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How Should Faculty Deal With Classroom Incivility?

A range of strategies have been suggested for preventing or dealing with such behavior. It has been suggested that faculty members be more explicit about classroom behavior expectations on their syllabi ("Managing Behavior," 2003; Richardson, 2000). For female faculty members and those of color, power and credibility may be more of an issue, requiring them to seek ways to establish their expertise early on in the course by relaying information about their background and credentials (Alexander-Snow, 2004). If incidences of incivility arise, faculty members can choose to deal with the student(s) directly in the classroom or outside the classroom (e.g., after the class) or indirectly (e.g., via e-mail). In dealing directly with students, faculty members can opt to use their power or authority in an effort to threaten and intimidate the student, or to shame and embarrass the student. Other options are to use one's expertise to outwit the student or to use humor and charisma to diffuse the behavior. Additional strategies include: serving as role models of civility by using civil language and respectfully listening to students; communicating interest and warmth toward students; spelling out academic and behavioral expectation in the syllabus; and developing a student civility code, policy or handbook (Al Kandari, 2011; Lucas & Rolden-Scheib, 2006; Morrissette, 2001; Meyers, Bender, Hill, & Thomas, 2006). Arguing that "no topic is boring, only speakers are," Nilson and Jackson (2004) suggest that faculty can prevent many uncivil behaviors by displaying the same enthusiasm and dynamism used by good public speakers. Still others suggest that the traditional lecture format needs to be changed to a more engaging pedagogy that fits our current students' learning styles (Baker, Comer, & Martinak, 2008; Summers, Bergin, & Cole, 2009). Appropriateness of any of these strategies would depend on the characteristics of the individual and the circumstances.

Using High Involvement Classroom Management Strategies in the Age of Incivility: Could We? Should We?

Cohen (1976) has argued that classrooms can be viewed as organizations and, as in any other organization, "goals must be set, decisions made, work allocated, and members recruited, motivated, controlled, and rewarded" (p. 13). If so, students' attitudes and behaviors in the classroom could be expected to reflect the type of classroom management strategies used by the instructor just as employees react with either positive or negative behaviors in response to management actions in business organizations. Previous research (e.g., Giacalone & Greenberg, 1997; Griffin, 2005) has found that if employees are dissatisfied or experience injustice, they may engage in behaviors ranging from simply giving voice to their frustration, withholding effort, or actively engaging in acts of sabotage. To the extent that student incivility is in response to the management style employed by a professor, modeling high involvement management strategies in the classroom could increase intrinsic motivation, decrease dissatisfaction, anger, and resentment and reduce the likelihood that uncivil behaviors occur in the first place.

Lawrence (1992) discusses a number of strategies for modeling high involvement strategies in the classroom. Ideally, this would include involving students in formulating goals, mutually agreeing on the policies for the class, selecting teams, conducting classroom activities, and constructing evaluation methods and instruments. High involvement classrooms would also minimize status differences and maintain a variety of open and informal communication channels; include opportunities for students to provide periodic feedback and make changes in policies and practices over time; include the use of chat rooms, instant messaging, or e-mail; and provide opportunities for personal office visits. However, high involvement management practices might undermine the formal authority power needed to control behaviors when they emerge.

This leaves teachers with an interesting dilemma. Should we model high involvement management in the classroom in an age of incivility? Using high involvement strategies in the classroom can enhance student engagement in learning as evidenced by increased attendance, participation and enthusiasm to learn (Brown & Murti, 2003; Fileva, 2004). Increased engagement in learning should in turn reduce many behaviors considered incivilities (e.g., sleeping, not paying attention, acting bored or apathetic, holding distracting side conversations with other students, using a computer for purposes not related to the class, texting, arriving late or leaving early). The action learning and reflective practices described earlier are additional strategies that can enhance student engagement in learning and thereby reduce incivility.

We preach the importance of other forms of power rather than formal authority, and we preach the importance of building an engaged workforce which involves the people in providing ideas toward improving the organization policy, processes, and practices to better the output of the organization. Just like an effective leader understands how to manage the work environment to maintain control and at the same time create an empowered environment, an effective instructor will understand how to simultaneously maintain control and create an empowered classroom as outlined above.

The problem of managing incivility is not restricted to management educators, incivility in the workplace has also been recognized as a persistent and growing problem both in the United States and internationally (Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Estes & Wang, 2008; Euwema & van Emmerik, 2007; Griffin, 2010; Liu, Chi, Friedman, & Tsai, 2009; Pearson, Andersson, & Porath, 2000; Reio & Ghosh, 2009). Workplace incivility is characterized by low intensity behaviors that may be overlooked on occasion, but if frequent and/or persistent, it can have detrimental effects at individual, group, and organizational levels (Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Reio & Ghosh, 2009). Examples of uncivil behaviors include writing nasty and demeaning notes or e-mails, undermining a colleague's credibility, giving people the silent treatment, making unfounded accusations, and spreading gossip, excluding someone from a meeting; cutting people off while they are speaking; not turning mobile phones off during meetings; leaving a jammed photocopier or printer for another to fix; ignoring a colleague's request; among many others (Johnson & Indvik, 2001; Pearson et al., 2000). Employees who are the targets of workplace incivility are likely to experience stress, distraction, burnout, lower job satisfaction, lower engagement, lower organizational commitment and are also less likely to be involved in organizational helping activities and more likely to engage in organizational theft (Cortina & Magley, 2008; Pearson et al., 2000). Incivility is also associated with reduced organizational trust and increased turnover (Lim, Cortina, & Magley, 2008; Miner-Rubino & Reed, 2010; Pearson et al., 2000). When workplace incivilities occur, the intent to offend, or distress, may or may not be present and is often difficult to prove making it very difficult to identify, manage, and prevent (Cortina, 2008). However, it is recommended that organizational leaders be proactive by putting mechanisms in place aimed at preventing workplace incivility including training programs, codes of conduct, and selection processes to ensure proper employee-job fit. In addition, organizational leaders and employees should be directed to resources that can provide assistance on how to cope with incivility (e.g., employee assistance programs, training and development practices such as coaching and mentoring; Cortina & Magley, 2009; Trudel & Reio, 2011).

 
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