Inclusive Pedagogy Toolkit: Climate

 

Climate

The social environment in which students are learning, including the relationships between faculty and students and between the students themselves—has a significant impact on student learning and motivation. Creating an inclusive climate means cultivating a learning environment that fosters students’ sense of belonging and connection to the course, discipline, and a community of learners and leads to students feeling valued and supported in their learning. An inclusive climate welcomes students of all identities and backgrounds by validating the assets students bring and helping students connect their prior knowledge or skills to new learning.


Take an asset-based approach—diversity in a learning community means that people bring a variety of strengths and experiences, many of which could be relevant to matters at hand

Why does this matter?

Tara Yosso’s influential Community Cultural Wealth framework (cf. 2005) serves as a crucial reminder that traditionally marginalized students bring enormous and wide-ranging capital to their educational spaces: aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial, and resistant capital. And yet those spaces often unintentionally reinforce conceptions of deficits attached to marginalized identities as well as possible strengths attached to dominant identities (Martinez-Cola et al., 2018), which can of course perpetuate dangerous stereotypes and fail to leverage the inherent strengths of the whole learning community. Meanwhile, students who feel like their identities are respected and welcome in the classroom are more likely to participate (Frisby et al., 2014), which adds new experiences, ideas, and knowledge (i.e., wealth) to the conversation while inviting students to feel more deeply invested in the work at hand (Day and Beard, 2019; Svihla et al., 2017). Beyond this, students of all stripes are motivated by the recognition of and opportunity to utilize and build on the strengths they bring (Cavanagh, 2016).

How might I do this?

  • Make it known to your students through explicit statements—on the syllabus and in class—and through your behavior that you value your students as individuals with the breadth of skills and experiences that they are bringing into the classroom and that you expect this to enrich the learning experience.
    • Get to know your students and create ways for them to get to know each other—ice-breakers can help—so that bringing each others’ voices and experiences into the course becomes a shared responsibility.
    • Avoid generalizations about specific students based on their identity. Examine your own biases and take steps to prevent them from impacting students.
    • Create opportunities for students to identify, share, and demonstrate their knowledge and strengths to themselves, to you, and to one another.
    • Talk to your colleagues in order to learn more about the lives and strengths of the students pursuing a major in your field.
  • Create assignments that allow students to reflect on and articulate strengths they bring or would like to apply to the class. Include explicit objectives in individual assignments that value students’ diverse strengths and lived experiences. For example, an instruction that reads "In this activity, you should bring your unique perspective to bear so that we can understand [topic] from various points of view" or "each student will share their response to [activity] in terms of their own lived experiences in order to build collective knowledge."

Create opportunities for students to build rapport with each other and with you at the beginning of and throughout the semester

Why does this matter?

Students bring more than their intellects into the classroom; they bring a range of other aspects of their identities, whether these are named explicitly or not. As an institution, Georgetown explicitly values students’ whole selves and encourages faculty to recognize their richness and teach students holistically. Furthermore, what is learned in class can have emotional and personal significance (Johnson et al., 2019). Successful classrooms acknowledge the fullness of students’ selves, and invite it productively into the room. When students feel more rapport with the professor and/or their fellow students, they are understandably more likely to participate in class discussions. Evidence also suggests that this sense of connectedness promotes motivation, learning, academic achievement, and satisfaction, as well as more general well-being (Bovill, 2019; Frisby and Martin, 2010; Frisby et al., 2014; MacLeod et al., 2019; Stanton, 2016).

How might I do this?

  • Do an ice-breaker or community building activity early in the semester, and consider continuing to do them throughout the semester.
  • Get to know students’ names as soon as possible, and help students get to know each other’s names. Tell the students that it might take you a while to learn how to pronounce some names and that you ask them to gently correct you. This shows that you respect and value each student. It also models for other students how to handle such situations in their own lives.
  • Strongly encourage visits to office hours, including just to chat about matters outside the course.
    • Make one office hour visit mandatory (in-person or digitally) early in the semester; for example, you could require students to come pick up tests/papers individually to have a conversation about the work.
  • Make community-building space outside of class (e.g., in Canvas forums, or in semester-long working groups).
  • Incorporate group/team assignments or study sessions in your course.
  • Design assignments with a variety of personal-interaction-based activities (think-pair-share interviews, etc.).
  • Design a community-based learning activity (a service project, or a field-trip to a nonprofit, or skyping with a local) to build an increased understanding of community in and out of the classroom.

Invest in getting to know your students as individuals rather than as representatives for entire groups

Why does this matter?

The value of cura personalis demands that we attend to the “unique gifts, challenges, needs and possibilities” of each student. Doing so also sharpens our understandings of those students; knowing students as individuals reduces the likelihood of viewing them with bias and stereotypes based on their identities (Rubenstein et al., 2018). Modeling this approach for our students also provides them with an example of what inclusive scholarship looks like, both in terms of how they understand others, but also in terms of how they understand themselves and the positions that they hold. And, as we know from intersectional thinking (cf. Jones and Wijeyesinghe, 2011), every student has a variety of dynamically interacting dimensions of identity, and so cannot in any accurate way be reduced to membership in a single group.

How might I do this?

  • Make community building and personal connection an explicit goal of your course, and work towards this throughout the course with specific activities (e.g., through ice-breakers).
  • Get to know students’ names as soon as possible, and help students get to know each other’s names, too.
  • Incorporate exercises for students that invite them to identify their strengths (and pair-share if time).
  • Strongly encourage visits to office hours, including just to chat about matters outside the course.
    • Make one office hour visit mandatory (in-person or digitally) early in the semester; for example, you could require students to come pick up tests/papers individually to have a conversation about the work.
  • Avoid tokenizing students or asking them to share their thoughts in a way that makes them feel like a spokesperson or could be construed as representative of entire groups.

Gather and respond to anonymous student feedback (on teaching techniques, comfort level, classroom experiences, etc.) throughout the semester

Why does this matter?

End-of-semester evaluations arrive too late to allow you to make changes to help the students who are actually giving the feedback. As an alternative, you can gather feedback from your students mid-semester (either yourself or using CNDLS’ service), while there’s still time to make adjustments. And because the feedback is unofficial, you can collect it without concern that it might have an effect on how your job performance is evaluated by administrators. Anonymity is of course important to allow for student frankness, given that you hold the power of the grade. It’s also important to reflect back to the students what you’re hearing from them and what you plan to do with the information. When class conversations incorporate student perspectives, “students come to understand their experiences, ideas and voices as meaningful and relevant” (Day and Beard, 2019). Embedded in Georgetown’s Jesuit values of discernment, solidarity, and reflection, the process of incorporating feedback boosts student morale and engagement (Payette and Brown, 2018). The professor can then interpret the feedback and decide how to respond to it. For ideas on this, see our Teaching Commons page on Gathering Teaching Feedback.

How might I do this?

  • Use Poll Everywhere for in-class, live, anonymous collection (and presentation) of students’ thoughts and ideas.
  • Conduct a Stop/Start/Continue exercise midway through the semester.
  • Arrange for CNDLS to come into your class to conduct a Mid-Semester Teaching Feedback session.
  • Design your own pre, during, and post course survey/evaluations.
  • Use Classroom Assessment Techniques.
  • Use an exit survey exercise for students to give brief feedback after one or more class sessions or activities to assess engagement and success of the material. This can be done using a paper and pen, sticky notes, or a virtual survey platform.
  • Set-up post-class debriefs for students to provide feedback on specific class activities or content in a discussion-based setting.

Back to Top
Top