Illinois State University faculty, working with the GROWTH Change Team, are looking to revamp the culture of the classroom toward inclusivity.
The Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN), Milner Library, and the College of Education are examining classroom culture through the Framework for Inclusive Teaching Excellence, or FITE. The framework is being implemented in professional development across campus with the help of the GROWTH Change Team.
One of the six dimensions of FITE focuses on Classroom Climate and Culture. “With the knowledge that the classroom is where traditional learning happens, changes in classroom climate will have a large and direct impact on students’ learning experiences at ISU and MCN,” said the college’s Associate Dean for Academics Dr. Seon Yoon Chung.
In collaboration with the GROWTH Change Team members, MCN leaders are working to focus on intentional professional development of faculty and staff that will lead to increased awareness and sensitivity. “The changes in instructional practices will promote student success and engagement as well,” said Chung.
The college took part in professional development workshops in the fall that included faculty members focusing on the impact of microaggressions in the classroom setting, discovering strategies to conquer implicit bias, and working to create a new institutional, anti-oppressive culture. “Working with the GROWTH Change Team was eye-opening,” said Chung. “We were encouraged by the dedication of the members, and appreciate their work.”
College of Education leaders noted a timely need to explore the Classroom Climate and Culture dimension. “Given the racial tensions in our nation, community and university, and the #antiblackISU movement, we decided this was a critical area of need to address,” said Assistant Chairperson of the Department of Special Education Dr. Tara Kaczorowski.
She added the desire of faculty members in the college to tackle the “demographic divide” in K-12 education also added to the decision to begin with Classroom Climate. The most recent Illinois Report Card reported that less than 50 percent of K-12 students in the state are white, yet those teaching in the classroom are more than 82 percent white. “The reasons for this lack of diversity are complex, though one potential reason is the need to better recruit, support, and retain our faculty and students of color,” said Kaczorowski. “By focusing on the FITE dimension Classroom Climate and Culture, it is our hope to help faculty improve in the area of creating a racially inclusive classroom environment.”
The College of Education began their professional development plan with online workshops on opening dialogue, disrupting white norms and pedagogy, and redesigning syllabi for anti-racism. Plans are underway to create a collaborative resource bank and collect individual reflections and plans to apply what was learned through the workshops. The college is also looking to hold focus groups in the spring.
Milner Library serves all members of the ISU community. “Our ‘classroom’ is the library itself,” said Milner’s Nursing Librarian Susan Franzen. “As library staff and faculty, we must be aware of and sensitive to all of our patrons. Librarians are liaisons to all subject areas across campus.”
Franzen noted the Classroom Climate and Culture dimension provides a guide for the library’s faculty. “It helps us to plan library instruction to be equitable, taking into consideration the diversity of learning styles, educational backgrounds, and cultural influences,” she said. Those plans included professional development on microaggressions and privilege. In spring 2021, professional development events will include sessions on active student engagement, implicit bias, cultural wealth, on-campus resources for students, and student perceptions of information literacy. Franzen is working closely with the Milner Diversity and International Inclusion Committee to plan these events and other initiatives to make the library a welcoming place for all.
Other initiatives are weaving into the work with the GROWTH Change Team. MCN is also launching a DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) Taskforce, looking to develop proposals for program and policies to increase equity, representation, and inclusion of students, staff, and faculty from diverse backgrounds and identities. The DEI Taskforce will work with the college’s Pre-Entry & Retention Opportunities for Undergraduate Diversity (PROUD) office on issues such as student retention and building an equitable culture.
The work with the GROWTH Change Team inspired departments. “In the past, we have had few college-wide professional development opportunities with many driven by individual units,” said Dr. Shamaine Bertrand. “With GROWTH, we are being more collaborative in our efforts. Our hope is to build a more included community based on the development of a critical consciousness and the critique of societal norms reinforced by white supremacy.”