Some small things you can do which make a big difference:

  • Make explicit expectations of classroom respect of each other and learning styles. If time allows, introduce everyone in the class.
  • Talk about what the class (and relationships with classmates) is *for*: While you will be judged on performance in examinations, etc., the classroom itself is where it is okay to be learning, to be questioning, to be interacting.
  • If it is a class where discussions about identity or other difficult issues are scheduled, let the class think about what it takes to have an honest/searching/but safe discussion, and let it come up with a list of techniques and phrases that are appreciated as also things that get in the way of such discussions.
    • For instance, allowing people to speak from their identity without making them representative of their identity.
    • Or be explicit about the fact that the goal of a discussion is not to squelch opposing viewpoints.
  • Always explicitly construct learning groups, even in the nominally informal situations like ‘turn to your neighbor’ or ‘work with friends outside class’.
  • Use Carleton IDs (for example) to grade anonymously.
  • Assign periodically the following (even if it’s just a one-minute paper at the end of every other week): What do you get/what don’t you get? What’s working/what’s not working? This is different from being open to feedback in that it shifts the onus off someone who might otherwise think they are being different. Could assign this as a learning journal to be handed in periodically.
  • Meet with students one-on-one (schedule it)
  • Make transparent/explicit that there is a transition between novice and expert.
  • In discussions, simulate inhabiting other viewpoints.

If a challenging moment/incident happens:

  • Lower the temperature: Send the discussion back into the reading (e.g., “Where did that statement come from?”)
  • Else construct a structured response after incident — if the temperature cannot be lowered enough, get everyone in the class to write down what’s happening, what they are thinking about. Use this to construct a discussion for a later class.