Discussing Critical Incidents

In our last blog, we highlighted ways you can support your students though the simple act of acknowledging that you are aware of the range of thoughts and emotions that people may be experiencing around current events. Here, we would like to share some thoughts about ways to respond if, in your class, one or several students want to discuss a recent incident involving, for example, hate or bias.

You may begin by acknowledging the students who raised the issue, maybe by thanking them and pointing to the importance of their concern. You can note that people may have different feelings and thoughts about the issue and affirm your own and the institutions commitment to the values of diversity, civility, and respect. As you consider whether you are ready to discuss the issue right away, it may be helpful to make some of your thinking transparent to your students, acknowledging, perhaps, that you are torn between wanting to make time for the conversation and wanting to honor your commitment to teaching your subject. You may also want to get a sense about the interest and willingness of other students to share their perspective on the issue. You could do so after class by sending out a Google form in which students can state their preference anonymously. (You can also use this technique proactively when an incident occurs, signaling that you are thinking about students, even when they are not sitting in class.) If you and your students want to engage in a conversation, you can schedule it for a later class period, or a time outside of class, and suggest ways for everyone to prepare. If you schedule the conversation during normal class time, you may consider offering students the option of opting out of the conversation to make room for those who may have good reasons for not wanting to participate in a difficult dialogue.

Our colleagues in Michigan break down the actual process of facilitating a difficult conversation in into nine steps including

  • identifying a clear purpose for the conversation
  • establishing ground rules
  • providing a common base for understanding
  • creating a framework for the discussion that maintains focus and flow
  • including everyone in the conversation
  • being an active facilitator
  • summarizing discussion and gathering student feedback
  • handling issues that involve the instructor’s identity
  • and identifying university resources.

This guide helps you to consider each of these steps in detail.

As always, we would be happy to talk with you about further strategies within the context of your particular teaching setting. Call us at 434-982-2815 or request a confidential consultation online.

Resources to Support Our Students

In this post-election time, many of you are asking for resources to support your students. In a recent blog post, our colleagues at Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning remind us that there are many factors that will influence whether or not you choose to engage your students in conversations about current events. Your own emotions, positionality, and confidence with facilitating difficult conversations are just three among many legitimate reasons.

Even if you choose not to discuss events directly in class, there are a few things you can do to support your students’ well-being and learning. For example, your students will appreciate it if you acknowledge in person or in an email that this is a difficult time and that they may be struggling to keep up with school work. This simple acknowledgement can normalize feelings of distress, ease a sense of isolation, and signal that you care. If you teach immediately following a distressing incident, consider inviting your students at the beginning of class to free-write for a few minutes about a prompt such as the following: “How do you make sense of the current events and your emotions in light of your values? Who do you want to reach out to later in the day for more processing and support?” You may also give students the choice to leave class if they need to process differently and offer flexibility regarding assignment deadlines. We know from the research that such an acknowledgement can increase students sense of belonging and their ability to learn.

For further resources on responding to specific incidents and on inclusive teaching and difficult dialogues more generally, please see the following selection.

Responding to specific incidents (U Michigan):

Resources for critical conversations and inclusive teaching:

Self-care as a member of a marginalized group and an academic:

We would be happy to talk with you about further strategies within the context of your particular teaching setting. Call us at 434-982-2815 or request a confidential consultation online.

The CTE is committed to the values of diversity, inclusion, social justice, and education.

Challenge and Engage: Research-based Principles for Fostering Deep Learning

Date: Thursday February 25, 2016
Location:Newcomb Hall

For additional workshop details, please click here.

Description:

What can we as faculty do to help students get beyond the superficial and really dig deeply into our disciplines? Research on how people learn and studies of effective teaching do not offer a simple prescription, but rather suggest some general principles that faculty can adapt to make their courses both more challenging and more engaging. This interactive session will use those principles to help you design and teach classes that lead to significant student learning — and that don’t consume all of your time.

Peter Felten is the Assistant Provost for Teaching and Learning, Director of the Center for Engaged Learning, and Professor of History at Elon University. His publications include the co-authored books Transforming Students: Fulfilling the Promise of Higher Education  (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014) and Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty (Jossey-Bass, 2014). He also is co-editor of the International Journal for Academic Development and president-elect of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

For additional details, and to Register, please click here.

Nurturing an Inclusive Classroom Community

Date: Wednesday February 3, 2016
Location:Center for Teaching Excellence (Hotel D, 24 East Range)

For additional workshop details, please click here.

Description:

How do we foster a sense of community and trust in our classes? How can we create a space where all students feel comfortable to participate and engage with us and their peer in authentic ways? What can we learn from the research about making our classrooms safe while encouraging the type of risk-taking that’s essential for learning, particularly when difficult topics arise? In this workshop, participants will learn about strategies for creating environments where students of all types of backgrounds have an opportunity to engage fully and feel safe, respected, and confident that their perspective is valued.

Background Readings:

  • Implicit Bias (see Quick Facts, page 6/73)
  • Reducing Stereotype Threat (practical research-based strategies)
  • Diversity in Science (see table with Suggestions for Converting Noninclusive Environments on page 16/79. Source: Handelsman, J., Miller, S., & Pfund, C. (2007). Scientific teaching. Macmillan)

Event is sponsored by: Center for Teaching Excellence

 

For additional details, and to Register, please click here.

Nurturing an Inclusive Classroom Community

Date: Thursday November 19, 2015
Location: Center for Teaching Excellence

To register, please click here.

Description:

How do we foster a sense of community and trust in our classes? How can we create a space where all students feel comfortable to participate and engage with us and their peer in authentic ways? What can we learn from the research about making our classrooms safe while encouraging the type of risk-taking that’s essential for learning, particularly when difficult topics arise?

In this workshop, participants will learn about strategies for creating environments where students of all types of backgrounds have an opportunity to engage fully and feel safe, respected, and confident that their perspective is valued.

Presenters:
Andrea Iglesias, Assistant Director for Outreach and Liaison Programming, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
Dorothe Bach, Associate Director and Associate Professor, Center for Teaching Excellence

For additional details, and to Register, please click here.

What Faculty Want their Students To Know

How do we best support students in the aftermath of crises, especially when those crises happen within our community and center around race and gender? At the Innovation in Pedagogy Summit, May 6, 2015, UVA instructors discussed the wide range of ways in which they reached out to students this past academic year. Some of these faculty members have shared their stories in a previous blog.  This post offers a collection of messages that instructors wrote during the last five minutes of the Summit session in response to the perceived lack of support voiced in this open letter. The anonymous messages below are not meant to answer the wide range concerns voiced in the open letter. Instead, they offer a glimpse into the seriousness with which instructors take these concerns and show their heartfelt care for students. If you would like to add a message, please email us at trc-uva@virginia.edu.

  • As a faculty member, I was deeply shaken by this past year’s events. This didn’t happen somewhere else, it happened here in our front yard. Part of my identity is as a member of the university’s community. I felt scared, shamed, powerless to change, uncertain of my role, unsure whether to bring it up. These are difficult topics—sex, race, politics, violence—and my main priority was to not offend anyone, yet I do think these conversation must be had. Every time I brought it up, I was so impressed with the insight, care, and concern of the students. It is these conversations that helped re-instill my pride in our institution and give me hope that together we can move forward and make changes that are needed at the institutional, community, state, national, and worldwide level. Together we can do great things!
  • You are not alone. We are also confused and lost and trying our best to deal internally while supporting you externally. Feel free to contact/connect with me. My door/email is always open.
  • Please know I deeply care about you (yes, every one of you) deeply and want to support you here in your academic journey. While we all come with different life experiences, it is only in recognizing our differences and sincerely listening to one another that true understanding can take place. May you be gentle with yourselves, with one another, and to your faculty. I welcome us continuing the conversation—please don’t assume I don’t care. I really do!
  • Please do not confuse my inability or hesitancy to talk about sensitive or difficulty topics with a lack of caring. I do care—very much. But I, like most of my engineering colleagues, have as little training as you do when it comes to talking about sexism, racism, suicide, or depression, etc. I also tend to find large-group settings, like our classroom, to be impersonal and overwhelming. But, since I do want you to know that I care, I promise to devote a few minutes of class time to acknowledgement when bad things happen and to reiterate my door, ears, and heart are open to you. Please come to talk to me.
  • I would like you to know that I care. I care very deeply. I care about you, your learning, your well-being. I teach because I love students. I love teaching. I love learning. Please let me know what I can do to communicate that I care.
  • The issues in society and at UVA are what I care deeply about. I think about them all the time because I am part of the same community as you are.
  • I wish students could be a fly on the wall during my conversations with my family to see my confusion, anger, fear, and uncertainty about how to help students.
  • I wish they knew that whenever I see someone struggling in the class, I am making every effort I can to help that person, even if I do not talk directly to them. For example, that instance—of seeing someone not doing well—usually leads to slight changes in my methodology and to an effort to make the class more accessible to everyone.
  • I want to know you as individuals, help you know that you belong here, and support you on your journey at UVA.
  • I wish that students knew that we as faculty/graduate TAs are struggling to process and to come to terms with the same issues that they are. Students often look to us to guide them or to affirm their perspectives. However, we also need time to grapple with these issues ourselves or risk taking a stance that alienates some students in our classroom. I think that sometimes students expect an immediate response from their teachers, or else they interpret a lack thereof as a lack of caring. I wish they knew that we struggle with these issues in much the same way that we do, and do not ourselves always feel in a position to offer the guidance and affirmation they crave.
  • I am deeply sorry that I, as one of your instructors, failed to acknowledge the events of the past year that have caused you emotional pain, anger, and sorrow. I too am affected by these events, and as your instructor I struggle with how to broach this topic with you. How do I start the conversation in my course? How will you react? How will I react? How do I show you that I care about you as a person? I pledge to you, as my student, that I will find ways to acknowledge distressing events in the future.
  • We have the same feeling as you. We love you and want you to be safe and to flourish. There are deeply seated wrongs in the culture that will take longer than my life to correct. [We need] your help if we are to have progress.
  • We do care. Feel free to reach out. We may not have all the answers, but we are willing and eager to explore and learn with you.
  • Many faculty do care and are open to helping in a variety of ways.
  • Know that I spent four days this year at green dot training learning how to help create a culture shift @ UVA

 

Face-to-Face Education: What Students Are Saying (Part 3)

We asked students around grounds to share their experience with the benefits of face-to-face education in an age of online learning.  During the next few weeks, we will share a number of personal narratives provided by students.

This week, Eric McDaniel (English major) shares his story:

Saying, “I disagree with you” with warmth is easier to do in person than with a keyboard.

 In an age of online learning, what are the benefits of interacting in person with your professor and your peers inside and outside of class?

As much as the internet offers us, it still leaves a lot to be desired in the realm of academic/intellectual conversation. When I offer an opinion in class, people can immediately respond and hear the responses of their classmates without fear of dead batteries, disk crashes, or connectivity problems. But more than that, you can see the body language of the rest of the room. Discomfort and awkward silence, people shifting in their seats, eye contact, true engagement — all of these things become much more readily apparent. And they are just as important — if not more important — to capture and comprehend in a conversation. Comments, emails, message threads, even group video chat cannot replicate that.

Can you give us an example of a face-to-face interaction in an instructional setting that made a difference for your learning?

Each day in my Spring 2013 seminar with 27 students, the passion and sincerity of the small group discussions was striking. We were able to broach topics like morality, religion, race, class, and so on without any major discomfort, because of the openness, trust, and fluidity facilitated by face-to-face interaction. Saying “I disagree with you” with warmth is much easier to do in person than over a screen, and the class facilitated such discussions over and over and over again, to great personal impact.

What suggestions do you have for professors who want to leverage the benefits of a face-to-face environment?

I would say it is hard to have healthy, deep, truly sincere interactions without a deep trust of those with whom you are in dialogue. Sharing is easier when you know your views will be respected, even when they are in the minority or controversial. Therefore, I would recommend a) letting students build relationships with those they are expected to dialogue with, and b) create a truly safe space in which to discuss material.

Interested in more student interviews from this series?
<– Read the previous post.

Click this link for more information on the TRC’s theme, “Face-to-Face Education in the Digital Age”.

Face-to-Face Education: What Students Are Saying (Part 2)

We asked students around grounds to share their experience with the benefits of face-to-face education in an age of online learning.  During the next few weeks, we will share a number of personal narratives provided by students.

This week, Andrews Inglis (undecided, leaning towards Cognitive Science with a minor in Religious Studies) shares her story:

Why Else Would Elite Universities Have Such a Draw if it Were Not for the Opportunity to Interact with World-Class Professors?

In an age of online learning, what are the benefits of interacting in-person with your professor and your peers inside and outside of class?

A major part of one’s education is living and being in a community in which nearly everyone has something to share. Indeed, why else would elite universities have such a draw towards them if it were not for the opportunity to interact with world-class professors? The internet has made it easier for us to remain within ourselves and not take the effort to build relationships, from the ability to turn homework and essays in online to opting to write an email to a professor instead of going to see them in their office. However, it is exactly those interactions with professors that make college so special. Professors can be your teacher, your adviser, and not in the least your friend. I think that often students are intimidated to have a conversation with someone who knows so much about a specific topic, but once past the pleasantries of conversation the talks that you have with professors are sometimes the deepest and most thought provoking ones to be had. There is a certain type of satisfaction that comes from a conversation that causes you to think critically outside of the classroom and it is exactly that type of satisfaction that you get when you take the time to build a relationship with your professor.

Can you give us an example of a face-to-face interaction in an instructional setting that made a difference for your learning?

For me, the best part about face to face time with professors is not necessarily the time spent talking about the academic subject at hand but rather the idea of getting to know the professor. My Econ professor regularly held running office hours in which he would meet up with students and go running with them. We didn’t talk about economics at all while on our run but I did get to know him which seems special and neat to me given that teaches over 1,000 students each semester. In addition, I have regularly gone by my religious studies teacher to ask for advice on papers but our conversations have quickly turned into more than just discussing the paper. Through these talks he has shown me how much can be derived from looking at the Bible through a literary standpoint and how to move past what these stories are usually interpreted to mean. My conversations with him are one of the main reasons that I am interested in pursuing a minor in Religious Studies.

What suggestions do you have for professors who want to leverage the benefits of a face-to-face environment?

My suggestion for professors would be to really make an effort to get to know the student beyond just the questions they are asking about the course. I think it is fair to say that most students go to office hours in hopes of getting to know the professor more and only use the questions they have about the course as a kind of ice breaker. It would make it easier for the student if the professor were willing to move past the pleasantries themselves and onto more substantial topics. That is how lasting relationships are formed and in my experience lasting relationships are the most rewarding ones.

Interested in more student interviews from this series?
<– Read the previous post.                Read the next post. –>

Click this link for more information on the TRC’s theme, “Face-to-Face Education in the Digital Age”.