Teaching Through Political Change and Tension

This week of the Presidential Inauguration is likely to be a challenging one for many students. Those who are concerned about the incoming administration may well be distracted and upset, and those who are excited about the change could well feel defensive and tense. In some classes—e.g., political science, history, sociology—these issues might come out naturally because of the subject matter, but this will probably be on students’ minds regardless of the course, and may burst out even in situations where politics isn’t directly relevant to the material.

Rather than waiting for something to bubble up, you could open a dialogue intentionally. At CNDLS, we think that difficult discussions are a good thing, if they’re handled well—if respect is maintained, if classroom norms channel talk away from attacks and toward ideas, if people get the chance to feel heard. Please visit our Difficult Discussions Teaching Commons page for ideas and resources. Contentious discourse can be constructive! 



Even if you don’t want to open a full conversation about the particular political moment, this will be an important time to keep an eye on student well-being, and aim to support it. Our Teaching Commons page on Teaching Well-Being may help you think about how to approach the classroom going forward, and it also contains links to important campus safety net resources.

All the best as you teach your way through this tricky time. As always, reach out to us if there’s anything we can do to help!

This spring, we’re using the CNDLS blog to highlight the Teaching Commons, a compilation of resources and case studies designed to help faculty revitalize their courses and gain insights into practical issues in pedagogy at Georgetown. As a living resource, the site evolves to encompass new scholarship in teaching and learning, as well as technological innovations that are changing and enhancing the current teaching landscape. To help you explore all that the Commons has to offer, we’re showcasing tools and other information on a semi-weekly basis, guiding you through the semester in real time. Missed the other posts? Check out our takes on crafting a syllabus, starting the semester, leading discussions, evaluating learningdesigning assignments, and active learning, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.

Building a Course for Everyone

No two courses are ever the same, even if it’s one you’ve taught over and over again, even if you’re not planning to make any changes. That’s because every time you teach a class you’re teaching a new group of students. Each group comes with its own range of learning styles, abilities, experiences, motivations, and perspectives.

Of course, you won’t know what those ranges are until the semester’s in motion. But you don’t have to wait until mid-semester to account for that diversity. Right now, before anything begins, you can design a course that allows everyone to learn.

That goal is the heart of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) philosophy. The idea is to be proactive rather than reactive, building accessibility into the structure of the course. Making a course accessible involves providing students with multiple ways to express themselves and interact with the material through a variety of the following:

  • representation—varying the way you present material on the page, aloud, visually, and so on;
  • engagement—providing different ways for students to invest themselves in the material, such as theoretical problems, real-world simulations/case studies, and applied work outside the classroom; and
  • expression—offering multiple ways for students to convey what they know, such as papers, written exams, oral exams, presentations, and performances.

There’s a lot to consider, as UDL is relevant to every aspect of a course. But even modest, targeted changes in these areas will broaden the reach of your teaching, and it’s certainly easier to take these things on before the semester begins.

We’re happy to help in any way we can. Find out more on our UDL page on the Teaching Commons. And, as always, reach out to us if there’s anything else we can do!

Welcome to the spring 2017 semester!

Calling Interested Faculty: Join the Engelhard Project in Spring 2017

This spring, the Engelhard Project for Connecting Life and Learning continues its eleventh year at Georgetown University. And we’re looking for new faculty fellows to work with us next semester in integrating innovative approaches to student well-being into their courses. Read on for more information about the project and how to apply.

Rooted in the Georgetown values of cura personalis (“care of the person”) and educating the whole person, the Engelhard Project works with faculty to incorporate health and well-being issues into the classroom and encourages students to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviors. For eleven years, the Engelhard Project has worked with nearly 100 Georgetown faculty, touching over 450 undergraduate courses. The Engelhard course model is based on a collaboration between Engelhard faculty fellows and Georgetown health professionals, who together create a space in the course for students to explore the important connections between well-being issues, lived experiences, and academic course content.

Engelhard faculty fellows propose a well-being topic of choice to pair with their course offerings and link this topic with their academic course content through readings, presentations, and in-class guest discussions led by campus health professionals. Faculty who teach an Engelhard course receive a small stipend and are invited to participate in the greater Engelhard community through discussion gatherings, campus-wide events, and reflection on Engelhard work.

You can find more details on the fellowship here, and any faculty interested in proposing a course for spring 2017 should submit their course plans here. And check out our ten-year anniversary video for stories about the project’s impact and faculty experiences:

We are also happy to talk with any faculty interested in discussing ways to incorporate Engelhard into their courses—feel free to reach out directly to the project team: Joselyn Lewis (jks38@georgetown.edu) or Laura Dunn (lhd6@georgetown.edu).

Inclusive Pedagogy Fall 2016 Wrap-Up: Difficult Discussions and Gender Identity

The semester-long Inclusive Pedagogy Series came to a close with workshops on best practices for talking about the election—a contentious topic—and gender identity in the classroom. In total, this fall’s series reached nearly 100 faculty members, staff members, and graduate students through eight workshops. In addition to the main CNDLS facilitators, our collaborators came from across campus, including CMEA, the LGBTQ Resource Center, GSP, Student Financial Services, and the Department of Biology. We were pleased to see the interest and engagement of participants, and thank all of those who made these conversations possible. For a full list of the sessions held throughout the fall semester, please visit our workshop website.

Stay tuned for more information on spring Inclusive Pedagogy offerings! We also invite you to contact us (cndls@georgetown.edu) if your department is interested in a customized workshop on a particular topic.

How to Talk about the Election and Other Difficult Discussions

On November 14, Joselyn Schultz Lewis (CNDLS) and James Olsen (CNDLS, Philosophy) facilitated a session on how to handle difficult discussions, framed to focus on the recent U.S. presidential election and resulting tensions. This session offered faculty a space to talk about how to create a classroom atmosphere conducive to fruitful discussion of sensitive topics so the intense and difficult dialogues that inevitably arise can remain constructive. After asking participants to share their experiences discussing (or not) the recent elections with their students, Olsen highlighted a two-pronged approach for difficult discussions in the classroom.

  • Lay groundwork: From the beginning of the semester, set the classroom up as a space for productive conversations. This could take the form of setting explicit learning goals, laying out ground rules and participatory expectations, or even weaving in reflective activities throughout the classes. Groundwork and intentionality are crucial for creating a classroom atmosphere from the beginning that allows for difficult dialogues. “How can you begin to talk about race in a classroom when there hasn’t been a space?” Olsen asked. Faculty should consider part of their role to be facilitating a space where all feel comfortable expressing themselves, something they can impact in both explicit and implicit ways.
  • Develop strategies and tactics: Faculty should also be prepared with strategies and tactics for handling difficult discussions and situations in the moment, when they arise without warning. In these situations, Lewis and Olsen recommended being aware of one’s own “hot buttons” and potential emotional triggers—and to have a plan such as taking deep breaths or turning to face the chalkboard and taking a few steps away. Another strategy is to “take statements away” from the speaker and to review them objectively as a way to consider alternative perspectives. Faculty should be prepared to encourage (and improve upon) communications from various sides of an issue.

Faculty and staff had an opportunity to share their own experiences and recommendations as well, in small group discussions.

Gender Identity in the Classroom: Strategies for Inclusivity

Michelle Ohnona (CNDLS) and Julian Haas (LGBTQ Resource Center) facilitated the fall’s final IP workshop on gender identity, held on November 29. This session offered faculty and staff a space to discuss how to create an environment in which students’ gender expression doesn’t compromise their learning.

Ohnona, a scholar of sexuality studies, and Haas, an activist and educator, led the discussion, beginning with current terms and perspectives on gender identity. Noting that more than 75% of transgender, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming (TGQN) undergraduate students report experiencing harassment during the course of their studies (according to a 2015 study conducted by the Association of American Universities), Ohnona and Haas stressed that professors are uniquely positioned to impact the well-being of TGQN students by promoting inclusive and respectful classroom environments.

While participants discussed their experiences and strategies that they have tried, Ohnona and Haas shared a few recommendations as well:

  • Anticipate how gender identity manifests itself in the classroom. Address gender identity in your syllabus. Outline a policy allowing students to identify what their preferred names and pronouns are and discuss this with students.
  • Develop strategies to support an inclusive classroom culture around gender identity. Lay out clear expectations for your students and model behaviors that exemplify respect for the rights of students to self-identify and self-disclose information about their gender identity and preferred pronouns.
  • Don’t minimize the issue. Pronouns might not be important to everyone in the room, but they are probably important to at least one person in the room. And it may not be obvious who that person is.
  • Develop exercises that reflect a commitment to inclusivity. Think about which voices are represented in your class readings. Encourage students to seek out the perspectives of TGQN scholars in their research.

Curriculum Enrichment Grant Helps Students Study River Health

Launched under the auspices of the Georgetown Learning Initiative (GLI), Curriculum Enrichment Grants (CEGs) support class-related activities that strengthen the intellectual climate around introductory level undergraduate courses. They help faculty and students gain access to the larger DC/MD/VA community, bringing the curricular and co-curricular together to give students in introductory classes a richer sense of the broader implications and applications of work in a particular discipline.

This fall, Sarah Stewart Johnson (SFS-STIA) collaborated with Mark Giordano (SFS-STIA) to take students in three of their courses to the Anacostia River for a boat trip with the Anacostia Watershed Society to study the the health of the river. Students from Johnson’s Environmental Geoscience course and Giordano’s freshman Water Proseminar and his senior seminar, Water Futures, took part. The trip, funded through a CEG, enabled the professors to bring students off-campus to see firsthand issues with water in the DC area and engage with the topic of environmental racism. The following is a reflection from one of Johnson’s students, Isabella Todaro, on her experience traveling to Anacostia for this grant-supported activity. If you’re interested in learning more about CEGs or want to apply for a grant for the spring semester, please visit our website

Reflection on Anacostia Boat Trip

By Isabella Todaro, an STIA Energy and Environment major (SFS 2017)

Standing huddled at the front gates, we waited for the vans to take us across town to the Anacostia River for a boat trip. We had so many reasons to be excited as we sipped our coffees, waiting for the caffeine to shake off our morning grogginess. This was the boat trip! We’d been hearing about it since syllabus day and had been told that it was a highlight of the course. We had performed a water quality analysis of the Potomac, and only after we took samples from the Anacostia on our trip could we compare the results. But most of all, we’d been excited to get away from Lau for a day to exchange the browns and grays of our favorite Brutalist study spot for a little adventure and some fresh air.

We boarded the vans (driven by generous student volunteers) and set out toward Maryland. The van ride was a nice tour of DC, and we passed the time scoping restaurants, markets, cool parks, and new neighborhoods through the window and saving them as starred locations in Google Maps, contributing to our ever-growing senior year bucket list. When we finally arrived, we were in a part of town that few of us frequent, but I’m sure many of us will visit again.

The dock was situated in a beautiful park, with a playground and rolling grassy hills. We met up with Sarah Johnson (SFS-STIA), who had brought her family, and waited for the earlier boat to return, the promise of donuts onboard fueling our anxiety. Johnson’s two children, who were so sweet and well behaved—plus, maybe smarter than any of us (they knew the definition of turbidity)—kept big smiles on all of our faces and reminded us of the excitement of a day on the water.

When the boat docked, we met our captain, a gruff man named Jim with a soft spot for river conservation. Jim helped us board (and passed out the promised donuts), and we were off. It was a pontoon boat that meandered slowly down the peaceful river, so we were able to make careful observations and listen closely to all of the wisdom that Jim was sharing with us. The sun filtered through perfectly just-changed leaves, and there was a briskness to the air that was unmistakably fall.

Jim told us about environmental regulations, battles with local government and industry, successes, failures, and his dreams for the river. He had made the health of this river—and his dream of seeing it one day be swimmable and fishable—his life’s work. His passion and personal stake in the future of the Anacostia was impressionable, and when he talked about the river, although he was talking about local government zoning laws and EPA regulations, we were entranced.

Jim had lived on the river his whole life and knows it to be a source of lifeblood for the people that live on its banks and downstream. He knows the impact that the health of the river has on each of their lives, and he personally mourns every piece of trash along the river banks, every wetland lost. But he is also optimistic. The bike path for which he has been advocating for 20 years was slated to open the day after our visit. He proudly told us that the water quality had been slowly improving, and he expected to see this rate of improvement increase even more.

We stopped mid-trip to take our samples, measuring turbidity, pH, dissolved oxygen levels, bacteria levels, and temperature. We are waiting to get the results of all of these tests, but soon we will be able to compare the water quality of the Potomac and the Anacostia. Sadly, we can expect the Anacostia samples to be far dirtier, a river that runs through a poorer part of the city and epitomizes the struggle of environmental injustice and racism.

The trip back was more reflective. We all spoke less, watching the beauty of the river pass us by, noticing the sins of pollution that Jim had talked about. When we arrived back at the vans, we were full with new insights, but mostly with new questions about the future of the river, about environmental responsibility, and about our part in all of this.

Finish the Semester Like You Mean It

This time of year, we can clearly begin to see our courses winding down. For some of us, it might be a shock—didn’t class just begin? For others, it might feel like we’re in the last quarter-mile of a very long hike up a very tall mountain. Either way, the end of the semester is coming.

What will you do with it?

The key to a good finish is to see these last sessions not as “playing out the string” but as an opportunity to do some new, substantial, complex, integrative work—work you can only do when you and the students can take a full view of what you’ve already done.

For ideas on how to make the most out of these final sessions, whether by guiding students through a reflection on the course, gathering feedback on how the semester went, or helping students think forward about how course material might inform their future experiences, check out our Ending the Semester page.

All the best as things come to a close—and, as always, let us know how else we can help!


This fall, we’re using the CNDLS blog to highlight the Teaching Commons, a compilation of resources and case studies designed to help faculty revitalize their courses and gain insights into practical issues in pedagogy at Georgetown. As a living resource, the site evolves to encompass new scholarship in teaching and learning, as well as technological innovations that are changing and enhancing the current teaching landscape. To help you explore all that the Commons has to offer, we’re showcasing tools and other information on a semi-weekly basis, guiding you through the semester in real time. Missed the other posts? Check out our takes on crafting a syllabus, starting the semester, leading discussions, evaluating learningdesigning assignments, and active learning, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.

Fall Inclusive Pedagogy Series Continues with Sessions on Syllabus Design and Student Identity Formation

Key to the design of any classroom is the syllabus that guides the course and the students that make up the classroom itself. CNDLS continued its Inclusive Pedagogy Series with a focus on each of those elements during two workshops in early November—”Syllabus Design for Inclusivity” and “Social Identity Formation and College Students.”

Creating an Inclusive Syllabus

On November 1, Michelle Ohnona (CNDLS) and James Olsen (CNDLS) facilitated “Syllabus Design for Inclusivity,” highlighting  the role of the syllabus as a tone-setting tool for the classroom. According to Olsen, a course syllabus is the “first word in a larger conversation”—it is one of the earliest encounters students may have with the course, and often is their first impression of the faculty member. With that in mind, a syllabus is more than an administrative exercise, but rather an intentional tool for course design.

Ohnona and Olsen provided examples of content to include in a syllabus, as well as various templates for possible syllabus statements (accommodation statements, class participation guidelines, etc.). A common theme and challenge to participants was to “think of the message you are sending”—whether that be with an accommodation statement or an articulation of the course’s learning goals. Also discussed was the role of the new Engaging Diversity requirement within the undergraduate core curriculum. Attendees were encouraged to consider how they might articulate a learning goal around inclusivity for their course(s) using the model of backward design.

Understanding Student Identity Development

While a syllabus is one way to prepare and cultivate an enriching classroom environment, an understanding of the process of student development and social identity formation also contributes to a rich learning space. Students are grappling with their own identities and views on difficult topics throughout college; therefore, creating a classroom conducive to that exploration can both support students’ development processes and take advantage of students’ curiosity and interest in connecting the world to their own lived experiences.

On November 10, Joselyn Lewis (CNDLS) and Daviree Velázquez (Center for Multicultural Equity and Access), led an Inclusive Pedagogy workshop on social identity development during emerging adulthood. Their session included an overview of several identity development theories, drawing on various fields of study—from psychology (Erik Erikson) to sociology (Kenneth Feldman and Theodore Newcomb) to social psychology (G. R. Adams and S. K. Marshall) and even developmental ecology (Urie Bronfenbrenner).

Lewis and Velázquez also discussed the more recent impacts of post-modernism/post-structuralism and multidisciplinary lenses which helped establish more recent concepts of intersectionality and multiple dimensions of identity. To the latter point, the two led an exercise in social identity awareness to help illustrate the importance of considering one’s own identity development over time. Lewis and Velázquez asked participants to consider their own sense of self, and the most salient factors of their identity today in comparison with the aspect(s) that were more—or less—salient during their own college years. The discussion that followed highlighted the powerful impact on student learning faculty can have when they create opportunities for students to “see themselves” in the curriculum, discussions, and community of a given class.

The Inclusive Pedagogy series will offer its final fall semester workshop, “Gender Identity in the Classroom: Strategies for Inclusivity,” on Tuesday, November 29 from 12:30pm to 2pm in the HFSC Herman Room. This session will be facilitated by Michelle Ohnona (CNDLS) and Julian Haas (LGBTQ Resource Center). To RSVP, learn more about past sessions, and find additional resources, please visit our website.

Charged Learning Spaces: Teaching After the Election

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, many classrooms have become charged and fraught spaces. Regardless of the subject matter, students carry their feelings and opinions into the room. Some may be elated and others may be shaken, grieving, and fearful; any of these feelings (and more) might affect students’ ability to learn. In some cases, particularly where the election is germane to the topic of the course, students will likely want to discuss it, and of course these discussions could become contentious and emotionally precarious for students who are personally invested.

CNDLS has heard from many faculty wondering how to handle such discussions or seeking to debrief with others in their wake. Whether or not you’ve already taken the time to acknowledge or analyze the election with your classes, we’re hoping that a few resources might be helpful as you navigate these newly-complicated learning spaces. Our Teaching Commons page on Difficult Discussions could be a good place to start, and below you’ll find a number of pages from other teaching and learning centers focused on the same issues and, in some cases, this particular post-election moment.

Looking for a few highlights? Brown University advocates addressing the situation directly: “Generally, research suggests that students find helpful instructors’ efforts to acknowledge issues of deep campus concern, whether using a small amount of class time (like a brief acknowledgement) or more extended portion of the course (like a planful discussion.)” Then, as the University of Michigan suggests, “if you do choose to engage students on this topic, it will be important to acknowledge the range of perspectives and intense emotions that are likely present in your classroom.” Meanwhile, Vanderbilt University reminds us that, “if we are to be effective in our teaching and if we are to model coping and wellness for our students, we need to practice self-care ourselves in the face of the stresses this election has placed on our role as educators.”

More resources:

University of Washington Center for Teaching and Learning
Post-Election Resources and Support (Post-Election Community Conversation Topics)

University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching
Returning to the Classroom After the Election

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching
Teaching in Response to the Election

The Ohio State University Center for the Advancement of Teaching
Resources for Teaching the Presidential Election and Other Controversial Topics

The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning at Brown University
Teaching After the U.S. Election

Michigan State University Academic Advancement Network
Resources for Difficult Dialogues in the Classroom

We hope you’ll find these resources useful. As always, let us know how else we can help.

CEG in Action: Students Explore Environmental and Food Activism in Southwest DC

Want to add a co-curricular activity to your course, but need additional support? Have a guest speaker in mind who would be perfect for your course, but your department doesn’t have funds available? Over the years, CNDLS has awarded hundreds of curriculum enrichment grants (CEGs) to faculty across departments in support of engaging class-related activities in introductory undergraduate courses.

On October 17, Yuki Kato (Sociology) and students from the Environmental and Food Justice Movements seminar used a CEG to travel to Southwest DC and explore community gardens and meet with local activists. This visit highlighted the intersection of environmental and food justice, the compounding impact of structural inequalities on social injustice, and the importance of local involvement, coalition building, “positionality” recognition, and sustained self-care for activists.


To learn more about this incredible example of community-based learning in action, check out Kato’s post on the course blog. If you’re interested in learning more about CEGs or applying for a grant of your own, please visit our website or feel free to get in touch—we’re happy to talk!

Inclusive Pedagogy Series Continues to Offer Opportunities for Learning and Reflection

On October 19, Missy Foy (Program Director, Georgetown Scholarship Program) and Patricia McWade (Dean of Student Financial Services) joined Maggie Debelius (CNDLS, English) and Heidi Elmendorf (Biology) for the third part of the Inclusive Pedagogy Series, “Who Are Georgetown Students?” This gathering of faculty and staff was an opportunity to share and discuss undergraduate economic diversity at Georgetown, emphasizing the range of financial need among students.

Highlighting the importance of Georgetown’s need-blind admissions process, Dean McWade opened the session with an overview of undergraduate demographics, including a breakdown of financial aid. Foy discussed many of the potential challenges of the college experience that can often be harder on low-income and first generation students, including dealing with family issues, struggling to find a “fit” on campus, and working through feelings of guilt, imposter syndrome, and dual identities. The Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP) was highlighted as an example of university initiatives to increase economic diversity and provide much needed support for students. In connecting to what this diversity means for our classrooms, Debelius and Elmendorf spoke to experiences from their own teaching about the real-life impact of financial stressors on low-income, working-class students. They reminded participants to be careful in making assumptions because we don’t—and can’t—know all the details of each student’s experiences, but we can and should strive to find ways of being more open and inclusive in all conversations and activities, both in and outside the classroom.

The series continued on October 26 with “Self-Awareness & Implicit Bias,” facilitated by Daviree Velazquez (CMEA) and Joselyn Schultz Lewis (CNDLS) in collaboration with the Apprenticeship in Teaching Program. Velazquez first asked faculty, staff, and graduate student participants how they might define implicit bias, then followed with a case study of this bias in action in the classroom. Lewis and Velazquez also offered up perspectives on recognizing and measuring bias, inviting participants to think about how they would respond to issues of diversity and inclusivity in their own classrooms. The structure of the workshop encouraged attendees to challenge their own biases as a tool for teaching, and to investigate what connections exist between their bias and privileges derived from their social identity. Introspection was emphasized as a method for examining and dismantling one’s own bias in the classroom.

Across both sessions, participants were challenged to increase awareness both of themselves and others. It is in taking time to make space for these conversations and reflection that understanding and more effective pedagogy can be born, and we invite you to join in the conversation with the next two workshops:

Georgetown Students, Social Identities, and Stereotypes
Thursday, November 10, 2016 — 3 PM – 4 PM
Car Barn 427

Facilitating Difficult Discussions
Monday, November 14, 2016 — 12:30 PM – 1:45 PM
HFSC: Herman Room

Please check out our full list of workshops and descriptions here—where you can also RSVP! If you have any questions or accommodation needs related to one of these events, please contact Laura Dunn at laura.dunn@georgetown.edu.