Classroom climate is an important consideration because it invites us to consider additional layers of context for situating complex classroom situations. UBC’s Vancouver campus has a multilayered and complex history. This is mirrored by the diversity of perspectives and experiences that exist on this campus. For this reason, UBC classrooms are not static and neutral spaces; rather, they continue to be multidimensional and dynamic spaces where complex interactions occur through the diversity of identities, modes of delivery and places of learning. In her book, How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, Susan Ambrose and her colleagues define classroom climate as “the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical environments in which our students learn.” Different aspects of the classroom climate and student development—intellectual and social identity development in particular—interact with each other to have an impact on student learning, experience and performance.
The historical setting of a classroom can inform and guide the ways students learn from the institutional contexts surrounding the classroom. UBC’s Vancouver campus is located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded lands of the Musqueam people, which informs the history and fabric of learning here. The role of the instructor is an integral part of the classroom climate framework because the instructor models ways to engage with concepts, histories and intersecting layers that challenge and add to the way that we understand and have come to know our respective disciplines, the lands we are learning on and the relationships that exist.
As an instructor, you have the ability to design, conceptualize and integrate aspects of classroom climate into your practice through the approaches you take in your curriculum and the learning environment you create. In this guide, you can explore ways to do this as early as the first day of class (see Section 4: First Day of Class).
The following is a list of resources that may help you explore the topic of Classroom Climate:
Acknowledging Musqueam territory or the Indigenous territories within or surrounding your institution is a way to invite further conversations around classroom climate. Including a territory acknowledgement on your syllabus and inviting conversations on the first day and throughout your course mirrors the history and contemporary relationships of where you are teaching and also the diversity of perspectives and ideas that continue to exist here.
John Paul (JP) Catungal, Instructor
Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice
I have come to appreciate the classroom as embedded in larger historical and political contexts, where we, as teachers and students, meet not as blank slates, but as complicated and differently positioned subjects.
I am teaching a fourth-year seminar this term that specifically looks at the politics of the university. In this seminar, we will reflect as a learning community on a variety of topics, including UBC’s location on unceded Musqueam territory, questions of positionality and accessibility and why they matter for how we experience the university.
Excessive emotions, such as anger, are particularly challenging for classroom spaces—challenging because they force us to acknowledge that trust, belonging and community in learning relationships and spaces are never a guarantee and, in fact, take constant tending. These excessive emotions are also challenging in a second way, which is that, in some classrooms, they arise out of social structural dynamics—e.g., misogyny, racism, colonialism, homophobia—that may or may not be the central focus of a course, but that nevertheless exist in classroom spaces through the very bodies and minds that are in these spaces.