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Developing Productive and Respectful Classrooms

Building a Productive and Respectful Class Environment

Having the Conversation

To build appropriate classroom etiquette you need to foreground it in the classroom as an active and ongoing conversation. Starting in the first class is a good strategy and repeating the conversation, or the agreements made, at other appropriate moments throughout the course will assist in creating the environment you are looking for. Frame it as a collaborative conversation with your students so you can define collective expectations. Approaching it this way will allow you more clarity on their experience in the space so you can understand the challenges they have in engaging meaningfully with their learning.

You can ask your students:

  • What do they need from each other to be able to safely work in this space?
  • What do they need from you to safely work in this space?
  • What do they need from themselves to safely work in this space?

Having students address these questions shows them where their peers stand, creates community, and helps them to understand what is needed from the class as a whole. Students’ answers allow you the space to discuss what you expect from yourself in supporting them, and what you need from them so that you have the appropriate space to support them. The key is that the discussion must begin early and continue throughout the course. The classroom is a social setting, and a class is a social group that needs space and support to create dialogue about behaviour and engagement. 

There are tools that can help facilitate ongoing conversations about a respectful classroom environment. Instructors can leverage tools that promote respectful dialogue like:

These discussions, class contracts, or representatives, all help students engage in their learning and assist in developing key skills like debating, negotiating, critical thinking, and building consensus. Participating in these reflective activities gives students seamless access to develop a broad range of skills.

Building Community Focus

Students are part of a classroom community, in-person or online, and building an understanding of behavioural and conduct norms is a useful way to ensure that these conversations develop positively and lead to outcomes and accountabilities that can be understood by the entire class community.

Building classroom etiquette, similar to promoting academic integrity, is best done through developing trust through open communication and dialogue. Maintaining your focus on the classroom as a community, of which you are a part, and seeing your students as equals in developing and maintaining respectable norms of behaviour will assist in ensuring students feel valued throughout the process and are comfortable sharing their views. For students, knowing that you are listening to their feedback and incorporating it into their learning experience leads to the most productive and honest conversations.

The Role of Class Contracts

Class contracts are a creative way to develop civil learning spaces and build collective understanding. The classroom contract is a collaborative agreement that all parties, student and instructor, negotiate around accepted standards of behaviour, engagement, discussion, and integrity. In a classroom contract you negotiate not only the norms of behaviour, but the rules that you collectively agree to, and the consequences for breaches in the agreement.

The strength of this tool is that it gets the conversation out in the open and develops a formal outcome that everyone has been involved in creating. The class contract eradicates confusion because it is written and available to the whole class, who now hold collective responsibility to ensure it is upheld. Class contracts are a formal, democratic approach to issues of etiquette and promote honest open conversation around issues so that students and the instructor can all be aware and actively participate in creating and maintaining their learning space.

Some steps for developing a classroom contract:

  1. Ask students to brainstorm the issues they face in the course, and when engaging with one another;
  2. Ask students to brainstorm how these can be addressed;
  3. Summarize the ideas shared by students and add your own expectations;
  4. Turn these ideas into rules that can be agreed on;
  5. Develop and sign the contract shared through the class page on MyLS; and
  6. Review contract intermittently to ensure agreed rules are being followed.

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How Can I Respond to Negative Behaviours?

Stay Calm and Address the Moment

In moments of inappropriate behaviour from students it is important to remain calm and address the moment rather than the individual. Concentrating on your breathing and taking a moment to calm yourself before responding can help with this. When you do respond, address the behaviour as openly and honestly as possible. Explain what happened and why it is not appropriate. Doing this openly allows students to see that these moments will be engaged with and that they will be addressed. This builds safety and comfort for all of your students, showing that you will be managing the space so that it is productive. When addressing the behaviour, do so calmly and explain how the whole class can help ensure that it won’t happen again: What can we do collectively and individually to ensure that we move forward productively?

Laurier faculty should consult the addressing negative classroom behaviours page on Connect for the suite of resources available to support Laurier students and faculty. 

Communicating with Your Students

It is important to use any moment of classroom disruption as a learning opportunity for your students. Talk through the issue, why it is not appropriate, and how it hinders the learning environment. If you have a class contract, review the document as a discussion in class so that it becomes more active and they can participate in reinforcing these norms. It is critical that negative behaviours are discussed openly and not just ignored with students thrown out of class without clearly communicating to the student and the class as a whole. The same can be said for positive classroom etiquette moments. Take the time to validate good behaviours to make positive moments visible for everyone. If we only address negative behaviours, we risk framing all conversations about classroom etiquette in the negative.

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