Responding to Incidents that Affect the Teaching & Learning Climate

As part of a commitment to supporting inclusion, it’s useful to note how differently specific events and moments can affect each of us as individuals depending on our social identities, lived experiences, political beliefs, locations of origin, and wellbeing. In the event of an incident that may affect the teaching and learning climate (e.g. bias incidents on campus, shocking national and global events), consider trying one or more of the actions below.

  • Take a minute at the beginning or end of class to acknowledge that a significant event has happened that might impact our Cornell learning community and that might affect the climate for learning. This can be a sentence or two.
  • You might also note that it’s worth being aware that events like these impact individuals differently based on their identities and lived experiences.
  • Encourage your students to seek support from campus resources, each other, and family and friends. Share resources for affected individuals (campus offices) and those who wish to support them (e.g. Cornell Health: Mental Health; Mental Health at Cornell; Student and Campus Life offices, etc.). Feel free to project the resources on the following downloadable slide deck, Incident Response and Resources, in class.
  • Moments like these can have an adverse effect on learning. Consider lightening the cognitive load in class (e.g., offer review sessions, extend timelines/due dates, etc.) as students work through their responses to the incident, which will be significant for some. Encourage making use of office hours/offer office hours on Zoom, etc.
  • You might affirm your commitment to supporting student learning at this difficult time, and invite students to communicate emergent learning-related needs to you directly (example, the need for an extension or other support).
  • Depending on the context of your course and your teaching approach, you may find it useful to facilitate a short write-pair-share exercise. Allocate about 3 minutes to write individually, ask students to pick a discussion partner, and then ask each person to share for about 3 minutes. Writing prompts might be, “How has this incident affected you? What support do you need at this time, if any?” And, separately, “ What do you think the impact has been for your peers? What might you be able to do to support each other/your peers during this difficult moment to help maintain a kind and caring community?”

How you respond will be influenced by your teaching context and how you typically interact with students. Additionally, not all events will warrant the same sort of response, as much depends on the details: who your students are, what the situation is, your role and discipline, your course context, whether or not you are personally affected due to your identity, etc.

Working to build trust and community can make it easier to navigate difficult moments when they arise. Building an atmosphere of trust and respect and intentionally fostering a learning environment where discussion and diverse views are welcome from the start of the semester onward is one way to prepare in advance to help students feel supported in your course. Once the urgency of the moment has passed, continue to seek additional resources and ideas for fostering opportunities for discussion and dialogue and effective facilitation.

Reach out to the CTI for a consultation if you’d like to brainstorm a more tailored approach for your teaching context.