Shortly after Robert “Robbie” Robinson became the University’s chief of public safety in October 1993, he had a “chance encounter” with James K. Duah-Agyeman, who was then the director of the Center for Academic Achievement in the Division of Student…
Workshops Engage Faculty on Skills and Strategies for Inclusive Teaching
As students returned to campus this fall, more than 300 Syracuse University faculty engaged in learning exercises of their own as participants in workshops designed to enhance self-awareness, detect and respond to unconscious bias, and strengthen their skills for more inclusive classrooms, labs, studios, and field experiences.
The three-hour workshops—titled Inclusive Teaching in the Classroom and Beyond—were organized as part of the First-Year Experience Initiative and engaged a total of 327 instructors over six workshops conducted between August 16-24. Designed and created by faculty for faculty, and built using materials crowdsourced from Syracuse colleagues, the workshops are fast-paced and highly interactive.
The workshops originally were developed to coach instructors of anchor courses on the use of inclusive teaching practices in order to prepare them to effectively address the diverse needs and abilities of first-year undergraduate students. Participation expanded when the Newhouse School and the College of Visual and Performing Arts requested that all full-time faculty in their schools participate.
“The outcomes we wanted to achieve with these sessions were fivefold,” says Jeff Mangram, associate professor in the School of Education, who co-led the workshops with Marie Garland, executive director of the University’s Center for Faculty Leadership and Professional Development in the Office of Academic Affairs. “We wanted participants to 1) understand the complicated nature of our own identities in shaping how we make sense of the world; 2) appreciate how our identities impact learning as well as how our everyday interactions shape the identities of others, especially our students; 3) explain how contexts and events—local, national, international—impact our identities and must be engaged; 4) develop skills to increase inclusivity and equity, including identifying and engaging microaggressions that occur in our daily interactions with each other; and 5) identify and commit to using inclusive pedagogies in the classroom space.”
Mangram says the key takeaway, from his perspective, was for faculty to gain a better understanding of how an individual’s multiple, intersecting identities shape how they make sense, or hamper their capacity to make sense, of the world. “These identities we have of ourselves both inform us as well as create blinders to our experiences with others,” Mangram says. “And we make sense of ourselves, somewhat, based on how others respond to us.”
Workshops were interactive, with participants engaging in small-group activities and exercises. One such exercise asked participants to examine their own identities, individually breaking down the different ways they see in themselves—such as through gender, ethnicity, political or religious affiliation—and then compared those self-perceptions to how others said they viewed them.
“It’s a way of understanding how you see yourself as well as how others see you,” says Kira Reed, who co-chairs the First-Year Experience Initiative steering committee. “And it’s about understanding that our identities are context based. Being aware of that is an important way to open up discussion.”
Martha Diede, director of the University’s new Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, also in the Office of Academic Affairs, agrees. “The first steps in any diversity effort involve looking at oneself, observing what one notices, and thinking about why,” says Diede, who also helped facilitate the workshops. “Overall, faculty responded positively to these activities, and many said the workshop helped them to process more deeply what it would mean to be inclusive in their classroom.”
Workshop participants also watched a video illustrating a potential “hot moment” in the classroom—behaviors that create obstacles to equity and inclusion—and discussed how instructors might appropriately respond. The video prompt—part of a collection titled “And nobody said anything: Uncomfortable conversations about diversity”—was previously created by Syracuse University professors Mara Sapon-Shevin of the School of Education and Richard Breyer of the Newhouse School.
Discussion also addressed concepts of bias; behaviors that can lead some to feel disrespected and/or their experiences diminished; the concept of stereotype threat; and strategies for fostering a positive learning climate.
“Many faculty expressed some relief in that the workshops provided them with practical strategies that can be applied in the classroom,” says Mangram. “They also appreciated having a space in which they could talk about some of the complicated issues they face in their classrooms and in their lives every day.”
Organizers say the workshop is not intended as a one-and-done learning opportunity but rather one step among many that are needed in order to move the University toward becoming a more inclusive and diverse campus community. “Because every person enters the work of inclusion from a different vantage point and with different experiences to bring to the table, this is not a one-time effort,” says Diede. “Rather, these workshops are the beginning of a concerted effort on the part of the University community to become more inclusive. As inclusion professionals will tell you—the work of inclusion is never fully completed.”
For school and college deans who want more information on the Inclusive Teaching workshops and how to schedule one, contact Cathryn Newton, special advisor to the Chancellor and provost for faculty engagement, at email@example.com.