A senior faculty member comes in for a consultation and they are in tears. They bring a large stack of teaching evaluations, which they say are terrible. They are up for promotion and have no idea what to do.
We talked about this one as a group, and brainstormed how we might react, and try to help the person. We talked about the questions we might ask the person, such as:
“How many times have you taught this course and how have the evaluations been in the past?”
“Do you think there is the same relative percentage of negative comments/ratings as in other years? Why do you think that might be?”
It often turns out that the person is over-reacting and that this is not unusual at all, but they are thinking about their upcoming P and T process and that is what caused the tears and concern. It is important to listen actively to them, to validate their feelings (which of course are real) and to try to break it down into parts that you can tackle together.
[Note: this was an actual scenario; the person did leave feeling better, agreed that this was a normal sampling of evaluations, and thanked me later when they were awarded promotion (of course they did that themselves, but they felt better)].