It’s unexpected. Your inner voice says, “Uh-oh. Say what, now?” while your professional face draws up a little bit tighter around the corners of your eyes, your lips purse, and brow furrows. You may question for a moment, is everybody seeing or hearing this? Yep. Everyone in class saw it or heard it. At the front of the room, you feel all eyes are on you. What’s your next move?
Many faculty admit their minds go blank or that they are stunned into silence when student incivility, micro/macro aggressions, discrimination, etc., occur in the classroom. It’s more commonplace than you think. Research reveals most faculty (~50%+) are “not prepared to deal with diversity-related conflict in their own classrooms” (Stolzenberg, et. al., 2019). Nevertheless, faculty must address these moments given their negative impact on student learning and even more so for BIPOC students (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010). The purpose of this post is to provide faculty with example responses to be used as a foundation for creating and personalizing classroom management of student incivility.
Keep in mind, this work requires advance planning (e.g., learning about incivility, developing a proactive strategy) before incidents occur and follow-up actions when an incident occurs (e.g., recognizing incivility; practicing your intervention strategies). Much attention has been given to the need for faculty to intentionally foster and develop community. Likewise, we should intentionally develop an anticipatory action plan to navigate pivotal moments when classroom community is threatened by incivility. Addressing such incidents is not an impossible task, but it is more difficult the less prepared you are.
To get faculty thinking about what they might say to respond to troubling classroom moments, here are a few sample responses that they could use immediately and in the moment:
10 Sample Responses
Turn Into a Discussion or Learning Moment
1. What does our course material say about what was just said?
Possible follow-up: How might our course material address these comments? How might scholars in this field respond? How has/might the course content explain this statement?
2. What is the logical extension of what was just said?
Possible follow-up: If we extrapolate from what was just said, what else could be assumed? What other ideas might be connected to that statement? What does our course material say about this?
3. You seem to be having a strong emotional reaction to the course material. I am giving you an opportunity to pause and recover before we proceed.
Possible follow-up: Use this time to think about why that might be the case. We can discuss that reason in the context of learning and mastering the course material.
Tell the student to stop/behavior not allowed.
4. Your behavior violates the disruptive behavior/student code of conduct/ground rules/etc. policy and will not be allowed in this classroom.
Possible follow-up: Remind and reiterate to the student of the next steps of the policy. For example, this is a formal warning, and if this behavior continues, the next step will be to involve the Dean of Students.
5. A raised voice, personal attacks, and language that targets/stereotypes or is aggressive towards any group are not tolerated in this classroom.
Possible follow-up: The options for those who engage in such behaviors are removal from the class session, course, or the university since disruptions to the classroom environment and student learning cannot and will not be allowed.
Remind of classroom goals & expectations.
6. You do not have to agree with the course material. However, you do have to demonstrate that you understand and can communicate the disciplinary perspective presented in this course’s material.
7. This classroom is a place where we can discuss and interrogate ideas; however, we do so with respect and in the context of the course material.
8. Free speech is allowed as all students are encouraged to respectfully share their perspectives and ideas as a part of the process of learning the course material.
Possible follow-up: As this is a course and classroom in a college setting, ideas and perspectives must be articulated in a manner consistent with the behavior expectations of the classroom/university and which furthers students’ mastery of the presented course material.
(Begin to) Recover if you didn’t address the uncivil or “Uh Oh/Sigh/Say What Now” moment immediately, or you made the problematic statement.
9. Ten minutes ago/Yesterday/Last week, a statement was made in class that I did not address at that time but want to do so now.
Possible follow-up: I want to return to it now because it is important for me to affirm and uphold the behavior expectations and/or learning objectives of this course. Specifically, a student said/did “_______”. This is not in line with the behavior expectations or learning objectives of this course and thus will not be allowed. In the future, I will do my best to address similar incidents more immediately.
10. I apologize for saying/doing “________”.
Possible follow-up: What I said/did was not in line with the behavior expectations or learning objectives of our course because I _________ (e.g., stereotyped a group). In the future, I will be more mindful and reflective about my statements/behaviors in an effort to maintain the learning environment of our classroom.
Faculty are encouraged to edit these starter statements to fit their “voice”, preferred tone, and pedagogy. The next step is to then practice, practice, and practice by saying them aloud. Of course, how faculty respond depends on the context of their institution, course, pedagogy, the incident itself, their identities, and other related factors. The point is that if faculty have an idea of what they might say and practice doing so, it should better equip and prepare them to act—more immediately--when troublesome classroom moments arise (Avery, Richeson, Hebl, & Ambady, 2009). And this type of increased faculty classroom management will help improve the learning environment for students and BIPOC students in particular (Hurtado, Alvarez, Guillermo-Wann, Cuellar, & Arellano, 2012).
1. Do you feel prepared to deal with diversity-related conflict in your classroom/learning environment?
2. How does ignoring incivility in your own classroom create or maintain a hostile classroom climate for BIPOC students? and for BIPOC faculty colleagues in their classrooms?
3. What have you learned from reading the above sample scripts for addressing student incivility & other “Uh oh/Sigh/Say what now” classroom moments? What will you share with others from this piece? When & how will you hold yourself accountable for doing so?
Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W, DiPietro, D., Lovett, M. C. & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass. Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces. The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators, 135-150. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Avery, D. R., Richeson, J. A., Hebl, M. R., & Ambady, N. (2009). It does not have to be uncomfortable: The role of behavioral scripts in Black–White interracial interactions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(6), 1382.
Hurtado, S., Alvarez, C. L., Guillermo-Wann, C., Cuellar, M., & Arellano, L. (2012). A model for diverse learning environments: The scholarship on creating and assessing conditions for student success. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 27, 41-122
Stolzenberg, E. B., Eagan, M. K., Zimmerman, H. B., Berdan Lozano, J., Cesar-Davis, N. M., Aragon, M. C., & Rios-Aguilar, C. (2019). Undergraduate teaching faculty: The HERI Faculty Survey 2016–2017. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.