(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Al-Fanar Media).
In August 2020, I worked with colleagues all over the world to create resources for professors and teachers on how to build community with students online. We did this via Equity Unbound and OneHE, and you can find all the resources here: https://OneHE.org/equity-unbound.
Although these resources were made especially for online teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, I feel that the need for building community going forward, whether we are learning fully online, in hybrid formats, in person, or any other way, will remain important at all levels of education.
If you hope to create a caring climate for your course, here are some broad areas to consider:
Create a course with Intentionally Equitable Hospitality. This includes creating spaces for listening and learner choice, for example, following principles such as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines, but beyond that. It includes remaining aware of potential inequities—economic, cultural, political—and being proactive to avoid them in design, but also creating space for noting ones you had not predicted and making room for iterative improvement. Survey students early on to understand their circumstances. Here are some samples to help get you started.
Create a warm tone in your syllabus and share a welcome letter or video with your students before you meet them. (See a how-to guide and resources here.)
Let students know you are listening to them. Invite them to annotate your syllabus at the beginning of the semester, but you can also repeat this process midway and toward the end of the semester for feedback. (Watch Remi Kalir, of the University of Colorado at Denver, speak about this here.)
Check in with students (see four ideas for checking in) about how they are feeling and consider talking to them about trauma-informed pedagogy. (My Egyptian students often connect really well with this video with Mays Imad, an Iraqi-American neuroscientist and educational innovator at Pima Community College, in Arizona.)
You don’t need to know which traumas your students have been through, and you are not your students’ therapist. Just being aware that some may have been through trauma is enough, and seeing how to teach with a trauma-informed lens can help all your students. (Here is a checklist to help you get started.) This semester, I tried gratitude journaling with my students, as suggested by my colleagues at the American University in Cairo, and many have found it helpful to their well-being.