We had the pleasure to hear Dr Bryan Dewsbury’s perspective on equity in education at our last TILE Network seminar. Bryan emphasied the importance of building relationships with students in the classroom. While he acknowledges that teaching of content and knowledge is an obvious role of the teacher in the room, he points out that inclusivity in the classroom requires genuine empathy with students. Genuine empathy starts with the willingness to understand the lived experiences of students coming from different groups or cultural backgrounds. Demonstrating this empathy contributes to a warm, welcoming, and positive classroom climate – which, in turn, increases student engagement and academic performance.
The importance of belonging has been long acknowledged as a key factor for student success, particularly for students who are part of a minority. Bryan elaborated on this in his talk and provided a few hands-on recommendations to create a more inclusive environment. Two ideas he described are:
- Rename ‘office hours’ as ‘student hours’: The label ‘office hour’ can be off-putting for students as it suggests a formality that could be perceived as a hurdle for students from different backgrounds. Changing the label to ‘student hours’ reflects that this time is for and about students. Bryan reported an increase in students coming to student hours to seek help after the re-labeling.
- Group work as inclusive practice: Group work cannot only be academically enriching, but also is a real opportunity for students coming from different backgrounds to get to know each other and to learn about other people’s views. This has the potential to increase emphathy in students.
Two further ideas stuck with me after listening to the talk and I’m still thinking about them:
Bryan noted that when someone asks us as teachers: “Fast forward 10 years from now, what would you want your students to have achieved or become?” The answer will very likely entail some iteration of students having developed into responsible human beings who are good citizens and use their critical thinking skills to make senisible decisions. Bryan then continued by asking: “Why are these elements then not more ingrained in our teaching?”
And the second idea that really stuck with me was his quote below. Yes, knowledge and content are important parts of the role of a teacher, but teaching is much more than that if you want to create an inclusive environment. It is about getting to know your students, about reaching out, about building relationships, sense of belonging, and community:
“I don’t teach biology, I teach students. I cover biology.”
If you have not attended the talk, make sure to watch the recording. Bryan provided a truely inspirational account of one of the biggest challenges in education and I’m sure you will feel inspired after watching it.
Classroom teaching in higher education has typically focused on the ways in which content is administered and curated. An equity mindset toward pedagogy however demands that we embrace the full meaning of education inclusive of the cultivation of the individual. In this talk we focus on the practices that allow for the focus on the humanity of the academic experience, with transformative results for all the classroom participants.
About the speaker:
Dr Bryan Dewsbury is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Rhode Island. He is the Principal Investigator of the Science Education And Society (SEAS) research program where as a team they blend research on the social context of teaching and learning, faculty development of inclusive practices and programming in the cultivation of equity in education. He is also a Fellow with the John N. Gardner Institute where he assists institutions of higher education cultivate best practices in inclusive education. He was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. He immigrated in 1999 and attended Morehouse College for his Bachelors of Science in Biology after which he attended Florida International University for a Masters and PhD also in Biology. From there he transitioned to URI where his research focuses on inclusion and equity. Among his many publications is his 2019 piece “Deep Teaching in the STEM classroom” (CSSE) that recentralizes dialogue as the basis for good teaching. He has conducted faculty development and given plenary addresses on this topic to over 50 institutions of higher education, corporations and K12 institutions across North America. You can follow him on Twitter: @BMDewsbury.