Des conseils de carrière
in your classroom
by Zopito Marini
hile many colleagues lament the
lack of civility in their classroom,
the situation becomes problematic if
it prevents the smooth and effective
engagement of the curriculum. However, it can be particularly challenging when an
antagonistic atmosphere is allowed to set in,
giving impetus to costly and destructive conflicts, confrontations and quasi-legalistic processes, such as grievances and appeals. If this
type of atmosphere is allowed to persist, we are
quite likely to fall short of the teaching mission,
which is so central to what we do in universities and colleges.
It does not have to be this way; the maladaptive pathway can be prevented by good planning
before classes even begin and persistent vigilance afterwards. Focusing on prevention
is important for every faculty member, but it is
particularly important for younger colleagues
just starting out, who may have fewer examples
to call upon and in some cases even fewer
resources and support.
In a University Affairs article titled “
Disruption in the Classroom” (October 2012 issue) for
which I was interviewed, some of these problems
were addressed. The article must have struck a
nerve, judging by the number of colleagues who
have been willing to recount to me their own
classroom experiences as well as those colleagues
who offered their homemade solutions.
There are also many colleagues who, while
supporting attempts to create a civil learning
community in their classroom, usually bemoan
the time these efforts take away from covering
curriculum material. Reflecting on their con-
cerns, I suggest that there are alternative ways
to foster civility in the classroom which do not
have to diminish instructional time. In fact,
many of these methods can even enhance teach-
ing and learning.
An important aspect is cultivating an atmosphere of civility that permeates every component of a course, starting from the development
of the syllabus. For example, in developing a
syllabus, most of the focus goes into the content,
as it should. However, with just a little reflection,
the delivery of the content can be improved
immensely by devoting some deliberation to the
kind of classroom environment we wish to
create while connecting students to the material
and to each other.
In general, students are more likely to buy
into class guidelines (or rules) if they participate
in the development of those same guidelines.
Depending on how much time a faculty member
wishes to allocate to this issue, a syllabus could
provide a number of options, from laying down
the rules and regulations (which is better than
having none at all) to outlining a process that
will be used to create these guidelines.
While face-to-face discussion on what constitutes incivility and civility is the optimal
way to engage students, so that ideas and
assumptions can be tested and revised in vivo,
this is not always practical because of time
constraints or class size. Hence, a constructive
alternative to consider is the use of technology.
Zopito Marini is a 3M
National Teaching Fellow and
professor in the department
of child and youth studies at
Since most campuses have some variation of
classroom management software (for example,
Sakai or WebCT), professors can post the same
types of questions they would pose in a face-to-face discussion.
Questions to post on discussion boards could
include asking students to share examples of
incivility they have heard, observed or experienced (making sure not to use proper names).
These entries could be easily collated and posted
on classroom websites to illustrate the range of
instances of incivility experienced. More importantly, they are an indication of what students in
your class would consider to be uncivil, and by
extension unacceptable, behaviour.
The next issue to discuss is what civility
means to students. Again, this will provide a
blueprint for identifying the type of social and
learning experiences the students want in their
class. Of course, professors can use software
(such as Survey Monkey or Google Forms) to
post close-ended questions, to collate and
analyze the answers and then to share
them with the class. Those using clickers can do
surveys live in the classroom; in fact, it can be a
nice way to start a course. Lastly, students could
be invited to create a civility mission statement
for their classroom.
Offering students the opportunity to discuss
the type of learning atmosphere they wish to
create in their classrooms (doing this either face-to-face or electronically) is more likely to promote civil learning relationships and to reduce
student confrontations and grievances.
“ Offer students a chance
to discuss the type of
atmosphere they wish to
create in the classroom.”
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