How to Create a Welcoming, Supportive Classroom Environment
- Interact with students one on one as well as behind the podium. Many students “realize the benefit of having a cordial relationship with their instructors.” They see this as a way of learning more about their teacher, their likes and dislikes. It encourages somewhat of a more relational component to the student/instructor situation. Often this type communication would occur before or after class. (Matthew Martin, Scott Myers, & Timothy P. Mottet in Communication for Teachers (Chesebro, J. I & McMroskey J.C. (2002), p. 37.
- Be mindful of students’ names. Take the time to learn them and say them correctly. It is a part of who they are and part of their identity! Use their names whenever possible to recognize them.
- Explain to students about people’s titles here on campus. Let them know the proper way to handle names and titles in your classroom. Respect the way the student wishes to be identified.
- Explain to students your expectations in terms of classroom communications and participation. Understand that students from other Western and Eastern cultures do not have the same set of instructional communication expectations. “While students in the mainstream US culture learn to expect learning to involve considerable participation on their part and interaction with others, many other Western and most eastern systems focus on instructors lecturing and students listening.” (James C. McCroskey and Linda L. McCroskey in Handbook of Instructional Communication, Mottet, T.P., Richmond, V.P. & McCroskey, J.C (2006) Boston MA, Pearson. P. 43-44.
- Respect a student’s personal space. Some cultures see invasions of space as disrespectful. You do not want your students to feel uncomfortable, and you do not want to be uncomfortable yourself. “There is good reason to suspect that the immediate behaviors of teachers might have a different impact in one culture than in another.” Much of immediacy is developed nonverbally through movement, being physically closer, and eye contact. It is very well established that nonverbal behaviors have different norms and effects in different cultures. Richmond, V. P., Lane, D., & McCroskey, Chapter 8 in Handbook of Instructional Communication, p. 182.
- Engage students in a way that makes them feel valued. Do not cut them off while they are speaking. Hear them out. Encourage positive responses and thoughtful insights. Send encouraging messages like “I see what you mean, tell me more, continue.” These increase immediacy which often increases the likelihood of a positive relationship Chapter 6 Virginia Richmond, p. 68 in Chesebro, J. I., & McCroskey, J. C. (2002). Communication for Teachers. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.Encouraging students to communicate also demonstrates a teacher’s concern and caring for his students. “Of the teacher characteristics that students listed as reasons for not communicating with instructors was the instructor’s lack of sensitivity and caring.” (Martin, M.M., Mottet, T.P. & Myers, S.A. in Communication for Teachers, (2002) p. 43)
- When evaluating a student’s work product (speech, paper, test, etc) in the classroom, be mindful. Many cultures do not “call people out” in public; it is perceived as disrespectful. Make comments as positive and specific as you can. Criticize behavior or contents, not the person. Do not make these personal attacks. “I can clearly tell you did not study adequately.” We have no way of knowing that. Explain how the work product can be better.