Embrace Civility in the Classroom

Teaching is a demanding task. Challenges arise at every turn, which makes it an engaging and dynamic occupation. In addition to worrying about content and learning in our classrooms, we also need to be concerned with classroom dynamics and the erosion of civility. When it comes to promoting classroom etiquette and respect, instructors need to lead by example, set expectations and take action when needed. It starts with us and ends with us–so let’s see how to make a difference.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. ~Dalai Lama

More and more instructors are being called on to promote civility and classroom etiquette. Schroeder and Robertson’s article, Civility in the College Classroom, provides a glimpse into the problem of hostility, disrespect and aggression that is occurring in classrooms across the nation.  It is not a reflection of the instructor, the course or students in general. Remember this problem is coming into our classrooms and college campuses from the outside world. Without interventions, the problem can easily get out of hand. While there are often college-level policies and procedures to help, the role of the instructor cannot be understated. Here are some steps that can communicate expectations for student conduct:

Promoting Respect and Civility in the Classroom from the Academy of Art University

  1. Lead by example and model the behaviors you want to see by responding to students in appropriate ways. This means acknowledging really good work and comments from students, encouraging and modeling honest and tactful communication, and letting students know when they have been inappropriate. If a teacher ignores inappropriate comments, students may think the teacher is condoning them, or doesn’t care about students.
  2. Plan, in advance, ways you will address issues of incivility. A timely response is important, and if you have thought the situation and response through, you will be able to respond more effectively. It is often helpful to come up with a hierarchy of responses to potential situations. For example, if a student is talking over you, first make eye contact, and then move near the student and pause, before speaking to him or her in private.
  3. Keep communication open. Make a point to greet your students by name as they come into class. Try to seize on other opportunities to personally connect with all of your students, giving each student equal attention and a sense of value.
  4. Foster unity and inclusion through pair work, group work, and “roundtable” discussion that promotes the mutually respectful sharing of ideas and responsibilities.
  5. Respect students’ privacy and dignity. Never post grades that display the students’ names—only ID numbers. Even when using ID numbers, rearrange the order in which students are listed so that it’s not easily recognizable to others.
  6. Respect students as individuals, taking into account a student’s learning style, strengths, back-ground, and demands on time. This can be done without compromising the high performance standards you have set.

Discussions in online classes require ground rules and clear expectations—make it part of your class in ways that are positive and unambiguous. In the article, Netiquette: Make it Part of Your Syllabus, Mintu-Wimsatt, Kernek and Lozada provide suggestions for the syllabus and wording of rules of engagement in online classes.

Netiquette – Often-Overlooked Policy from Rutger’s may help you craft your own netiquette policy to help prevent issues in online classes

How to communicate and participate in online classes 

University of Missouri: Show me Respect, The Civility Toolkit is chock-full of resources, ideas and commentary on the need for campus and classroom interventions. This clearinghouse of resources has something for every instructor.

In Praise of Encouragement

There is a fundamental difference between praise and encouragement. This is a distinction to keep in mind as we wrap up the semester and provide students with feedback on their learning. We want our students to reflect on their learning in ways that move them toward their next goal—we need to do that, too.

We live in a “great job” world where students have become accustomed to hearing praise. It is, to some people’s thinking, cheap and easy to handout. Encouragement, on the other hand, takes more time and effort to dole out. The results of praise and those of encouragement differ greatly. Praise can signal that the job is over and we can sit back and admire the results. Encouragement lets us know that we are still working and that the job is not finished.

Think about your student as a runner. If you yell out “Well done” before the end of the race, the runner might get the idea that s/he is done and can rest. But, if you yell “Keep it up—your getting there”, the runner is bolstered by the support and keeps moving.

Encouragement can have the effect of keeping a desired behavior going. That can be attending class, being active in discussions or submitting work on time. It also communicates expectations, standards and models behavior for others.

Here are some resources to get you started:




LAANE Fall Conference at Cape Cod CC

LAANE Fall Conference at Cape Cod CC

Friday October 24th. Pathways from Access to Completion.
Keynote: Panel Presentation—Needed more than ever: The Evolving role of Learning Support Centers. Click here for conference information. Contact Norman Beebe for more information about LAANE beebe@gcc.mass.edu

Mastering the EPR!

By now you are getting to know your students and have an idea of who they are as learners. Perhaps you have already discussed accommodation agreements with specific students and you are looking for ways to ensure that each student achieves learning objectives and course competencies. One way to communicate with students is the Early Progress Report (EPR).

This fall the deadline for Early Progress Reports is October 27th at 2pm. But, there is no reason that you need to wait until then. Students may find it helpful to have these reports earlier. The sooner they understand the nature of the problem, the sooner they can make changes, discuss options for staying in the class, and perhaps most importantly, they can get the help they need to be successful in your course. Even more importantly, the more quickly struggling students are identified and receive academic support; the more likely they are to stay in college and achieve educational goals.

If you have an inkling that a student may be struggling, but are not be sure how to help, the EPR can set the stage for additional academic support. Use the ERP for students who are not making satisfactory progress in your course or who might be displaying behaviors what could lead to academic difficulty (i.e. tardiness or absenteeism).

In the early progress report, you can include information about:

  • Course expectations (you might include excerpts from the syllabus)
  • Detailed feedback about student work
  • Suggestions about extra academic help (tutoring, use of class resources, etc)
  • Ideas for improvement
  • Your office hours and contact information

The ERP can create accountability. It encourages the student to take steps to remedy the situation and make improvements. It can also alert the student’s advisor about challenges the student is facing.

To help tailor your suggestions to students facing failure or academic difficulty here are some helpful links for resources at GCC:


Using Real Time LMI in Decision Making Across the College – a workshop for administrators, research & career staff

Using Real Time LMI in Decision Making Across the College – a workshop for administrators, research & career staff
Register online today!


Tuesday, April 29, 2014. 8:30 AM – 3:45 PM


Mt. Wachusett Community College, Gardner Campus

444 Green Street, Gardner MA

(directions: http://mwcc.edu/about-mwcc/our-campuses/gardner/)


WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Community College Administrators; Institutional Research; Academic Planning; Project Managers; Advising staff; Career Counseling and Development and anyone interested in learning more about this powerful data.


WHY: Facilitated by Jobs for the Future staff, this all day, in-depth training will focus on the value of real time labor market information (RT LMI), through tools like Help Wanted Online, and explore ways to leverage this data to impact college services.  JFF has helped to launch and integrate this tool at community colleges.  Their in-depth, hands-on training session will help make the most of this powerful data. This workshop will have personalized, hands-on working sessions. Bring your laptop and username/password for your college’s HWOL account. Join us for this valuable training. Space is limited and registration is required.  Reserve your space online today!



8.30am – 9.15am  Breakfast & Registration

9.15am – 9.30am Welcome

9.30am – 9:45am LMI – How can it be used for better decision-making?  Mary Wright, Program Director, Jobs for the Future

9:45am – 10:45am LMI – What are the tools and how to best apply them. Jeremy Kelley, Senior Project Manager, Jobs for the Future

11.00am -12.00pm Practical Applications & Lessons Learned from the Front-Lines of Real-Time LMI

•         Michael Bettersworth, Associate Vice Chancellor

•         Isabel Weeden, Risk Analyst

•         Texas State Technical College System

•         Edgar Padilla, Director of Career Services, Texas State Technical College Waco

12.00pm -12.30pm Lunch

12.30pm -1.00pm Why is LMI Important? – Putting theory into practice – from the Bay State.  Beth Ashman, Workforce Research Specialist, Massachusetts Board of Higher Education


1.30pm – 2.30pm  Choosing a focus – Attendees will choose one of the following and use HWOL to address the topic.

•         Program Selection

•         Curriculum Alignment

•         Employer Engagement

•         Student Counseling

2.30pm – 3.30pm Creating a strategy – Colleges will meet together to outline a plan to address their needs

3.30pm – 3.45pm Next steps

3:45pm Adjourn – JFF staff will be available after the session to answer any additional questions

5th Annual New England Conference for Student Success at UMass

Teaching for Student Success

The demand for technological competencies is expanding in higher education. From blended and fully on-line classes, to flipped classes, MOOCs and SPOCs, instructors have a variety of options to consider. As the impact of technology increases, however, it also invites us to reconsider past and current practices.
How do we know what really works to enhance student learning while maximizing accessibility and affordability in higher education? Which technologies are demonstrated to be effective? Are recently identified “high impact practices” consistent with technology-based course designs? How should our student affairs and student services programs respond to the evolving needs of today’s students? Since student learning is our goal, what kinds of assessments reveal where and how that learning takes place, both in the classroom and out of the classroom?

Technology also comes in many forms—from cutting-edge learning analytics platforms to face-to-face discussion. The multi-modal nature of technology invites us to investigate the underlying reasons for the instructional decisions that we make in and beyond the classroom. Are there particular strategies and approaches that work nearly universally? Should anyone only “stand and deliver?” What are some of the supplemental programs and services that enable students to get the most benefit from what goes on in a course, and, in particular in the classroom? Is advising also a teaching process that could be informed by effective instruction techniques? Should we be trying to ensure that best practices are used in all courses and in all instructional formats? Inherent in the answers to these, and similar questions, is the likelihood that some approaches are more valuable for some students than for others.

To encourage exploration of the diverse answers to these questions, this conference will provide opportunities for participants to learn about and share various strategies in teaching and learning that appear to have the most positive impact on student learning.  Participants – tenured professors, contingent faculty, and student affairs staff alike – will discuss how we can encourage and support each other to learn about different strategies, to focus on student learning, to experiment with different course designs and to adopt and retain best practices.

8:00 – 9:00 am Registration and Continental Breakfast, UMass Amherst Campus Center Concourse
9:00 – 9:45 am Welcome
10:00 – 11:15 am Invited Addresses and Concurrent Sessions, Campus Center Lower Level and 9th Floor
11:30 – 12:45 pm Keynote Address, Campus Center Auditorium
Dr. Mary Deane Sorcinelli
12:45 – 1:30 pm Lunch, Campus Center Auditorium
Dessert will be available on the Campus Center Concourse
1:45 – 3:00 pm Invited Addresses and Concurrent Sessions, Campus Center Lower Level and 9th Floor
3:15 – 3:45 pm Conference Wrap-up, Campus Center Auditorium
3:45 – 4:30 pm Wine and Cheese Social, Campus Center Concourse, Lower Level
Come follow up with presenters, and catch up with colleagues

*Schedule is preliminary and subject to change. 

Keynote Speaker

Mary Deane Sorcinelli is a well-known researcher in the areas of academic careers, faculty professional development, and higher education teaching and learning. She has written more than 100 articles, book chapters, and books in a wide range of sources. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she founded the Center for Teaching and Faculty Development (CTFD). The Center supports the professional development of UMass faculty across all career stages and disciplines with a wide range of programs and resources focused on teaching, mentoring, scholarly writing, career advancement, and work/life balance.  Under her direction, the CTFD has promoted instructional and faculty development innovations that have been recognized with a range of national awards and externally funded grants.

In 2013, Sorcinelli was named the inaugural Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Mount Holyoke’s Weissman Center for Leadership. She was honored with the University of Massachusetts’ 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award and the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from Massachusetts/ACE Network of Women Leaders in Higher Education.  In 2006, she was awarded the Bob Pierleoni Spirit of POD (Professional and Organizational Development) Award for outstanding lifetime achievement and leadership in the enhancement of teaching and learning.  She also served as president and executive board member of the POD Network (2000–2004) and as senior scholar to the American Association for Higher Education.

Sorcinelli has provided faculty development teaching and consultations in international settings that include Canada, China, Egypt, England, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan.

She holds a B.A. in English from Westfield State University, an M.A. in English from Mount Holyoke College and an ED.D in Educational Policy from UMass Amherst.

Must have skills: Quantitative Reasoning & Critical Thinking

Believe it or not, the end of the semester is the ideal time to think about course design and re-design. You are in a position to take advantage of your recent teaching experience, feedback from students and new ideas that have emerged during the past months.

One of the goals for your work on course development might be to include more Quantitative Reasoning and Critical Thinking activities.  The development of these skills helps students to be strong consumers of information, do better in coursework (now and in the future) and be prepared to meet workplace demands. If you are unsure where to start, consider attending the AMCOA Region 1 Faculty Workshop  right here at GCC on June 5th.   Stipends are available and lunch will be provided. Register here.

At this workshop you will learn the fundamentals of creating assignments that grow reasoning and thinking skills in your discipline and across disciplines.  Just as important, you will be able to assess these skills and your students’ progress toward learning goals.

If you cannot attend the workshop, you might use the resources provided by the Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center for teaching to examine effective teaching approaches. There are ideas about how to craft learning objectives and assignments that will help students achieve these objectives.

For more on Critical Thinking in the Classroom, review resources on the T & L site.

For more on Quantitative Reasoning, visit the Brown University Center for Teaching.


True Grit: The Key to Success?

Like researchers, many of us who work with students often hypothesize about what it takes for students to be successful in college. Why and how do some students overcome adversity when others collapse under the weight of these challenges? And, perhaps more importantly, what can we do to foster the skills and resilience that college requires? Angela Lee Duckworth says it comes down to grit. Images of John Wayne may come to mind with good reason—true grit may be rare, but it is out there for us to discover and develop.

Ted Talk: Angela Lee Duckworth with a introduction to grit and what it means.

She has also written an excellent journal article on grit and the ability to reach long term goals.

Her work is so potentially important in education and our approach to student struggle that the Chronicle of Higher Education has focused on her work.

In Feb 2013, the Department of Education released a draft report on Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century.

This report includes interesting strategies to foster a sense of stick-to-it-ness in our students and why it is deemed to be so important for creating students who have the ability to reach long term goals.

Explore ideas for your classroom here.



Identifying Students who are Struggling and Taking Action

In the first few weeks of the semester, we are often preoccupied learning student names, creating course materials and getting back into the swing of a busy teaching schedule. This is also a time to be on the lookout for students who might struggle in your course.

Some of the early signs are:

  • Falling asleep
  • Arriving late or not at all
  • Making rude or mean remarks toward you or a classmate
  • Not completing work
  • —and the list goes on

The temptation to ignore some of these behaviors is strong, but there are plenty of reasons to get involved… and to do it sooner rather than later. An intervention does not need to be a full-on confrontation, but merely making the student aware that his or her behavior is affecting others.  Sometimes students do not understand the social norms of a college classroom or perhaps they need to have rules and expectations clarified.

If you are facing challenges, remember that you are not alone and that there are resources to help. Lisa Rodriguez, Ph.D. offers tips for dealing with and preventing many common classroom/student issues

Click here for an 8-step plan for dealing with disruptive students.

Perhaps somewhat more rare, but sadly increasingly common, is to have an emotionally troubled student in class. These tips help you to recognize these students and take appropriate action.

Dealing with disruptive students can be frustrating and can sometimes leave you feeling drained. Keep in mind that this is not an issue reserved for new faculty, at some point all faculty experience these challenges. Seek the support of your colleagues, department chair and experienced faculty.

Career Development for Students

Learn about resources available from the GCC Connect team to support students on the pathway to employment.  The team works to connect students with local employment and internship opportunities, and can provide valuable assistance to your students in areas such as resume writing, cover letters, and interviewing skills.

GCC Connect Nov/Dec 2013

GCC Connect Sept/Oct 2013

GCC Connect May 2013

GCC Connect Summer 2013

Look at this helpful document, Career Skills Checklist for Students and Advisors as we work to create students who are “job ready”. Another important part of preparing students for jobs and the business of finding the perfect position is creating a cover letter that truly represents their skills and potential while also speaking to the needs of the position and employer. Use this workshop idea from Andrew Baker as it is, or modify it to suit the needs of your class. Jumpstart – Writing Effective Cover Letters