Inclusive classrooms set the climate for students to feel safe, understood and connected. This spring, the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence introduced a workshop series for faculty designed to heighten awareness of issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and access in the college classroom. The workshops also give faculty a chance to practice teaching methods that facilitate the academic achievement of all students.
“Cultivating a sense of belonging is vitally important, particularly for students in first-year courses,” says assistant professor of architecture Joseph Godlewski, who has completed all five workshops in the series. “For years I’ve worked to diversify the content of my courses, but this workshop series reinforced the idea that it is how we teach that has the most impact on our students.”
The workshop topics cover identifying and reducing implicit bias in decision-making; establishing civility and positive climate; problematizing identity and intersectionality; transparent teaching; and navigating challenges of diversity.
Minor Changes, Major Impact
Godlewski recommends the workshop series as a way to strengthen the teaching methods faculty already use. “It surprised me that many of the most effective strategies for fostering inclusive teaching environments don’t require me to completely restructure my courses,” he says. “Minor changes in language and course delivery, for example, can have profound impacts for engaging a broader spectrum of students.”
Godlewski believes his students studying architecture develop advantageous skills by learning in an inclusive environment. “Like other students, architecture students can benefit from a teaching approach that is more attentive to a broader bandwidth of cultural backgrounds and learning needs,” he says. “As the future designers of our buildings and cities, architecture students should be keenly aware that they need to engage with and design for diverse user needs.”
The shift to online learning during the pandemic gave faculty new ways to apply the principles they learned in the workshops. “I started attending the workshops with a traditional classroom in mind,” Godlewski says. “That profoundly changed when I started to think of these issues through the lens of remote teaching.”
Creating a feeling of togetherness became an important goal for Godlewski this fall. “The need to foster a sense of community with transparent learning goals is more pronounced when the classroom is no longer a singular physical collective space,” he says.
Expanding Notions of Inclusivity
Matthew Grzecki, an assistant teaching professor and the creative writing coordinator in the English Department , was also motivated by the workshop series. “The most important thing that was reinforced for me is the distinction between equality, which relates to sameness, and equity, which relates to fairness,” he says.
In one workshop on navigating challenges of diversity, Grzecki worked through reality-based classroom scenarios using a framework designed to build equity literacy—the capacity to identify, acknowledge and rectify inequities in our spheres of influence. “It inspired me to think more about longer-term strategies—to recognize that achieving equitable outcomes in the short term is most helpful when these outcomes fit into a plan for substantive change,” he says.
A more inclusive atmosphere means students feel more comfortable, and the feedback they receive from their peers is more earnest and respectful.—Matthew Grzecki, assistant teaching professor
Grzecki found the case studies portion of the workshop to be especially valuable. “When I first read through the equity literacy framework, I felt I understood it pretty well,” he says. “But after applying it to each case study, my understanding became much more nuanced.”
He believes his creative writing students will benefit from the adjustments he’s made to his course—for example, his expectations for class participation. “For a long time, I maintained that participating meant talking in class,” he says. “Now I recognize that definition can be unfair to students who learn better by participating in other ways, such as active listening or writing comments when learning virtually. So, I now define class participation in a much broader, more equitable way.”
He says that inclusivity is particularly vital in creative writing courses, where students are often sharing their own work with their peers. “A more inclusive atmosphere means students feel more comfortable, and the feedback they receive from their peers is more earnest and respectful.”
Grzecki is optimistic that the changes he makes to his classroom as a result of these workshops will lead to a positive student experience. “I hope that my students will reflect more deeply and more frequently on the concept of equity—what it means and how we can work together to achieve it.”