Professor helping students

Civility is Needed in the College Classroom—Now More than Ever

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
(Attributed to Socrates, 469–399 BC, by Plato)

My grandmother often told me to “treat others as you would like to be treated.” I just assumed parents and grandparents told all children this variation of the Golden Rule. I was also certain well-meaning teachers, coaches, clergy members reinforced it. Yet what has happened to common decency and basic civility in society these days? Have they just become signs from days gone by? Do we no longer teach or practice the Golden Rule? I’ve actually heard this alternative interpretation of the Golden Rule: “He or she with the most gold makes the rules.” As faculty members, I believe we need to step up and start teaching civility and compassion in our classrooms.

“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar”—another of my grandmother’s favorite expressions. As a child I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I understand it now and often pass on this same sage advice. There is a related education quote that goes something like, "Students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." I wholeheartedly agree. Students of any age benefit when they have teachers who care.

Who Most Needs to Model Civility?

Although each college has its own policies for both student and faculty conduct, as college professors “the buck stops” with us when it comes to controlling the climate and establishing the expectations for civil discourse in our classrooms. Professors need to model civility, and by that I mean much more than proper manners and etiquette, such as regularly saying “please” and “thank you.” I mean feeling actual empathy toward students. A syllabus, even if it’s posted online, says a lot about us before the course even begins. The same could be said about an introductory welcome letter for an online course. First impressions are important. That very first class should clearly set the expectations. Too often faculty miss this opportunity and just dive into their academic content without any attention paid to the culture that needs to be established in that course. We should all be good stewards, heed our grandparents’ advice, and foster a caring learning community imbued with mutual respect. If we don’t practice civility, empathy, and respect, how can we expect meaningful conversations to occur in our courses?

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

student on a laptop

How Student Learning Can Begin before the First Day of Class

The first time my middle school-aged son attended a Major League ballgame, he was astounded by what the players were doing on the field before the game. He saw some of his favorite players contorting in all sorts of positions: balancing, running backwards and sideways, even lying on the ground, some stretching their hamstrings with enormous rubber bands. One player even stood on one leg with outstretched arms. He could not understand why all those moves were required, since he never witnessed a single one of those motions in the game. But even through his misunderstanding, he did recognize something significant: all the players believed in what they were doing, even if he could not see the significance behind their pregame gymnastics. Essentially, my son saw the importance of the practice routine before the big game, even if he did not fully comprehend it. And even more importantly, he witnessed the characteristics of practice the players needed even if they performed in ways not directly related to the practice.

And so it is with college teaching. Students and their professors see the importance of the first day, that big game. But often they do not make the connection with the practice routine, divorced from the look and feel of when they’re keeping score during the semester. But even those professors and their students who recognize the primacy of practice can still find it difficult, even impossible, to find enough time on the first day to initiate such practice. After all, there’s the syllabus to go over, the structure of the class to introduce, names to learn and mispronounce. There’s so many activities for professors to do. And perhaps that’s the core problem. It is professors who are explaining, exhibiting, and demonstrating. They are taking on all the activities of practice that they want their students to enact. And while professors are practicing on the field, students assume another role and become the spectators in the stands, wondering why all this practice is necessary before they have to take the field themselves and play the big game.

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

Four puzzle pieces

Four Things to Do on the First Day of Class

First impressions are important and you can make favorable ones on the first day of class by doing things just a bit out of the ordinary. Here are some ideas.

  1. If it’s a course where students don’t think they know anything about the content, start by dissecting course title. For each keyword, ask student to report (or write down) the first word or phrase that comes to mind. Make a collection of these on the computer or white board. Accept all associations. Then use the collection to provide an overview of the course, pointing out (where it’s appropriate) that students aren’t as clueless about the content as they may think they are. It’s also a useful way to establish a common foundation, the place on which you can start building the course structure.

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

Screenshot of Having a conversation about a challenged grade

Having a Conversation About a Challenged Grade

Conversations about grades are difficult—particularly if you’re a newer faculty member and you haven’t experienced many of them.

But it is possible to make such conversations constructive—even instructive. This on-demand program, delivered in an innovative format, will show you how.

Having a Conversation About a Challenged Grade is a collaborative-learning course. It illustrates common student grievances about their grades, and provides effective strategies to turn discussions about them in a positive direction.

You will work through specific scenarios—e.g., a student protesting that he worked hard and did not get the grade expected, or that her classmates got better grades for similar work, or that you are simply being subjective.

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

dandelion-student reflections

Learning the Lessons of Silence

“The lessons of silence.” I found these four words in Lao Zi’s book, the Tao Te Ching. I have been ruminating over them lately. In our modern society, more and more individuals fear stillness. In our classrooms, fewer students appreciate the sound of silence. Their faces light up when I give animated lesson presentations but wilt whenever I ask them to pause and think about the ideas we have just considered. Outside my classroom, I seldom see them minus headphones, earbuds, or cell phones. They (and some of the rest of us) have yet to learn that the most profound ideas are born in moments of silence.

In my teaching, it is in the moment of silence where I come to understand whether students are learning or not. It is when the whole class stares at me in silence that I realize I need to rephrase my question. It is when a student pauses while reciting that I see some concepts I’ve taught are not yet clear. It is when a student does not say anything but smiles sweetly that I know my ideas made an impression. It is in the silence of my classroom after the last student has left when I reflect on my own teaching that I better understand how to impact their learning. It is in the silence of my office after typing the last sentence in my manuscript that I learn to think deeply about what I have just written. There is an analogy that perfectly captures all of this for me: it is the silence that follows the first four notes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Those notes are meaningless unless one appreciates the sound of silence that surrounds them.

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

chat symbol with quotation marks

How to Respond to Hostile, Inappropriate Comments in Class

When hot moments ignite in the classroom, it is important to engage thoughtfully and purposively in strategies that maintain a supportive communication climate. Managing hot moments is a complex endeavor, and it is our responsibility to maintain a climate that is conducive to learning by not adding fuel to the fire.

How to intervene when someone makes a blatantly inappropriate remark (Adapted from Obear, 2010):

Ask clarifying questions to help you understand intentions.

  • “I want to make sure I heard you correctly.  Did you say…”
  • If they disagree with your paraphrase, you could end the conversation. If you suspect they are trying to “cover their tracks,” you may consider making a statement about the initial comment.
  • “I’m glad to hear I misunderstood you, because, as you know, such comments can be…”

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

Managing Hot Moments and Difficult Discussions in the Classroom [Transcript]

As an educator, how you respond to heated moments in your classroom can make a big difference in maintaining a supportive environment for your students. A difficult discussion can be a teachable moment, or it can create a defensive climate that has a negative impact on your students’ learning experiences.

When handled correctly, conflict and controversy can be powerful learning tools. But some faculty may not be well prepared to handle these types of discussions, especially when hot moments arise. They may choose to have a superficial conversation about the subject or, worse, ignore it completely, which can be a barrier to learning.

Get the transcript to the online seminar How to Create a Transformative Learning Experience for Students by Managing Hot Moments and Difficult Discussions in the Classroom. Featuring advice from Tasha Souza, PhD, you will learn how to:

  • Lay the foundation for a productive classroom discussion
  • Use strategies that are most appropriate to your specific classroom context and situation
  • Understand how faculty and student nonverbal communication can affect the classroom climate in both positive and negative ways
  • Recognize an OTFD communication framework and how to use it as a strategy for managing difficult dialogue
  • Assess the effects of a difficult classroom discussion on your students and know what to do afterwards

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

students in lecture hall

Participation Policy Examples

Here’s a collection of five different participation policies. I encourage you to use them to stimulate thinking and conversations about how a participation policy's content and tone can influence learning and classroom climate. Which policies work best—given the course, its content, the instructor, and the students? The objective is to use these examples to stimulate reflection on participation policies, in general, and on your policies, specifically.

At the end of the article is a set of questions to encourage reflection, discussion, and analysis. For example:

  • Which policy aligns most closely with your thinking about participation?
  • Which policy would you not use? Why?
  • Do these policies reveal something about the teacher? If so, what?

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

creating climate for learning. Male professor

Creating a Climate for Learning: A Survey for Students and Teachers

How well a class functions is the result of both what the teacher does and what the students do. The way we solicit course evaluation feedback reinforces students’ tendency to see the teacher as the one who’s responsible for whether it was a good class. Teachers do play a significant role, but they don’t make or break a class without a lot of student input. We need to be using evaluation activities that make clear that what happens in class is a shared responsibility.

Here’s a feedback activity that highlights the roles played by teachers and students. It can be configured in a variety of different ways—three options are recommended here.

  • Students can provide input on the conditions for learning created by the instructor.
  • The instructor can provide input on how well students are functioning as a community of learners.
  • The students can evaluate the course in terms of how it functions as a learning community.

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

student-led discussion

Activities for Developing a Positive Classroom Climate

Positive classroom climate can encourage students to participate, think deeply about content, and engage peers in intellectual debate. Creating a classroom climate conducive to that type of expression can be difficult. Classrooms are filled with a diverse cross-section of our society representing multiple learning preferences and expectations. Professors aspire to reach all students and engage them in meaningful, content-rich examinations of the subject matter, but peer-to-peer relationships, personal struggles, students’ perception of course content, and even the novelty of the college classroom itself can all impact the class climate. The key to overcoming these variables is the professor. The professor is the one piece that most students attribute their success or failure and their positive or negative experiences in a college classroom (Boesch, 2014). The following describes a pilot project completed in the fall of 2016 in a small liberal arts college.

After several courses in which I was dissatisfied with the frequency and depth of student participation, I designed two sets of opening activities for students to do at the beginning of class. These class starters would act as a conduit for developing a climate of respect, cooperation, and emotional safety (Matsumura, Slater, and Crosson, 2008; Shuck, Albornz, Winberg, 2007). I believed by establishing a positive classroom climate, students would be more willing to participate in content-based discussions and activities.

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now