Encouraging Civility

Encouraging Civility

Classroom Atmosphere

Students who feel comfortable in a classroom and who have some positive rapport with the teacher are likely to have better learning outcomes. In one Indiana University study, students reported that one important condition of their achievement in class is that they feel their instructor “cares about them.” In the long run, an instructor will accomplish more learning by spending some time, especially in the first few classes, on creating a supportive environment by such actions as learning student names, smiling, and making encouraging statements to the class.

What is Incivility?

Student behavior that is disorderly, immature, or uncivil may not be intentionally rude. Teachers and students tend to see these behaviors differently. Boice (2000) discovered from his studies in actual classrooms that incivilities may be a two-way street and the patterns may be set from the first day. Faculty and students see different behaviors as uncivil. Both students and faculty dislike students conversing so loudly that the teacher cannot be heard, students confronting teachers with sarcastic comments, and the classroom “terrorist”. Students, but not faculty, dislike if the teacher is distant and uncaring, gives pop quizzes, arrives late or cancels class, or if the instructor allows a student to taunt or belittle other class members with no intervention. Teachers, but not students, dislike it if students are reluctant to participate, are unprepared, demand make-ups or extended deadlines, or students arrive late or leave early obtrusively. Boice observed that students tend to commit a few incivilities on the first day of class; depending on the reaction of the instructor, the incivilities will increase or lessen.

Instructor Behaviors to Avoid Incivilities

Knowing that an instructor’s own behaviors can reduce or prevent incivilities, what can be done besides an engaging lesson plan? According to Middendorf and McNary (2011) an instructor who wants to prevent incivilities should smile and make eye contact, move around the room and amongst the students, give full consideration to student spoken responses in class, use humor when possible (a stress reliever for all), and make encouraging comments to individuals and the class as a whole. There are also behaviors an instructor should avoid. An instructor should NOT point out and apologize for their own mistakes, humiliate students, accept weak answers, nor allow students to interrupt, challenge, or complain during class. Such behaviors indicate a lack of confidence that will signal to students that incivilities may be allowed.

For any uncivil student behavior, an instructor should not ignore it hoping it will go away or laugh off inappropriate comments or behavior. By acknowledging the problem right away instead of hoping things will just settle down (They don’t!), the effective instructor gives him or herself time to deal with the problem. The instructor may make an appointment to see the student at another time. Maybe he or she will use the chain of command or use some of the campus resources listed below. This may call for better class session planning or having one’s class videotaped and reviewed using the Classroom Authority Rubric. The main thing is to consider the possibility that something the instructor is doing in class is contributing to the problem.

Assisting Emotionally Troubled Students

Should a student show signs of serious emotional problems, or if a student makes comments in classes or in writing that give concern about mental health issues, the student should be referred to Counseling and Psychological Services at 855-5711. AIs should consult with a supervising professor first.


Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members : nihil nimus / Robert Boice. Boston : Allyn and Bacon

Middendorf, J. & McNary, E. (2011).  Development of a classroom authority observation rubric. College Teaching, 59, 129-134.

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