Higher Ed: How To Agree To Disagree (Respectfully) In The Classroom

Dec 2, 2018

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about creating and maintaining healthy and respectful environments – especially in the workplace. But what about in the classroom? In this episode of KUT's podcast "Higher Ed," Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT's Jennifer Stayton discuss the keys to keeping the classroom an open and respectful place.

Ed believes everyone in the classroom should have a role in keeping the discussion civil and the tone respectful, even if there are passionate disagreements about what is being taught or discussed. But he believes the conduct of the teacher goes a long way in laying the foundation for a respectful culture. For example, Ed says he used to be more vocal and open with his instant comments and assessments about students' answers. But he started to understand that could unintentionally stifle students' input, if they fear differing opinions might be met with lower grades.

"Allowing everyone to share their reflection or their thinking or their feelings or their interpretation, their analysis,  and then let the other members of the class pick it up, to me is a more powerful way that opens the conversation. I'm trying to get people to put themselves out there in my class."

What about when things get disrespectful, heated, or downright ugly in the classroom?

Ed says getting students to agree at the beginning of the semester to some "rules of the road" for handling classroom discussions can help ensure a healthy, respectful environment.

"At the very beginning of the course, to basically have the entire class, with ownership of the students themselves, create in some sense rules of engagement and ways that we're going to proceed ... And some instructors actually write these things down.  They become 'here are our guiding principles' about how people in the classroom will treat each other  - and, specifically, when they disagree.

What is the one practice Ed believes everyone should embrace to help keep the classroom civil? Listen to the episode to hear more (that is a big hint right there!) and to get a new round of riddles. The more serious puzzler is still taking a break for the holidays but will be back in January.

This episode was recorded on Oct. 30, 2018.

For all of the Higher Ed episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.