Dear Faculty Relations – I’ve had students make ignorant comments during class. How do I deal with microaggressions and other problems I see happening in my classroom and manage discussions about sensitive or difficult topics? – Teachable Moments

Dear Teachable – An essential strategy for creating a productive and inclusive classroom environment is through collaboratively establishing community norms at the start of each semester. Creating the expectations together makes it easier for you and your students to respond to problematic moments and derailed conversations.

5 Strategies for Collaboratively Creating Classroom Norms

  1. Have everyone reflect on what kind of classroom culture they want.
    Guide students towards identifying explicit behavioral expectations that will allow them to be engaged and productive. Press them to get specific (i.e., if someone says respect, list specific behaviors that convey respect or lack of respect).
  2. Discuss norms that might be unique to the virtual classroom environment.
    The virtual classroom is not the same as other virtual or online activities. You may want to set standards for things like recording, dress code, camera etiquette, private chat, breakout rooms, virtual backgrounds, and more.
  3. Determine options for responding when classroom norms feel violated or imperiled.
    Consider how you would respond differently to norm transgressions versus direct, identity-based attacks that require reporting to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC). Clearly articulate what students can expect from you.
  4. Work to reach consensus in the first class.
    Once you have generated ideas, review the list of behavioral norms and ask what’s missing. Allow time for additional input through email or a short survey. Agree on a system for adding items to the list. Once the class has reached a consensus, post the agreements on the syllabus before the next class meeting.
  5. Revisit norms and refer to them often.
    Use these norms as a touchstone or reminder before discussing sensitive topics or in moments when things might have the potential to get off track.

Learn more in the Establishing Course Expectation and Managing Classroom Dynamics Guide created by OIEC.

Written by Teresa Wroe, Senior Director of Education and Prevention/Deputy Title IX Coordinator, and Julie Volckens, Director of Assessment, Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, January 2022