Being Welcoming on Day 1

Most of us begin the year by crafting/editing syllabi that describe course objectives, logistics, and policies for our classes. Whether students read these carefully or not is another question, but what if we also used our syllabi to convey some information to them about inclusion or diversity? Some schools require instructors to put some language in their syllabi about how students with learning disabilities can receive accommodations, but I’m talking about something a little more general.

What kinds of information might you want to convey to your students? You could convey

  • that you value diversity, social justice, inclusion, and/or equity in your class, what that looks like, and why you value it,
  • that you want to make your classroom an inclusive environment for learning and how you’re going to do that,
  • why your students should value diversity and inclusion
  • ways in which your students can also create an inclusive environment,
  • your openness to hearing concerns from students.

Here are some examples of what you could put in your syllabi.  Some of these came from awesome colleagues Sumi Pendakur, Ron Buckmire, Rachel Levy, Talithia Williams, and Dagan Karp.

Example #1:

As your instructor, I am committed to creating a classroom environment that welcomes all students, regardless of race, gender, social class, religious beliefs, etc. We all have implicit biases, and I will try to continually examine my judgments, words and actions to keep my biases in check and treat everyone fairly. I hope that you will do the same, that you will let me know if there is anything I can do to make sure everyone is encouraged to succeed in this class.

Example #2:

Our institution values diversity and inclusion; we are committed to a climate of mutual respect and full participation. Our goal is to create learning environments that are usable, equitable, inclusive and welcoming. If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or accurate assessment or achievement, please notify the instructor as soon as possible.

Example #3:

My goal is to welcome everyone to <<insert your field>>. As a instructor, I hold the fundamental belief that everyone in the class is fully capable of engaging and mastering the material. My goal is to meet everyone at least halfway in the learning process. Our classroom should be an inclusive space, where ideas, questions, and misconceptions can be discussed with respect. There is usually more than one way to see and solve a problem and we will all be richer if we can be open to multiple paths to knowledge. I look forward to getting to know you all, as individuals and as a learning community.

Example #4:

Classroom Conduct: The goals of this course can only be accomplished in a setting of mutual respect. Although the study of mathematics rarely lends itself to too much controversy, we must still provide a safe environment that is conducive to learning. All are welcomed and encouraged to actively participate in the learning of [[insert topic here]], regardless of gender, race, nationality, native language, sexual orientation, gender identity, political ideology, and especially personal mathematical history. Any student who feels she or he is experiencing a hostile environment should speak to me immediately.

Do any of you do something similar on your syllabi? It would be great if people could use the comments below to suggest other examples so that we can have a mini-repository of helpful language for instructors.

10 thoughts on “Being Welcoming on Day 1

  1. Darryl – thanks for this resource. I would like to include something like this on my course contract and have some kind of activity during the first week of class which will somehow use mathematical discourse – or perhaps group problem-solving to highlight/elicit some of these ideas. I would be interested to hear whether other high school math teachers are able to have open discussions around these ideas in their classrooms.

  2. When I taught Statistics, we spent the first day talking about what social justice means (or might mean), then came back to it throughout the year. I also spend time the first day talking about respecting each other. But I haven’t intentionally brought it into the classroom in the way the examples in your blog do–I really appreciate your sharing!

  3. Hi Darryl! A friend linked you from Facebook – nice to see you on the internet 🙂

    I teach programming workshops to librarians, and the classroom rules here are how I get at that: https://thatandromeda.github.io/courseware/Intro-via-jQuery/intro.html I got to them by way of the Ada Initiative’s code of conduct work, along with general reading and experience.

    When I’m discussing these rules, I talk specifically about how the feelings people have around programming can be especially acute if you’re not the young white male in a hoodie – how it is *hard* to be the only one in the room, or to have these messages that People Like You (whatever that means to you) don’t succeed in programming. And how those feelings are okay too (but in fact people of lots of backgrounds can and do succeed). I might specifically call out stereotype threat in this portion.

    I also try to be really alert for impostor syndrome when I see it (it’s always “when”, not “if” :/ ) and to specifically name it when I see it – this is more a one-on-one or small-group conversation as I’m walking around the room while students tackle exercises. Oftentimes students have not heard of impostor syndrome, and knowing it’s a real thing with a name that other people feel is powerful for them.

    (Teaching librarians to code is interesting from a diversity perspective because – while they are overwhelmingly white :/ – they are also older and much more likely to be female than the stereotypical programmer. So I pretty much have to tackle that head on. That said, sexism is fractal, like always, so even in my mostly-female field, techies skew male, and the more high-level and ‘hardcore’ their tech skills, the more likely they are to be male…)

  4. Thanks Daryl! Now I finally feel ready to tackle my syllabi for the semester. I will definitely use some of this language, and probably go even further into math as a social justice issue for my math for future elementary school teachers course.

  5. Do you just leave it on the syllabus, or do you go and do a class discussion about it as you encounter it? If so, how can we better get students to care about this discussion and find it relevant to math?

  6. Thanks for the resource! I’m currently a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying math education. I will be student teaching in a high school in Champaign next semester. While I won’t be having my own syllabus for the courses I will be teaching, I do want to make it known to the students in the classroom during my takeover that I do welcome all kinds of students and hope to see them succeed. What other ways can I illustrate this since I won’t have the opportunity to state so in a syllabus? What suggestions do you have for me?

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