The Healing Classroom: Classroom Management 2.0

Welcome, colleagues and friends. Whether you've arrived at this online workshop in pursuit of new information, or are seeking a refresher, I'm glad you are here. I'm Dr. Caryn Levington, and I hope you'll find this to be a useful resource. This workshop was designed with a few intentions in mind. The idea of having an online resource focusing on classroom management was something numerous colleagues shared they had wanted, in light of the often prohibitively full schedules all of us have from time to time that can make attending in-person sessions challenging. Yet other colleagues expressed not being especially fond of the traditional "nuts and bolts" approach of classroom management sessions. In this workshop, I wanted to expand a perspective on classroom management I've been developing for a couple of years. While you will find "how to's", resources, and tips here, this workshop isn't confined to a traditional nuts and bolts approach.

Attribution GettyImages: Park clearing in autumn

At Harper, I've seen countless classroom management scenarios - ranging from headaches to auspicious resolutions - play out on multiple sides for the involved faculty members, students, Department Chairs and Coordinators, and administrators. Classroom management is something faculty often discuss with me. This is because I am myself a faculty member with a couple of roles on campus, each of which relate either directly or indirectly to classroom management. At Harper, I am a Professor in the Division of Student Development. My primary role is as the Campus Psychologist in the College's Psychological Services unit. Inclusive of my time at Harper, I've worked as a service provider in mental health in various capacities for over thirty years. It was not my original intention to stay at the College for as long as I have, but I fell in love with working at the College, and at the time of writing this, am heading into my twenty-third year of service on campus. As a Clinical Psychologist, I've been honored to encourage and witness the healing process of my clients. I've witnessed the depths and breadths of anguish and suffering, transformation and transcendence. In addition to my clinical work, I am also an instructor at the College, and have altogether taught undergraduate and graduate classes for about thirty years. My instructional service at Harper includes teaching in Student Development in addition to having a dual appointment that has given me the opportunity to teach in the Psychology Department, for which I am grateful. I am also a founding and continuing member of our campus violence prevention team: the Harper Early Alert Team, better known as HEAT.

All of this is just to share that like you, I am passionate about teaching and learning and have also experienced the "trenches" of classroom management firsthand. However, unlike you, by virtue of my role as the Campus Psychologist, I also have opportunities to hear students voice their appreciation for their instructors and for their classes. Students often express that being in the classroom is an inherently meaningful experience for them that can reach far beyond the intellectual exploration of a topic, but also inspire them to learn about themselves. We all know that effective teaching does not happen by accident. It is a complex process that entails a great deal of work on our part. So, last, but by no means least, in this workshop I want to acknowledge what's often a familiar elephant in the room, which is that teaching can, at times, be a stressful endeavor. I hope to share some ideas that you may want to consider using to intentionally reframe your experiences and potentially promote healing and resilience for faculty both in and outside of the classroom.

Promoting healing and resilience? This might seem like more of a side effect than a goal of teaching. Perhaps it is. But, it's a perspective that might be useful and a side effect worth considering. We all know that just about everything of value in life can and will be perceived in a myriad of ways. Teaching can be stressful, but also extraordinarily inspiring, engaging, fascinating, and revitalizing. Like many of you, what keeps me coming back to teach is the way in which classrooms can be places of communion and community, where a group of disparate individuals convene to openly and thoughtfully discuss ideas and partake in meaningful discourse. It's something of a "lily pad", a time and place set aside in the river of our busy lives that allows us to partake in exploring ideas, and grow together in the process.

I believe this is an important and yes, healing experience for students to have in our often fractured society. But, as noted, this is not a random occurrence. For a classroom to blossom into a community requires effort, planning and forethought on our parts - not to mention the necessity of being flexible and spontaneous given the inherently unpredictable nature of working with people. There's little doubt that the skill of teaching is multifaceted in nature. As instructors, not only do we need to possess and continue to expand our expertise in our respective disciplines, but we also need to have the skill set to convey this knowledge to students in meaningful and effective ways that fulfill course objectives and standards. We do this using a variety of pedagogical means to convey our points while establishing and hopefully deepening our relationships with our students. Contemporary teaching takes place through a variety of forums: real-time, online, and blended. There is so much to keep in mind as we go about envisioning the goals we have for each individual class as well as in our courses as a whole. How to best pace the delivery of information - how to assess whether the students in a given class get along harmoniously and are open to learning - or how to deal with a fractious group. We have to assess on our feet the individual as well as collective learning "styles" and how these manifest in the students we teach, and how we may best mobilize the relative strengths of each student. In addition to these and other concerns, anyone who has taught at Harper is well aware that our College is an intersection for an intricate, complex and diverse group of students. Students come from all walks of life, and from many corners of the world. They bring with them a variety of life experiences, perspectives, strengths, and vulnerabilities. It's a privilege to forge instructional relationships with students. But, with this privilege comes responsibility and at times, challenge. Effective leadership in our classroom communities inherently involves a myriad of qualities: a good sense of humor, wisdom, patience, encouragement, integrity, and an ability to tolerate ambiguity, and have difficult conversations, just to name just a few.