What to Establish in the Classroom by Meggin McIntosh, Ph.D.

By meggin@meggin.com
Mar 16th, 2014

Each of the following could be (and might be) its own “Top Ten” in upcoming weeks.  For now, though, know that these are ten factors to address for a classroom where you can teach and your students can learn (and vice versa, of course!):

  1. Civility. Many of have written about the loss of civility in today’s society and certainly, there is no question about the need to remind and or teach students what civility looks like, sounds like, and feels like in the classroom.  Talk about it, model it, and expect it.
  2. A sense of urgency. Unless you are teaching your students throughout the rest of their lives, they need to understand that there are times for urgency.  Starting class on time (in my mind) has a sense of urgency.  Getting assignments completed requires a sense of urgency.  Help establish this with your students.  Urgency does not mean panic and that may be a lesson they desperately (urgently) need to learn.
  3. A way of distinguishing priorities. Graduate students have difficulty determining priorities and undergraduates almost certainly do.  Spend some time with your students helping them draw distinctions between and among the various competing demands on their time, energy, and attention.  Hmmm…and you might even learn something while you’re teaching them some strategies.  Just a thought.
  4. Respect for you and their fellow classmates (which you model and reciprocate). Depending on your students and from where they have hailed, they may or may not have an understanding of respect in the classroom.  It may never have been expected, modeled, or provided.  Now that they are in college, it’s time to demonstrated respect to their classmates and to you.  You are likely to have to deal with this throughout the term in big and small ways, so be prepared.
  5. Decorum. What is acceptable and what isn’t?  Is walking into the classroom with a giant bag of hamburgers, fries, and a muffin and then proceeding to get it out during class (with a fair amount of fanfare) acceptable?  Define with the students what will be considered reasonable decorum for your classroom environment.  Learning – and everyone’s comfort – are paramount in the decision-making.
  6. Calm. As a professor, you don’t know what might happen in your classroom.  Unfortunately, there are too many cases of students having breakdowns or other difficulties (including violence) in classrooms and on campuses.  Be aware that there may be a time when calm is called for.  You are the one they will turn to instinctively and your attitude can set the tone for what happens next.  Be aware that you may have an inner strength and reserve of calm that you aren’t conscious of.  I hope you never need it for a horrid situation, but think about what you might do “if” and talk to your students here and there about “calm.”
  7. Safety. If you are a chemistry professor or a mining engineering professor or a faculty member in a number of other disciplines, establishing safety rules and guidelines is a major part of what you do.  Everyone, however, needs to be thinking about safety in the classroom.  Physical safety.  Mental/intellectual safety.  Emotional safety.  Spiritual safety.  Think about it and consider how safe your classroom is (and needs to be).
  8. Protocols for _______!  Establish protocols for as many different repetitive occurences as you can.  You can have protocols for how assignments are submitted.  Protocols for getting into groups.  Protocols for leaving the classroom better and cleaner than you found it.  Establish protocols and everything runs more smoothly and productively.
  9. Relationships with your students and among your students.  Last week I wrote about beginning to show students that you care about them right from the first day of class.  You want to help establish connections between and among your students throughout the semester.  I am not advocating the (what I consider over the top fooling around) getting-to-know-you activities that take half a class period every week.  It is quite reasonable – and supportive of learning – to make sure that students know at least a few of the other students in the class.  Make sure that they are grouped with different students for various in-class activities and that they introduce themselves.  You can facilitate connections without forcing them.
  10. Guidelines, parameters, policies.  Whatever you want to call them…establish the ways that you want the learning (both in and out of the classroom) to flow.  You can have policies on emails to you, using the chat board, setting times for appointments, and so forth.  You don’t always know before the semester what you need but you’ll begin to understand more as you proceed – and as you learn what works and what doesn’t.

Although I’ve only provided a few sentences on each of these, I believe I’ll explore most of them further in upcoming weeks.  If you have a set of tips that go along with one of these because you have found that you are GREAT at doing something, please send them along.

And if you want to get your current semester organized or prepare for the next, I highly recommend If You Do Nothing Else This Semester. With the strategies I present you will get the strategies you need to not only have a successful semester, but a successful year.