Principle 2: Supportive Environment for Learning

Principle 2: Supportive Environment for Learning

Create a class and research environment that builds community, fosters belonging, and promotes mentoring.

Summary and Rationale

Use appropriate teaching strategies to build and foster an inclusive learning climate that allows for transformative learning for each student. Such a climate is the result of a collaborative effort between and among instructors and students.

The learning environment is essential to creating an inclusive course that values the individuality of each student and allows for transformative learning; it is the “intellectual, social, emotional, and physical environments in which our students learn” (Ambrose). Student participation strongly depends on feeling included and respected and understood as having varied lived experiences. When instructors are aware of the linkages connecting identities of students in the course – or in a research lab or other learning environment– they are better able to engage all students. Inversely, negative practices, often unconsciously engaged in such as exclusion, stereotyping, and micro exclusions can prevent students from engaging in the course. In our work and our working relationships, instructors in every academic area should strive to exemplify dignity, groundedness, compassion, and mindfulness. Creating an inclusive learning environment is an ongoing project, requiring individuals to seek out new knowledge about students and their experiences.

Notably, learning environments are not only in courses, but also environments such as field-work, studio practice, international study, research labs, and instructor-advisee relationships. In these sites, the opportunities for inclusivity may be less obvious but no less important: encouraging and engaging all students to participate and take advantage and succeed in these out-of-course experiences requires attention to individual students’ circumstances and learning styles. One special teaching environment of note is the participation of students in research activities as part of the research program of a faculty member. Such activities provide unique opportunities for mentoring and teaching, not only with regard to the specific field of study and its techniques, but also related to career counseling and professional development. It is critical that these learning environments are intentionally inclusive and value the contributions of each student including their intersectional identities.

Strategies

  • Create community in the learning environment by building nonjudgmental, positive relationships with students and fostering positive student to student relationships.
  • Treat students as individuals, and demonstrate equal confidence in the ability of each student to succeed. Address issues known to affect the success of learners, such as impostor syndrome, first-generational issues, stereotype threats, etc.
  • Avoid stereotyping, excluding students, and engaging in microaggressive responses when students behave or speak in ways that are unfamiliar, unexpected, or unwelcome. 
  • Deal directly with challenges from students, though not necessarily immediately as reflection and time to consult with colleagues can be helpful in unpacking and understanding relational dynamics.
  • Seek feedback from students on your teaching and course through anonymous surveys, open discussion, and other invitations. See the success of the course as a collaborative endeavor between students and instructor.
  • Demonstrate openness to understanding the lens each student brings to the course.
  • Encourage students to counter dominant narratives and viewpoints by embedding opportunities within the curriculum for students to share their own personally- and culturally-grounded experiences and perspectives.
  • Ensure equitable opportunities for students to engage in research and projects by considering student life circumstances (such as non-traditional work hours or multiple jobs). Consider shifting times and/or offering non-”typical” research opportunities.

Resources

Sources

  • Ambrose, Susan A., Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
  • Barr, Jason. “Developing a Positive Classroom Climate.” The IDEA Center (October 2016): 1-9.
  • Ginsberg, Margery B., and Raymond J. Wlodkowski. Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching in College. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.
  • Salazar, M., Norton, A., & Tuitt, F. (2009). Weaving promising practices for inclusive excellence into the higher education classroom. In L.B. Nilson and J.E. Miller (Eds.) To improve the academy. (pp. 208-226). Jossey-Bass.
  • Winston, R. B., Vahala, M. E., Nichols, E. C., Gillis, M. E., & Rome, K. D. (1994). A measure of college classroom climate: The college classroom environment scales. Journal of College Student Development, 35, 11–18

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