“Things in Vermont move slowly. The first few years you’re here, they’re just testing you to see if you’ll stick it out. One day, after I had been here 25 years, my neighbor asked me, ‘So you think you’re gonna stay?'” – Local Vermont wisdom
On Saturday: Hiked “Camel’s Hump,” the second tallest peak in Vermont, already covered in a full FOOT of snow! Slipping and sliding down it was one of the most fun things I’ve done since moving to Vermont. Pictured: friend and roommate.
Continued from previous two posts.
(8) Start with a check-in: I almost always start meetings with some sort of “check-in.” I usually just ask students how they are feeling. Make sure every person shares (if willing), so the meeting starts with each voice being heard.
(9) Physical engagement: Some people are kinesthetic learners and engage well when some sort of physical action is involved. This might mean getting up from seats and doing an activity. Sometimes, it’s something simple. I often like to do the “check-in” (see above) using hand signals to communicate how we’re feeling (for example: thumbs up if feeling great, down if not so great, etc.)
(10) Test understanding, don’t ask: If I ask “Do you understand?” to assess understanding, 9 out of 10 people will say yes, even if only 5 out of 10 actually understand. I find it better to ask questions to assess what students have understood. (This one is difficult… Working on it.)
(11) Make everything explicit: Sometimes I probably sound silly because I explain even simple things. It helps everybody be on the same page. I’ve found that even if everybody already “knows” what I’m saying, it can be important to say it anyway. Instead of “Let’s do Bible study,” I might say, “Let’s take a look at the Bible, because Christians claim that it’s actually God’s Word and is powerful to transform our lives. So let’s dive in and expect God to speak.”
(12) Race, ethnicity and culture: Christians must have a multiethnic, multicultural vision for ministry. Are our fellowship and our leadership team racially and ethnically diverse? Is our worship biased toward a single culture/style and therefore exclusive of the broader body of Christ? What languages do we worship in? Do the types of food we serve at events reflect the cultural diversity of students with whom we hope to be in community? Who writes the books we read, the songs we sing, the ideas we embrace? Are we uncovering our biases and actively pursuing racial reconciliation as a core biblical value in our communities? This is perhaps the most important and complex of the inclusive practices I’ve mentioned so far.
Continued from previous post.
(5) Sticky notes: I love using index cards and sticky notes to help hesitant participants, introverts and internal-processors to engage. Often when posing a question to the group, I first ask students to write an answer on a sticky note/index card. Often, having some initial thoughts written down helps level the playing field when sharing aloud in a group setting.
Alternative: The group could stick their answers to the wall – it’s a good way to share ideas and read other people’s thoughts. If a large group, could group answers by type to help gauge the opinion of the room.
Second alternative: Invite students to draw a picture to represent their ideas. This engages visual learners.
(6) Set times: I usually give time limits when leading meetings. “Talk about this in pairs for 5 minutes.” It helps apportion time so everybody has a chance to talk. It also gives people a sense of how much they should share.
(7) Talk in pairs – then large group: Talking first in pairs or in 3s helps everyone have space to share. It also invites more hesitant participants to talk in a lower-risk setting. After talking in small groups, transition to larger group. I often ask students to share an idea they heard someone else share. This can help hesitant participants to feel heard, because other willing participants will share their idea. It might also lower the perceived risk of sharing aloud for hesitant participants, as any idea they share is not their own.
More to come.
Some thoughts on practices and strategies that shape inclusive learning environments. I always try to use a mix of these, as appropriate, when meeting in groups with students. (Side note: I get really geeky when it comes to this stuff. I love it and I think it’s critically important).
(1) Name who is in the room: If there are both non-Christian students and Christian students in the room, name that. It helps validate the presence of each person. Otherwise, it’s easy for one to assume that the group is not for them.
(2) Name who you hope to be in the room, even if they are not there: Even if I suspect the room if entirely Christian, I welcome the absent non-Christian students as if they were there anyway. It helps define the space and create a vision for what could be. It helps Christian students to know that non-Christians will be welcomed in the space. In my work, I always want non-Christians to be a part of everything Christians are doing – it’s the best way to figure out what walking in the grace of Jesus looks like.
(3) Define everything that’s being said: If I use a word that might be “churchy” or unfamiliar to some, I define it or find a more accessible term to use in its place. If someone shares their thoughts, find opportunities to ask: “What do you mean by that?”
(4) Over-explain: I repeat myself often when it comes to important things (like the vision of the group, or the significance of certain values and skills, the gospel). We usually need to hear things multiple times before we begin to believe that it’s important. It also ensures that core values are always being shared so long-time participants and newcomers alike get to hear them.
More to come.