If you aren’t bringing your authentic self to the classroom, how do you expect students to do the same? At our recent Higher Learnings virtual event on April 28, Dr. Christopher Emdin, Tenured Professor of Education at the University of Southern California, shared how he awakens courage and curiosity in his students—and himself. He outlined the seven ‘rights of the body’ he uses to make students feel welcome and lay the foundation for more meaningful, engaging and personalized learning. 

We share Dr. Emdin’s takeaways for any faculty member looking to create the conditions for students to truly thrive.

→ Event recording: Get Dr. Chris Emdin’s 7 tips for supporting students

Embracing your ‘ratchetdemic’ self

‘Ratchetdemic’ (ratchet + academic), a term Dr. Emdin coined, refers to creating spaces for students to display their academic brilliance without sacrificing who they are as individuals. It’s a play on the term ‘ratchet’ popularized in hip hop music which has both positive and negative connotations and is often used to describe an individual who is rude, sassy or unruly. The key message? Loosen up. Bring your whole being, including your struggles and your passion, to connect more meaningfully with students. “If you can reach the soul of your students, you automatically support the mind in retaining more information,” Dr. Emdin shares. Breaking the script, allowing for spontaneous conversations and connecting your course to non-academic interests or events will make for a more inviting learning experience. 

This mindset governs the ‘ratchetdemic’ pedagogy Emdin employs in his classroom. This novel teaching philosophy is supported by the following rights.

“If you can reach the soul of your students, you automatically support the mind in retaining more information.”

Right 1: The right to be here

Students must feel like their presence is valued and welcome in your course. In order to allow for meaningful learning, remind your learners that while they are within the confines of your institution, the most important thing is their own growth and sense of belonging. “Your classroom is your students’ home each week, which is why we need to embrace radical hospitality as a pedagogical strategy,” Emdin says. You can start by incorporating statements like ‘this is your classroom’ into your syllabi and course discussions to give students a sense of agency.

Right 2: The right to feel

Give students the space and resources necessary to express their feelings and emotions in your class. Work with students to identify how they feel about the material and their learning journey. Allow time for them to express frustration and model how to address these emotions in a judgment-free manner. “The purpose of good education is to provide a range of emotions and go back and analyze.” This involves cultivating a constant feedback cycle: frequently checking in with students and asking for their input on what is, and isn’t working—and how they’re actually feeling about the learning process or concepts you’re sharing.

Right 3: The right to act

Our bodies are powerful vehicles when it comes to communication. Hand gestures. Movement. Intonation. How we show up makes all the difference in getting across our message. “Teaching is a performance art, and the inability to be flexible will truly rob you,” Dr. Emdin says. Get students out of their seats, whether to collaborate with a neighbor or even act out a particular concept. See the difference movement and expression in different forms can have on engagement.

Right 4: The right to love and be loved

Learning becomes ten times more engaging and meaningful when students are allowed to express their love for the people and things outside of your classroom. For example, if you’re an Economics instructor, you might let students decide on an industry of their choosing to describe the effects of supply and demand as opposed to assigning a rigid case study to complete. Give students space to make connections between your course and their non-academic interests. Not only will this flexibility provide a more application-based learning experience, the freedom to incorporate their own interests and passions can help boost engagement and accountability.

Right 5: The right to speak

Being an educator today comes with a level of privilege. Amplify the voices of your students and give them access to those who hold power so they can feel seen and heard. As Emdin outlined, you’re not just seen as an academic, but a scholar and public figure to your students. “Young people don’t want you to be like them, they just want you to like them,” he says. Along with empowering students, this ‘right’ involves creating opportunities for learners to speak both within and beyond your course.

Right 6: The right to see

Biases. It’s what makes your viewpoint different from your neighbor’s. Give students the autonomy to power their own learning based on their lived experiences. Accept that it’s okay for students to see things differently—and encourage them to share their perspectives. Doing so creates the opportunity for frank and meaningful conversations about how students are faring within and beyond academia.

Right 7: The right to know

Give students a 360 degree view of your field. The good, the bad, the ugly. Present a balanced view of what you teach, even if it isn’t pretty. “It’s always about raising the rigor in academia. But who determines the subjects that get taught other than you?” Offer a toolkit for students to fully understand the world around them in relation to your discipline. Bring in injustices, histories and legacies that help learners pursue knowledge in an unrestricted way.

→ Event recording: Hear how Dr. Chris Emdin helps all students thrive

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