Addressing Destructive Behaviour in the Classroom: Interview with Chavella T. Pittman
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– All right. Hi everyone. I’m Niya Bond. I’m a faculty developer at OneHE and I’m thrilled to be here today talking with Chavella Pittman. Chavella is a professor of sociology and also the founder of Effective and Efficient Faculty, a faculty development company. Chavella, thank you so much for your time and for being here to talk with us about this timely topic, micro and macro aggressions in the classroom.
– [Chavella] Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here. And as you said, a very timely topic.
– Today we’re featuring advice from your piece, ’10 in the moment responses for addressing micro and macro aggressions in the classroom.’ And I was really struck by so many things in that piece but one was the tension that you indicated exists between faculty needing to be prepared for what the research calls diversity related conflict and for faculty not necessarily knowing what to do in those moments. So can you talk to us a little bit about that tension and the advice that you would give faculty for how to handle it?
– [Chavella] Yeah, so it’s interesting because I think that faculty realise that their subject matter expertise in their discipline and they’re very comfortable with the idea of like being prepared and researching and reading and keeping up on all of the things in their scholarly expertise. But I don’t think that they realise that they should be doing that with all aspects of their teaching as well. So I come across a lot of faculty and the fact that, you know, a lot of faculty aren’t prepared, like that’s not just anecdotal, like that’s what the research actually says when they survey faculty is that they don’t feel prepared, you know, for these moments at all. But I think what ends up happening is that faculty are paralysed by the idea of something happening and that’s where they stop. So I think a lot of faculty just sort of shut down at the idea of this thing can happen. And I think a lot of faculty shut down when the thing actually happens. And so, you know, I don’t think that a lot of the times the faculty feel it’s not normal for them to figure out, well, what does the research and literature actually say is the strategy for this particular moment. It really just comes down to people being stuck in the moment and not really sure what it is they’re supposed to do, what it is they’re going to do if those things happen. And so I think people just end up getting stuck. I think that they don’t realise that there is an area of literature that they can go to and to sort of get some ideas about how they can respond. Now, I will say, even though I’ve now said that they’re not aware that that stuff is out there for them to go do, I’m not saying that the literature is rich with what you’re supposed to do in these moments.
– [Chavella] So it’s a little bit of a quandary in another way as well because a lot of the advice, and you know, I’m going to say this is particularly true if it’s a faculty member that has marginalised statuses or you know, if they’re underrepresented or, you know, have an identity that’s not in a majority group, a lot of time the advice that’s in the literature when you can find stuff really doesn’t actually work for those groups. So all of these things sort of go into people not being prepared, people sort of being stopped in their tracks by the thing actually happening not realising that, you know, they should be sort of being intentional and planning with these things the same way that they do with their actual scholarship. And then sometimes the strategies that are there don’t actually work for marginalised faculty. And so a little additional tweaking needs to be done. I hope that answers your question.
– It did. And I really appreciate your point, your first, well, both points, but particularly, you know, as we’re thinking about what does pedagogy entail, you know, you’re so right that it’s more than just subject matter expertise. And especially in times when we’re thinking about trauma-informed teaching and when we’re thinking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, you know, those are key components that you really have to be intentional about in pedagogy. And so I appreciate that point. And I also appreciate your point about, you know, the literature and not necessarily being as representative as it could be. And so, one question I have for you then is, if the literature is lacking a little bit in those ways, is there a solution or what can be done?
– [Chavella] Yeah, so I mean, you are actually tapping upon how I came to be doing this work, you know, as a consultant and a coach anyway and offering the services I offer because faculty period like in this day and age, don’t have a lot of extra time to go searching through the literature. Even if it was easy to find they don’t really have the time to do that. It isn’t easy to find. If we add on top of that, a lot of our faculty with marginalised statuses have informal and informal teaching loads and they’re the ones that are faced with incivility. So they actually even have less time and energy than the average faculty person. And so I have been very intentional to put together strategies that are easy to adopt and that are not time intensive. So yeah, I mean, I don’t want to give a pet answer of like, oh, tell people come to me. But honestly, that is kind of what happens, right? Because people go to teaching and learning centers or they go to like whoever the person is on their campus that’s like the teaching guru or the mentor and they’re being taught a strategy that might take them like a summer to prepare. No one has time for that, you know, to prepare a strategy all summer, you know, to be implemented in the fall. And especially when these things aren’t tweaked for our various statuses. So part of what I do in the shortest amount of time is like really synthesise, you know, the literature down. And I’m a sociologist, so I very much so read all the literature through the lens of, you know, structural oppression and interpersonal oppression. And so I use a lot of that literature to inform sort of what’s in the scholarship of teaching and learning to tweak, you know, what might work for faculty with marginalised status, what’s the quickest way to get from point A to point B?, you know, when you sort of put the structure in mind. But one of the things I could tell people and that I do tell people that they could do on their own is go outside the scholarship of teaching and learning. Because there are a lot of faculty with marginalised statuses that are writing about their experiences and what they do. And that stuff is not in the mainstream literature. A lot of times it’s off in their actual disciplines. So read outside of the mainstream literature to get more of a feel of what’s going on in the classrooms of faculty in general but definitely of the faculty with diverse perspectives. And you can see there that your experience is part of a pattern, right? Because I think the other problem is that sometimes in the scholarship of teaching and learning it can make you feel like there’s something wrong with you if you’re having these challenges. But really it’s about structural power, right? In terms of a lot of times what’s going on when it comes to these incivilities. And so I think when people read the literature to identify those diverse voices they can see their experiences there to realise like this has nothing to do with me and has something to do with my statuses. And then they can sort of pick and choose from some of the strategies that some of those authors have put in place in order to address these things. So that’s what I would suggest people do is maybe just sort of read the literature that’s outside of the scholarship for teaching and learning to get a feel for the experiences people are having and how they deal with them. And then if you really need to get there as quickly as possible, just reach out to me. I do have a lot of free resources that I provide folks.
– That’s wonderful. Thank you so much. Two of the things you touched upon, easy to adopt and not time intensive. I appreciate it because we are kind of in a time when things are speeding up in higher ed and that time is lacking, especially as you noted for educators with marginalised status. So I’m wondering if you could talk about a couple of your most powerful recommendations in the ’10 in the moment responses’ piece that you think are easy to adopt and less time intensive that maybe we could share with our community.
– [Chavella] Shoot, I actually think they’re all easy and quick to adopt. Yeah, yeah I totally do, because I think that, like I was saying before, I think people stop, right? Like they think something’s getting ready to happen or like the idea of something happening or something happening and people just freeze and then they are thinking there is nothing I could say in the moment. You know, I couldn’t have done anything. I wouldn’t be able to do anything. So I think the hump that most people need to get over is just trying to figure out what might my language be. And so I give people 10 sample scripts, you know, that they can then just sort of alter one way or another or use as is. So it really doesn’t take any time to just borrow someone else’s language. And so that’s what I’m doing. I’m cutting that workout of you having to figure out what it is you need to say by just giving you the language to use and then you could just tweak it one way or another. So it really, you know, they’re categoried into sort of different things, right? Like what your goal is for that moment. Sometimes you do want to turn it into like a moment that’s sort of like a teachable moment. Sometimes that’s inappropriate. Sometimes you need to just shut it down and to say that that behaviour isn’t allowed, right? If it’s something that’s interfering with the learning, then it can’t go on. You could circle students back to the, you know, the classroom goals. You can recover if you’re the person that actually messed up. So it really just depends on what it is you’ve faced the most or what it is that you’re fearful of the most, which one’s going to be most useful. But really you could just borrow the language and change one word here or there, or use it as is. So I think that they’re all really useful based on, you know, it just sort of depends on what people’s fears or realities are in the classroom when it comes to incivilities.
– Yeah, I would agree with you and I appreciate that point. You know, as you were talking I was thinking about what you said about kind of infusing these practices into the classroom or other educational space and kind of reiterating them. So, you know, starting with like open dialogue and honest conversation, having things represented in course documents, thinking about strategies that you might use. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit more about just that idea of transparency, and openness, and clarity, how it plays into all of this for the educator and the learner alike. Like why is it so important in these moments?
– [Chavella] Yes, yes. So, let me expand a little bit upon sort of what you described. So, you know, you and I were talking that these 10 scripts like they’re not the end point of how to deal with these. Like it’s the entry point because I think it’s the thing that freaks people out the most. People are like, well, I don’t know what to say. Once you give them something to say, and they’re like, okay, now I can maybe handle this then I can sort of give them the full shebang of what it is that you should be doing when incivilities are involved, micro macro aggressions, whatever language you want to use it, disruptive behaviour. Because you have to have like an anticipatory strategy in place. And you know, I help people sort of develop that. You have to have an in the moment strategy. And so these are samples of sort of like in the moment, what would you do? And then you have to have a strategy for how to keep these things alive, right? So how do you facilitate them? How do you keep them real? How do you make them a lived, a part of the classroom, experience? So those are the three pieces that I sort of put together and help. I teach people that, but I help them tailor it, again because these things might vary based on like what people are teaching, how they’re teaching, like what kind of pedagogy they’re using and their social statuses. So there isn’t a one size fits all. And so I hope people sort of figure those things out. So you are asking about like how these things sort of tie into transparency? It’s all sort of best practice, right? Like a lot of, I’m trying to figure out how to say this. I think that a lot of people in higher education operate as though everybody in the space knows how to interact with the rules are and what the expectations are. And I think people are starting to sort of acknowledge that’s not true for our students that are First Gen. But I think the piece that people aren’t acknowledging but they should have is that that’s not true because there isn’t a norm. I mean, what I just said just now is different, right? Like in one discipline, people might be used to discussions. In another discipline they might be used to lecture. You know, some people might give more projects, somebody might give more paper. So I think we talk about teaching as though it’s this monolithic thing and it isn’t. And so at every point along the way that sort of transparency should have always existed. So it’s absolutely part of the idea of in order for students to be successful you have to be transparent with them about what’s expected, and this falls into the line of what’s expected. So what sorts of behaviours will facilitate them learning the most and being successful in the course and sort of what behaviours will hinder that. And so all of these things in these scripts are being really transparent about that. You know, here’s what’s cool, here’s what’s not, here’s how we model, you know, when something, you know, uh-oh happens in the classroom, we can talk about it, or you know I can take responsibility for it or I can tell you to like shut it down or we can link it back to whatever. So it’s all about being transparent. These are all just sort of transparent about the expected behaviours that support learning and that hinder learning essentially. But the transparency is a best effective transformative practice that a lot of people have left in the dust because they just assume that all faculty are teaching the same way and that all of the students in the classroom are the same. And we have to bust that. Like, it’s been a myth and it’s even more harmful that it’s a myth now.
– Yeah, I appreciate you saying that. And you know, your point about it being left in the dust really resonates and I’m glad that work is being done to kind of dismantle those assumptions and kind of rebuild something new and hopefully better.
– [Chavella] Yeah, I hope so. I’m writing a book about it actually about sort of the scholarship of teaching and learning at the intersection of faculty statuses in particular. And so that book pretty much goes, you know, chapter by chapter very much so about the experiences of women of color faculty in particular, you know, just to give more voice to it to make it more visible but very much so to notice where the scholarship of teaching and learning intersects with it. Because there are places where the scholarship of teaching and learning intersects that is totally powerful and empowering for those women. And that needs to be made visible. But there are also places where the scholarship of teaching and learning has some room for improvement essentially. So yeah. I’m going to make sure that work is done in some way, shape or form.
– Well tell our community, do you have an expected date for publication?
– [Chavella] I do not. It’s coming out of the West Virginia University press, the series with Michelle Miller and James Lang. So it will be coming out of there but I don’t have a publication date just yet.
– Well, I can’t wait to read it. And I love how our conversation kind of began with an idea of tension. And you know, your point just there in your book is that, you know, there’s a tension in the literature that’s both promising and problematic that you’re going to take on. And I love that bookend.
– [Chavella] Absolutely, absolutely.
– Well, I want to give you space to have, you know, the last word. Is there anything you’d like to share with the community regarding this? Or anything else that you’re involved in that you think they should know about?
– [Chavella] Yeah, so I think the main thing I would like to leave people with is that they can actually do this work. And it doesn’t take a lot of time. It doesn’t take them being an expert, that it’s okay to not be perfect at it. So I just want people to know that there is space for them to do something very small that will make a huge difference. Because it’s not just affecting their ability to teach. It’s absolutely affecting students’ ability to learn. So I just think it’s really important for all faculty to become better at dealing with diversity related conflict, not only for their own sort of wellbeing and ability to teach in a class but for students ability to learn. Because when these things go unchecked it very much so affects students’ learning. But I want people to know that they can actually make a difference even if they do something really, really small. And these scripts are absolutely a place to start. And, you know, and the same goals for like, you know, inclusive teaching or preparing like controversial conversations. You can figure out how to do all of those things in really simple, you know, time efficient ways that are still going to be really really effective for the goals that you have for your students learning. And yeah, I mean I guess I would just encourage people to go over to my website and sign up for my newsletter. I send tips all the time to sort of help people support them, some guidance. I do a little chairing along the way for people, you know, the hard parts of the term when they might need a little pick me up, some reminders to take care of themselves. So my website is effectivefaculty.org and if you go over there you can sign up for my newsletter to get tips and sort of be kept in the loop about this topic.
– Well, wonderful. Thank you so much for your time and for this wonderful conversation. And I can’t wait to read your book when it’s published.
– [Chavella] Thank you. Thanks so much for inviting me. I love having these conversations. I hope that people found it useful. And I’m really grateful to you and your organisation for really realising the importance of this topic. And this conversation was fun. Thank you.
In this video, Niya Bond (Faculty Developer, OneHE) talks to Professor Chavella T. Pittman (Dominican University, USA) about her blog ‘10 In the Moment Responses for Addressing Micro and Macroaggressions in the Classroom’ which offers practical strategies and sample responses for educators to effectively address instances of micro and macroaggressions in real-time, fostering an inclusive and respectful learning environment. Listen to the conversation to find out how you can become more effective in managing destructive behavior in the classroom.
Here are some suggestions for managing micro and macro aggression in the classroom:
- If possible, give yourself time to review the research and develop proactive – not reactive – strategies for addressing micro- and macro-aggressions. Intentionality can help build a stronger foundation for a classroom environment conducive to learning. Don’t be afraid to go outside of mainstream scholarly teaching research – there is a bounty of teaching scholarship written by diverse faculty with lots of wonderful information for sharing.
- Be open and transparent with learners about the expectations for inclusive and belonging interactions in the learning environment. Scaffold these expectations into the learning experience by including them in the syllabus, individual assignment prompts, at the start of the course, and throughout it. Rather than being one-and-done, these strategies are iterative and repetitive.
Reach out to Chavella if you have any questions. You can visit EffectiveFaculty.Org to see more of her suggested strategies and/or to contact her.
What strategies for fostering equitable and inclusive learning environments appeal most to you, and why?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.