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.
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).
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).
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.
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.