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As instructors, we play critical roles in promoting a supportive and motivational learning environment for our students.  Below is a survey of strategies suggested by recent research for promoting a positive classroom environment:

 

Building rapport with students

In a study of students’ perceptions of their rapport with their instructors, the strength of this perceived relationship appeared to be most important for students’ motivation and satisfaction, outweighing their attitudes toward the course content or recommended course behaviors (Myers & Bryant 2002). These results suggest that even if your students are unenthusiastic about your subject, you can promote positive experiences in the classroom by personally empowering and motivating them.

 

Improving attitudes toward diversity

A study on student attitudes toward diversity found that even a basic intervention had lasting effects. A senior white male faculty member gave a presentation on diversity to a group of white, male engineering students. In comparison to the control group who received no diversity presentation, the students who listened to the presentation expressed stronger positive attitudes toward diversity in engineering.  The message, delivered at the beginning of the semester, had a measurable effect three months later, which underscores importance of setting the tone for respect and civility at the beginning of the semester (Bennett & Sekaquaptewa 2014). The study also suggests that even if you are not part of a marginalized group, you can effectively deliver messages of inclusivity to your students.

 

Dealing with difficult situations

A survey of teachers’ and students’ responses to microaggressions found that instructors report a greater willingness to ignore incidents, but students feel it is important that their teachers address these situations. In this study, microaggressions took the form of statements or actions that conveyed subtle or unintentional racism in the classroom. Students rated all possible interventions as more effective than instructors, including strategies such as privately addressing the issue outside of class, holding a class discussion, and immediately addressing the unacceptability of the behavior (Boysen 2012). If you find yourself in a difficult situation in the classroom, do not let your uncertainty about the perfect response be the enemy of the good.  Whatever thoughtful and genuine intervention you make is better than no response and likely will be more effective than you imagine.

 

The Take-away

As the instructor, you probably have more power than you give yourself credit for to positively influence students’ attitudes and experiences in your classroom.  Take opportunities to connect to your students, develop an inclusive atmosphere early in the term, and use teachable moments throughout the semester to make your classroom a more welcoming environment.

 

References

Bennett, J. E., & D. Sekaquaptewa (2014). Setting an egalitarian social norm in the classroom: improving attitudes towards diversity among male engineering students. Social Psychology of Education, 17, 343-355.

Boysen, G. A. (2012). Teacher and Student Perceptions of Microaggressions in College Classrooms. College Teaching, 60 (3), 122-129.

Myers, S. A., & Bryant, L. E. (2002). Perceived Understanding, Interaction Involvement, and College Student Outcomes.  Communication Research Reports, 19 (2), 146-155.

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