I remember being overwhelmed by the number of students in my first class at Con Hall. The IB Programme I did in High School had only 12 people so this was a huge switch for me. I’m in my third year now and while I’m still learning, I’ve narrowed down on two main focal points that have helped me get a better classroom experience:
- A Sense of belonging
- A Sense of accountability
Now I know these sound like distant abstract concepts but they’re really not. They actually involve really tiny, simple steps you can take, right after you read this.
Why should you create a sense of belonging in your classroom environment?
Well, it’s easy to feel like just a number at U of T. Mainly because the class sizes are so big. How do you really feel part of an environment that has so many different faces and personalities? I know it’s hard. Especially when you’ve found your 5th row spot with your Facebook tab open before lecture has even started. So what should you do instead? Well, an effective step would be to put your social media distractions away and actually look and talk to the person next to you in the few minutes before lecture begins. I know you’re probably wondering how those 3-minute conversations before lecture could make a difference but that’s the first step towards having a friend to study the material with! Trying to get to know as many people in class as you can is unrealistic and that’s not what you need to have a sense of belonging. Having a study group with a few friends or even one friend is sufficient to really understand and explore your role as a student. Study groups exist for a reason. Use them! Or create your own. Whatever works. But talk to other students. While you will get a lot while engaging with your course materials, you can get more if someone challenges your view, has a question that makes you think, or even if it’s just someone to complain with. We need each other more than we like to believe.
Why should you create a sense of accountability?
So you remember how in High School you always had teachers reminding you about deadlines and warning you about potential mistakes? I’m sure you’ve noticed how that changes here and for good reason. In the “real world”, no one is going to run after you and remind you about things. You get it done, or then you pay for it. That being said, I know it can be tough to have that self-discipline, especially if you’re used to constant reminders. Now, it’s up to you. It’s on you to create your own “deadlines” to make sure you don’t pull an all-nighter to cram in that essay. And we all have that essay. The one that’s worth a good 40% of our final grade, but because it’s due 2 months from now, we’re not giving it any attention — there’s no sense of urgency. And yeah, you could write it in red in your planner but what are the real chances of you abiding by that red mark? So I suggest you go a tiny step further. Sure, write it down in your planner but then, go and talk to your professor about the idea you’re considering.
I tried this with my Developmental Psychology research paper and I was amazed at how those 5-minute conversations after class turned into an A paper at the end of the term. What I’m saying is, create a sense of accountability. Once you’re accountable to someone, and especially if that someone is a teaching assistant or a professor, the work you could and should do has more value. And it all just starts with going up to your professor after class and mentioning the idea you were thinking of. They tell you their thoughts and in those few minutes, you’ve taken the first step to working on your research paper. Importantly, it gives you some homework for next class. Not just “oh yeah the paper is coming soon, I should look at some articles”, an actual conversation with your professor that is setting you in a direction. Most of the time they even recommend certain books or articles that your idea explores! So much better than Googling “Developmental Psychology Essay Ideas” two nights before. Besides, this also means the professor/teaching assistant knows you a little better. Definitely more than if you had kept to yourself in the back row.
Lastly, as you probably noticed – both these goals are intertwined. For example, creating a study group also creates a sense of accountability and engaging with your professors and teaching assistants’ helps develop your sense of belonging. What else have and can you do to create a sense of belonging and sense of accountability in class?