson, C.E. (2014). The drop rate improvement program at Odessa College. Achieving the Dream’s Technology Solutions: Case Study Series. Retrieved from

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