Classroom Civility

University classrooms are diverse social settings that bring together people with distinct goals and learning styles. The open culture of contemporary universities and colleges gives students latitude in defining how they will participate in a class: some work quietly and diligently; some engage actively in conversation; some rarely attend. When people with diverse agendas share a social setting, they can easily get in one another’s way.

The defining quality of incivility lies in the capacity of some behavior to offend without the actor intending to offend. For example, a student may experience arriving late for class as an unwanted consequence of faulty alarm clocks, excessive fatigue, or difficult commutes. But the instructor of classmates may experience his late arrival as a rude interruption. Intention does not define the impact of behavior.

In 21st century instructors lack the authority to decree classroom comportment. Instructors do not even agree upon appropriate behavior. Some prefer students to address them by their first names; others prefer something more formal. Some students organize their learning on wireless devices; other students find such things distracting. No one size fits all.

The Classroom Civility Workshop

We have designed the Workshop to follow a process from Awareness to Accountability to Action. Each of three sessions focuses on one of these three steps.

Awareness: What are the basic issues pertaining to civility and incivility? How do they arise in classrooms? What civility issues are central to instructors’ core values? What behaviors do instructors find especially vexing?

Accountability: Who has responsibility to promote a more civil classroom? To what extend those an academic unit need a code of conduct of shared principles? To what extent is civility and respect a personal issue for individual instructors? What are students’ responsibility to participate in a dialogue regarding civility and respect?

Action: On the basis of the conversations on Awareness and Accountability, the group devises a set of action plans. Some of these actions may be shared initiatives for the academic unit; others are processes for each instructor. For example, the group may develop a template for leading a discussion on civility in the initial meeting of a class to devise shared guidelines for that term.

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