By Dr. Angela Bell, 2019 – 20 CITLS Distinguished Teaching Fellow 


Working with students to establish classroom guidelines can be a challenging and time-consuming endeavor, but their insight on their experiences of being a student should be acknowledged. Allowing students to develop their own classroom guidelines signals that faculty value their contributions. Collaborating on the process of working together can improve faculty-student communication and the overall experience of the course.

This process of collaboration is designed to clarify expectations around classroom participation, help students identify their responsibilities in class, and hold all members of the classroom (faculty included) accountable to the guidelines. Further, this process is intended for faculty to reach students who may not typically participate or feel empowered to interact in class.

Guideline Discussion Points:

  • Ask students to reflect on working in previous classes such as the one they are currently in. What were the best parts about those classes? What were the worst parts? Discuss answers in pairs, small groups, or as an entire class, and identify the best and worst experiences you have in common. If you are not creating guidelines around a class that requires high engagement (i.e., senior seminar), you can still discuss best and worst parts of the field subject (i.e., combating stereotypes about statistics).
  • What do students value from their fellow peers when working in class? What do they value from their faculty members? Below is a suggested list of issues that typically come up during classes regarding group work. Students and faculty should be encouraged to generate additional values.
    • Punctuality and attendance to meetings in and outside of class
    • Agreeing and completing individual tasks by set deadlines
    • Decisiveness
    • Being accountable for disagreements and resolving disagreements successfully
    • Working well as part of a team
    • Taking on special tasks and responsibilities in addition to required work
    • Keeping in regular contact (attend office hours, answered emails)
  • How can you work together this semester to recreate good experiences or improve upon past ones? What does success in the class look like?
  • If any anyone in class fails to contribute or communicate, how will the issues be resolved? How can students and faculty approach conflict-resolution with empathy? Typically, consequences in classes are formal (i.e., negative peer-evaluations, negative marks on assignments). However, there may be ways to introduce some playful informal consequences here (i.e., bake pumpkin bread to share if grading is not completed and returned within two weeks).

Incorporating guidelines into syllabi and assignments:

Once created, the guidelines can supplement course syllabi by serving as a rubric for class participation or a reference for other relevant assignments (like group projects). Ask students to reference specific guidelines when they conduct peer- or self-evaluations for assignments. Ask how they worked in ways that ensured they followed the guidelines recommended by the class. When providing informal semester evaluations, ask students how the faculty member is, or can improve upon, adhering to the guidelines.

Recommended ice-breaker for collaborating on class guidelines:

Donna Stringer’s Insider/Outsider activity

Sample guidelines