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Cultivating Community

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s person-centered approach to education means that all students are welcome to learn. It is our job as teachers to create a learning environment that fosters inclusion and engagement for all students.

Understanding Your Students and Yourself

Your students will reflect a wide range of cultures, languages, interests, and experiences. This diversity can bring great richness to the learning experience, especially when students are able to share their unique perspectives. However, you cannot depend on this to naturally occur; you must cultivate it.

Know your teacher identity.

Knowing yourself as a person and as a teacher allows you to see more clearly what you bring to the learning. For example, knowing your personality profile, teaching style, and teaching philosophy can help you see your strengths, challenges, and passions for teaching. In turn, you can help students better understand who you are and what they can expect from you as an instructor. Here are three tools that can help you discover your teacher identity.

Certain behaviors, no matter what your style, can create a positive climate. A positive attitude, enthusiasm for your subject, and a respectful nature will go a long way with your adult learners. Being prepared, responsive, and available for questions outside of class sessions are essential components. Instill a belief that they are capable of achieving in your course, and you will support them in their journey. The idea is to build a sense of trust, dependability, and predictability. In return, you will gain your students’ respect and desire to achieve.

Arrange your classroom for community building.

When you walk into a classroom with the tables arranged in rows, what do you think? All eyes will be on you, right? But if the tables are in arranged in pods (2 tables pushed together) or in a circle or horseshoe, students will see each other. Eye contact is key when creating community. Students need to see each other to connect. Pod arrangements are effective for small group activities, and circle arrangements are effective for community discussion. Feel free to mix up the table arrangement in your classroom based on your planned activities.

Building Inclusive Communities

There are many strategies for building inclusive communities. All are based on creating healthy community relationships. Consider the ideas below.

  • Ask students to share their experiences related to course topics.
  • Use students’ names.
  • Show genuine interest in each student by making a one-on-one connection.
  • Stay in tune with how your students are responding.
  • Model good listening skills by responding to each student’s discussion contribution.
  • Create and enforce class norms collaboratively with your students.
  • Highlight cultural perspectives (e.g., Ask “Who has lived in a country other than the U.S. for more than 6 months?”)