At the EHHS Community Gathering, I asked you to imagine the best possible academic learning environment.  When I asked you to imagine this, there were at least two avenues of thought that could have been taken.  One is student focused with an emphasis on the learning environment in the classroom and the other is the learning environment we create in departments and programs through interactions with colleagues that students feel when they come for advisement or for office hours; students clearly are part of both environments.

There are larger environmental contexts that influence learning too.  Many “isms” and societal issues are attached to the larger contexts.  I was in awe of some comments from Maya Angelou who recently was interviewed by Anderson Cooper about equality and what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream means today.  At the end of the interview, Mr. Cooper referred to a Time Magazine article in which Maya Angelou wrote, “Can you imagine if we did not have this undergirded hate, racism, sexism, and ageism; if we were not crippled by these idiocies? Can you imagine what our country would be like?”  Anderson then asked, “How can you answer those questions? Can you imagine?”  Maya Angelou said, “Yes, I’m brought to weep when I think what my country can be and will be when we develop enough courage to act courageously and with courtesy and respect for each other.  Just imagine, we wouldn’t have to say we are the most powerful country in the world, we will be the most powerful country in the world.  Not because we have might, but because we have right.”

Maya Angelou spoke about respect, the highest ranked shared value in our community.  When asked to imagine, as when you were asked to imagine the best possible academic learning environment, the theme of respect comes to the forefront.  Respect, in a larger context or in the context of a learning environment is central to success.  Below, please find the comments from all groups about creating the best academic learning environment.  All comments relate to the classroom.  Comments marked by an asterisk also are crucial for respectful interactions between colleagues in departments/programs to make ourselves and our students feel safe in our environments.  If we have the courage to put all of the comments into action, imagine the power of our Division to transform the lives of our students and ourselves.

Group 1

  1. * Trust between students and faculty
  2. * Availability and responsiveness
  3. Tell them we are there to help them with clear expectations from us
  4. * Flexibility
  5. * Open communication

Group 2

  1. Model respect for your students; clear expectations
  2. Create classroom rules (e.g., how to interact)
  3. * Practice active listening
  4. * Develop mutual understating about nurturing
  5. Develop safe learning environment
  6. * Be open
  7. * Provide Support
  8. * Open communication

Group 3

  1. * Non-judgmental
  2. * Mutual trust – relationship
  3. * Not afraid to make mistakes – constructive feedback while avoiding the negative
  4. * Support for exploration and experimenting
  5. * Establish mutual respect and a climate of trust
  6. Clear expectations and parameters
    1. Gradual progression
    2. Support throughout the process

Group 4

  1. * Provide support
  2. * Be available
  3. * Be visible
  4. Seek out professional development to ensure you are current with research-based best practices
  5. * Practice professionalism
  6. * Collaboration
  7. Learning communities
  8. * Don’t be a silo or
  9. Don’t have a closed door classroom
  10. * Communicate
  11. * Relate
  12. * Celebrate

Group 5

  1. Get to know your students
  2. * Respect
  3. * Safe to take risks – nonjudgmental
  4. Multiple ways to engage students – read the students and adapt to them
  5. Classes should make sense by relating to their life
  6. Planned flexibility

Group 6

  1. Know the students and understand why they are here
  2. Be open to students’ thoughts and ideas
  3. * Build relationships
  4. * Create an environment where we and they are involved
  5. [Encourage students to] have an open mind to their peers
  6. * Model the behaviors we hope to see
  7. Class has to have something meaningful to students
  8. * Establish how to give and receive feedback
  9. * Value mistakes
  10. Focus on whole learning  – reach all aspects of our students
  11. Understand the “beginners mind” – we must respect where our students are in their development
  12. Let our students know we don’t know everything and we can learn from them
  13. Promote creativity – allow them to wander around their thoughts and ideas

Bonus:  “…. courage comes from when we turn not from each other but toward each other and we find we do not walk alone, that’s where courage comes from.”  President Barack Obama (Speech on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington)