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Creating a Welcoming Classroom

What are research-tested ways to create a welcoming classroom and a productive learning environment? Faculty can adapt the following practical applications to create inclusive classrooms where students from diverse backgrounds can thrive. We begin with these easy-to-adopt general practices here and dig deeper in Crafting an Inclusive Course Climate. For additional resources, link to Resources for the Diverse Classroom.

Steps You Can Take Right Now to Make Your Classroom More Welcoming
  1. Make your expectations for class clear.
    • Work with students to establish ground rules for classroom behavior that everyone can support. Help students reflect on the value of respecting multiple perspectives, avoiding generalizations and stereotypes, and using active listening strategies.
    • Include your student learning outcomes on your syllabus and clearly explain how students will be assessed. Offer variety in your learning opportunities and assessments.
    • For group assignments, offer clear instructions and create groups that do not isolate individuals of underrepresented groups.
  2. Choose course materials that allow students to learn from multiple voices and question dominant views.
  3. Get to know your students and help them get to know each other.
    • Print or download UMBC’s student rosters with student photos, so you can begin to match faces to names. For large classes, help your teaching assistants get to know the students in their discussion sections.
    • Invite students to introduce themselves in class, particularly on the first day. Allow students to self identify. Ask everyone to share which personal pronouns work best for them, and note on your rosters.
    • Remind students about the value of connecting with each other. Use icebreakers, think-pair-share sessions, group work, and other activities in class where students have opportunities to interact with each other.
  4. Avoid marginalizing students from underrepresented groups.
    • Don’t ask students to speak for their identity groups. Keep in mind that identity groups are not homogenous.
    • Be careful with metaphors and analogies.
    • Avoid making assumptions about students and their identities. Build awareness about visible and less visible differences. Don’t call attention to differences or specific student identities.
    • Don’t assume your students share experiences that are sometimes assumed to be common ground for all (i.e., having two heterosexual parents, living in a house, taking annual vacations).
  5. Add a statement to your syllabus about your expectations for the classroom community.

In addition to the Office of Disabilities Services’ Recommended Disability Statement for Course Syllabi, consider adding a statement about the classroom community and civil dialogue. Explain to your students that you value multiple perspectives and will work to facilitate respectful and collaborative discussions, and invite them to speak with you about accommodations or concerns.

Sample Syllabus Statements:

Diversity Statement on Civil Dialogue: I hope the course challenges us to engage with issues that touch our and others’ lives personally and politically and to develop ways of thinking and acting to address them in nuanced, conscious, and accountable ways. Questions, personal insights, experiences, and emotions about the materials and topics are always welcome in class. I do not expect that we share the same views on the topics we cover (in fact I hope we do not). We all need to speak up, especially when we do not agree with each other’s views, but do so in a respective manner. The range of views you hold and the experiences you bring into the classroom will make our learning experiences much more interesting and enriching. In order to ensure an environment for robust intellectual debate, please do not video or audio record in class. (Example from Autumn Reed’s FYS 107Y-01, U.S. Orientalism)

Diversity Statement on Respect: Students in this class are encouraged to speak up and participate during class meetings. Because the class will represent a diversity of individual beliefs, backgrounds, and experiences, every member of this class must show respect for every other member of this class. (From California State University, Chico’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion).

See additional examples from the University of Washington School of Public Health: http://sph.washington.edu/gateway/classroom-climate.asp

References