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Classroom Civility - A Faculty Guide

Jamestown Community College is committed to the highest standards of academic and ethical integrity, acknowledging that respect for self and others is the foundation of educational excellence. As such, we will cultivate an environment of mutual respect and responsibility. Whether we are students, faculty, or staff, we have a right to be in a safe environment, free of disturbance and civil in all aspects of human relations.

Introduction

Jamestown Community College is a community of learners dedicated to advancing the acquisition of knowledge and committed to creating a learning environment that supports this end. While all members of the college community contribute to the creation of this positive environment, faculty have primary responsibility for assuring that the classroom and on-line learning environments are conducive to discourse and suitable for facilitating student learning. This document is designed to assist faculty in establishing and maintaining an appropriate learning environment for students and faculty.

The vast majority of JCC students are full and committed partners in the learning process, eager to establish a productive, mutually supportive relationship with the instructor and with other students. When approached in the spirit of dialogue and debate, the civil expression of disagreement with the instructor or other students can enhance the learning experience and is not proscribed. Occasionally, however, students may inadvertently or purposely engage in behavior that disrupts the learning process. In those instances, it is the responsibility of the faculty member to intervene in order to re-establish a positive environment for all involved.  Faculty may find that consultation with faculty colleagues and administrators is helpful in determining how to manage a particular classroom conduct situation.

Faculty are urged to view such situations as a part of the educational process and an opportunity to extend students’ learning beyond the subject matter at hand. The suggestions that follow are designed to help faculty anticipate and, therefore, minimize incidents of inappropriate behavior, and to assist in planning appropriate interventions when such situations do occur.

Start with an effective syllabus

Your syllabus is your contract with the student for that course. Be sure it includes your expectations for classroom behavior, and your approach to dealing with inappropriate behavior. The Civility Statement and the Expectations of Students in the Classroom are designed to be attached to your syllabus to provide all students with a clear, consistent understanding of what is appropriate behavior and what is not. You may wish to add your personal thoughts about classroom behavior as well. Clearly written expectations regarding classroom conduct are an important first step in setting the tone for a positive educational experience.

Model the behavior you expect

Our behavior in the classroom should be a model for the behaviors we expect from students. It is difficult to be credible in enforcing classroom standards when we have not adhered to those standards ourselves. Thus, it is important that we:

  • Begin and end class on time
  • Return papers and exams in a timely fashion
  • Arrive for each class prepared
  • Treat students with respect
  • Behave professionally at all times

Making instructor expectations explicit in your syllabus can be a signal to students that you view this relationship as a contract in which both parties agree to meet certain standards.

Communicate!

At the foundation of all effective relationships is effective communication. Use a variety of skills and strategies to keep the lines of communication open in both directions. Try to connect with students at the outset of class by learning their names, gathering some basic personal information, and being available before and after class to speak with students on a one-on-one basis. Destructive conflict is much less likely to occur when a positive relationship is present. Remember that conflict is an inevitable part of relationships and can be instructive if handled appropriately.

When problems do occur, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Deliver your message in an assertive manner, rather than aggressively or non-assertively.
  • Try not to become defensive if your authority is challenged.
  • Attempt to handle sensitive issues in a private conversation rather than in the presence of other students. This conveys respect for the student.
  • Be a good listener. Often the student’s most important need is to be heard.
  • Remember that the student needs to feel some sense of control in the situation as well. Give him or her responsibility for helping solve the problem when possible.
  • Allow students to vent feelings appropriately.
  • Don’t over-personalize the matter. Often the origins of the student’s feelings and behavior lie in other aspects of his or her life.
  • Don’t argue with students. Allow them to express their views as long as they present them respectfully.

Develop strategies

There are a number of strategies you can use to intervene quickly in an instance of inappropriate conduct, and some that may prevent problems from occurring:

  • During the first class meeting, discuss with students the kind of positive classroom environment you plan to have, and their role in creating and maintaining it.
  • Take action to resolve problem behavior as soon as it develops. Ignoring uncivil behavior sends the message that such behavior will be tolerated.
  • Make direct eye contact with the individuals engaging in the inappropriate behavior.
  • Stop lecturing and wait until you have everyone’s attention before you resume.
  • Physically move to the problem area.
  • Make a general statement rather than warning a particular student.   (e.g. “It’s really important that we all focus on the person who has the floor – we have too many simultaneous conversations going on at the moment.”)
  • If you need to speak to a student during class, make the comments brief and friendly, but firm, indicating that conversation can continue after class. Avoid a public confrontation.
  • Consider designating the last row of seats as space available for late arrivals or early departures that are unavoidable, putting a focus on courtesy and consideration for others.

When necessary, take additional action!

Instances of inappropriate student conduct can be dramatically reduced by a combination of actions previously noted. A clear syllabus, good communication between students and faculty members, educating students at the outset about classroom civility, and taking immediate action on emerging conduct issues will serve to resolve most matters informally. When these approaches do not resolve a conduct matter, however, faculty should take additional steps to deal with the situation.

1.  If informal strategies in the classroom do not or cannot resolve the problem, request that the student see you before or after class in a location where your conversation can be private. Be sure your conversation with the student covers the following points:

  • The specific nature of the unacceptable behavior
  • The detrimental impact of the behavior on the class and instructor
  • The change in behavior sought
  • Possible consequences if the behavior continues

2.  Be sure to give the student the opportunity to tell his/her side of the story, and, wherever possible, involve the student in solving the problem with you. If you feel that the situation calls for a more formal response, commit your points to writing in a warning letter to be given to the student following the dialogue above. (See sample letter at end of this page.) Give the student a copy of the Constitution of the Student Body that outlines misconduct procedures in more detail.

3.  When the nature of the disruption is so severe as to make continuation of effective instruction impossible, the faculty member may direct the student to leave the class for the remainder of the class period. In these cases, the faculty member should consult with the assistant dean regarding appropriate next steps, and a follow-up contact with the student should be arranged prior to the next class. Faculty may also find it helpful to consult with a counselor for suggestions on how to deal with the inappropriate behavior.

4.  For all problem situations, keep notes regarding the behavior noted and your actions and conversations with the student regarding this behavior.

5.  In addressing matters of misconduct, it is often helpful to have input from others who can offer advice or share ideas for interventions. Consult with your coordinator, director, and/or assistant dean whenever such counsel may be useful. In cases where the conduct in question persists or is very serious in nature, consult with your supervisor to determine appropriate procedures and penalties, which may in extreme cases include expulsion from the course. In such instances, it is important that you determine that the strategy and/or penalty under consideration is consistent with college policies and past college practice.

6.   Each faculty member should have available and be familiar with the Constitution of the Student Body which outlines the informal and formal steps to be followed in instances of serious misconduct.

Special suggestions for on-line courses and on-line course components:

  • Set expectations for on-line discussions and enforce them. Delete inappropriate e-mail discussions and notify the student sending the message that the posting was inappropriate.
  • Confront disruptive students directly, either in person or by phone.
  • When necessary, direct the student sending the inappropriate message to post assignments only to the faculty member and limit the student’s access for sending electronic messages to other students.
  • Establish an on-line location, such as the “water cooler” or “parking lot” for issues not directly related to the class but of interest to class members.

(This section adapted from Student Conduct in Instructional Settings – Virginia Commonwealth University)

Steps to Follow in Resolving Classroom Misconduct Issues

Introduction

The Classroom Civility:  A Faculty Guide is designed to give you suggestions which will help you create and maintain a classroom atmosphere that will facilitate learning and minimize instances of inappropriate conduct. The Guide also outlines steps you can take when instances of misconduct do occur and the Constitution of the Student Body describes how conduct matters shall be processed. The student affairs committee urges faculty to become familiar with both documents and use them as a basis for managing classroom behavior.

This guide is intended to provide some additional thoughts on how to deal with misconduct matters in a manner that will minimize impact on the classroom learning environment. Speedy resolution of conduct issues is in everyone’s best interest!

Major Considerations

In resolving conduct matters, two considerations should be kept in mind:

  • Students have a right to due process in conduct matters.
  • Actions taken by the college should follow the outline described in the student constitution, which is our agreement with students regarding how such matters will be handled.

Considerations of due process require that certain steps be taken in dealing with conduct matters:

  • The student must be informed of the nature of the charges.
  • The student should be given an opportunity to refute the charges.
  • The institution must not be arbitrary in its actions.
  • Provision for appeal of a decision must exist.

With this framework as a backdrop, the student constitution places few constraints on the timeline for resolution of conduct matters.  Prior to the step involving student appeal or referral to the dean of student development and marketing, no timeline is referenced as the resolution of these matters is driven by the actions taken by the faculty members and supervisors involved.  Thus, the only time constraints to which we must adhere are those that result from the requirement that we allow for due process.

Some Suggestions

With this in mind, the student affairs committee encourages faculty to take these steps to deal with instances of misconduct in a quick and expeditious manner:

  1. At the first appearance of misconduct, speak to the student to negotiate solutions.  A record of this dialogue could be committed to writing and shared with the student if warranted.
  2. Inform your coordinator, director, and/or assistant dean of the meeting either in person or via e-mail.
  3. Consult with your supervisor if the situation requires input or help in problem solving. Keep in mind that counselors at all locations can also provide you with assistance in dealing with uncivil behavior.
  4. In instances that are not immediately resolved, refer the student to your supervisor for formal reactions and resolutions.
  5. In instances that are more complex or serious, the dean of student development and marketing and the dean of academic affairs should be informed of the process underway.

Note that the process ends whenever the issue is resolved.  Resolution may take different forms and different amounts of time depending on the nature of the violation, the circumstances surrounding it, and the student’s response.  For example, one student may stop the offensive behavior after the first verbal warning, while others may require a warning committed to writing or a more serious intervention such as meeting with someone at the administrative level, referrals to outside assistance or other action.

The system in place should allow for a speedy resolution of the problem by those directly involved in the matter. Most of the steps noted above can be accomplished in one or two class days and most matters can be resolved at the level of the faculty member and immediate supervisor. The key to quick resolve is to address the concern upon the first appearance of the behavior and to follow up immediately with the student and appropriate supervisors.   It is also important that you keep careful notes and document all conversations with the student so that the supervisor will have a basis for quick action in instances where a faculty member seeks the involvement of the supervisor.

When the steps noted here and those outlined in the student constitution are followed, the vast majority of conduct matters can be resolved in a manner that serves the best interests of all involved.

The Civility Statement and the following section, "Expectations of Students in the Classroom," are designed to be attached to your syllabus. A sample warning letter for faculty to use also follows.

Your academic attitude is a major factor in your success at Jamestown Community College. You share responsibility, along with your professor and other students, for creating a productive learning environment. This responsibility includes behaving courteously and respectfully toward your professors and your classmates and becoming self-disciplined in your learning. To create a productive college experience for you and all students, you should:

  • Attend class and pay attention. Do not ask the instructor to go over material you missed by skipping class or not concentrating. If you have difficulty understanding the presented material, ask the instructor to assist you.
  • Not come to class late or leave early. If you must enter late, do so quietly and do not disrupt the class by walking between the class and the instructor. Do not leave class early unless it is an absolute necessity. If you know in advance you will need to leave class early, sit near an exit and inform the instructor prior to class.
  • Not talk with other classmates while the instructor or another student is speaking. If you have a question or comment, please raise your hand, rather than start a conversation with your neighbor. Others in the class may have the same question.
  • Show respect and concern for others by not monopolizing class discussion. Allow others time to give their input and ask questions. Do not stray from the topic of class discussion.
  • Turn off all electronic devices, including but not limited to cell phones, pagers, beeping watches. If, due to work or family obligations, you need to remain in contact, inform your instructor ahead of time and set these devices to be as unobtrusive as possible.
  • Avoid audible and visible signs of restlessness. These are both rude and disruptive to the rest of the class.
  • Focus on class material during class time. Sleeping, talking to others, doing work for another class, reading the newspaper, checking email, exploring the internet etc., are unacceptable and can be disruptive.
  • Not pack bookbags or backpacks to leave until the instructor has dismissed the class.
  • Clear any visitors you would like to bring to class with your instructor ahead of time.>

Your Rights as a Student

As a student, you have the right to a learning environment free from distractions. If others in your classroom are engaging in behavior that interferes with your learning, bring the situation to the attention of your instructor. He or she is responsible for managing the classroom environment and determining the action that should be taken.

Consequences of Inappropriate Classroom Behavior

The instructor has the right and the responsibility to take appropriate action when he or she observes an instance of inappropriate classroom behavior. The form of intervention taken by the instructor will depend on the nature of the misconduct observed. The Constitution of the Student Body outlines the process to be followed and sanctions that may be placed on students who engage in various forms of misconduct.

A Final Note

The college is committed to creating and maintaining an effective community of learners in which all can grow and develop. We look forward to interacting with you in a civil and respectful classroom environment that encourages dialogue, supports the acquisition of knowledge, and assists all students in meeting their academic and personal goals.

Some statements above are adapted from civility statements of other SUNY institutions.

Sample Warning Letter

             This letter is intended to provide an example of a warning letter that may be sent to students who engage in persistent disruptive behavior. It is intended as a framework for a faculty member’s written communication with students and should be adjusted as appropriate for the situation.  Note that a warning letter should not be used as a substitute for a personal conversation with the student regarding the behavior, but may serve in certain circumstances as a follow-up to such a conversation.  The warning letter can reinforce the points made in your meeting with the student, and can create the foundation for future interventions, should the behavior persist.

              This letter is a follow-up to our conversation on [date] during which we discussed your classroom behavior on [date(s)]. At our meeting, I reviewed the behavior that is disruptive to our classroom learning environment and asked you not to engage in this behavior in the future.  Specifically, the inappropriate behavior is [describe student behavior here].

              Following our discussion, you agreed that [any resolve noted here]:

              Please consider this letter a warning that continuation or repetition of this behavior may result in more serious consequences as outlined in the Constitution of the Student Body (Appendix II, Part II – Student Conduct) that is attached [enclose copy of student constitution].  If you wish to discuss this matter further, you may contact Assistant Dean [list appropriate assistant dean] at [location, telephone number].