In fall 2014 the Strategic Initiatives portfolio within the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) launched the Inclusive Classrooms Leadership Certificate Seminar, training over seventy University of Texas at Austin teaching assistants and assistant instructors. In collaboration with the Graduate School, doctoral students were selected from over 100 applications to participate in one of three seminars offered in September, October, and November. The seminars demonstrate the work of Strategic Initiatives in advancing efforts to create a more inclusive and welcoming campus culture and expanding work specifically designed for partners in academic colleges, schools, and departments. According to Dr. Sherri Sanders, associate vice president for strategic initiatives, “an inclusive classroom climate is a vital component in the development of an inclusive campus culture – where diverse people, ideas, and perspectives can flourish, resulting in a demonstrated positive impact on student outcomes.”
An inclusive culture that actively and intentionally engages diverse people, ideas, and perspectives is essential for the success of all individuals within our university community. Teaching assistants and assistant instructors play a critical role in shaping the learning and interpersonal experiences of students in academic settings, ultimately impacting student academic success.
Developed by Dr. Betty Jeanne Taylor, assistant vice president for strategic initiatives, the seminar began as a series, with two pilots conducted during the 2012-2013 academic year with teaching assistants from the College of Communication and the College of Fine Arts. Combining feedback from the pilots as well as information generated through review of best practices, the series developed into a seminar that explores standard course planning elements with an inclusive lens. Specifically, the Inclusive Classrooms Leadership Certificate Seminar engages teaching assistants and assistant instructors in discussion with peers from across the university about strategies for developing and sustaining an inclusive classroom climate. Participants discuss practical examples related to course design and group processes while exploring diversity as a strength, fostering excellence, and developing academic leaders through personal and professional growth.
Approximately 25 participants enrolled in each of the three seminars offered in Fall 2014, meeting twice for two hours per session. The first session introduced elements of inclusive classrooms including classroom and campus climate as well as consideration of diverse identities, perspectives and self-reflection. This information proved to be significant for participants who noted, for example:
“I found it useful to talk through what our identities meant to us. Given other teaching seminars I have attended that have not considered instructor identities, I found this discussion useful.”
“It helped me recognize my biases and my identity.”
The second session consisted of presentation and discussion of elements of course design, planning and processes, including accommodations, course expectations and content, and group processes such as managing conflict. Supplemental information was provided from the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) and Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). Opportunities for dialogue and discussion of practical examples also proved to be a beneficial component for participants, for example:
“I appreciated the scenario activity because I was able to discuss in great detail many possible approaches to a given issue.”
“I actually had an experience later…where I encountered a situation with some students that involved huge amounts of privilege, and, in combination with the seminar, it has led to a lot of deeper thinking about privilege, wealth, educational access, and my own responsibility as an educator. I don’t think I would have thought as deeply had I not attended the seminar, so thank you for that experience.”
Participants in the fall 2014 inaugural multidisciplinary seminars represented 26 departments in nine colleges and schools, including, for example: the Department of Government and the Department of Sociology within the College of Liberal Arts; the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Molecular Biosciences within the College of Natural Sciences; as well as the Department of Art History in the College of Fine Arts and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering.
Through seminar evaluations, participants noted the overall value of the seminar:
“Every instructor should have this training!”
“This seminar has increased my confidence in improving my classroom climate!”
In response to the seminar’s demonstrated interest and engagement by teaching assistants and assistant instructors, two seminars will be offered in spring 2015. Development of an inclusive campus climate can only occur if inclusion is embedded in all facets of the university experience, including the classroom. The Inclusive Classrooms Leadership Certificate Seminar continues this spring, as DDCE’s Strategic Intiiatives encourages teaching assistants and assistant instructors to develop these critical skills, representative of UT’s core values.