Building Community, Collaborative, and Cognitive Classroom Culture – Faculty Focus

For decades, researchers have highlighted the importance of comprehending and integrating diverse cultural elements to enhance teaching and learning practices. When people hear the term “culture,” it is often associated solely with ethnic culture. However, ethnic culture goes beyond identity and significantly shapes the learning process. The ACCCE model is a framework for applying culturally responsive teaching practices for meaningful learning outcomes (Plotts, 2022). It’s an acronym for five essential cultural aspects: Academic, Collaborative, Cognitive, Community, and Ethnic and Intersectional Culture. These components are necessary to create a thriving educational environment encouraging learners’ growth and accomplishments.  

Culture is the lens through which individuals perceive and make sense of their surroundings, influencing human development and cognition. Culture is also part of human development and influences cognitive, social, and psychological aspects of human development. Recognizing the role of ethnic culture in classroom success is crucial for creating meaningful learning experiences (Thompson, Kirby, & Smith, 2016). Culture is not just about identity; it’s about understanding how culture shapes one’s psychological experiences associated with community, collaboration, and cognition (Plotts, 2022). By acknowledging the impact of culture on community dynamics, collaborative efforts, and cognitive processes, educators can establish a more inclusive and effective learning environment. Most importantly, culture goes beyond the ethnic lens, encompassing community, collaborative, and cognitive cultures. 

Community culture within a classroom comprises the shared norms, values, and structures that influence how students and educators establish connections and build relationships. It represents the collective identity and ambiance that shapes interactions and overall dynamics in the classroom community. Additionally, community culture involves notions of connectedness and exchanges within the group, encompassing concepts such as belongingness and inclusion. In the classroom context, shared norms and values refer to the commonly accepted standards of behavior and the core principles that guide the actions of both students and educators. The community culture contributes to forming a collective identity, a sense of “us” that transcends individual differences. A sense of community is a shared understanding of the purpose of education, the importance of mutual respect, and the pursuit of common learning goals. This collective identity fosters a sense of unity and belonging among classroom community members. Community culture in a classroom is a powerful force that can shape the overall learning experience. It influences how individuals relate to one another, the group engagement level, and the overall sense of community. Fostering a positive and inclusive community culture is essential for creating an environment where students feel empowered to learn, contribute, and thrive. 

  • In conjunction with their students, instructors can identify shared values about the learning community’s mission and what they hope to experience within the course 
  • Develop and utilize community rubrics 
  • Provide examples or ideas from past students for building the rubric 
  • Define social identities within the learning community (e.g., stakeholders, citizens, decision-makers) 
  • Co-create a community-based rubric with your students and co-assess the community bi-weeky 
  • Create a space to share communal learning resources by modeling this for your students and asking other faculty members to share their resources with you in the course 

Building collaborative culture 

Numerous students approach collaborative learning experiences with apprehension due to negative past encounters (Capdeferro & Romero, 2012). One of the primary reasons behind this hesitation is the lack of thoughtful consideration given to the culture intended for collaboration. Often, collaborative experiences are assigned without careful regard for the collaborative culture they aim to cultivate. Achieving meaningful collaborative experiences demands specific considerations that are frequently disregarded. Collaborative culture revolves around the norms, values, and mindset associated with collaborative learning experiences. Often overlooked are norms related to group dynamics, power sharing, and a clear understanding of what constitutes meaningful individual contributions to the group. Furthermore, introducing students to small group dynamics for the first time mirrors the first day of class. The dynamics undergo significant changes, particularly if students haven’t had an opportunity to socialize with one another before the start of the collaborative experience. 

Tips for building collaborative culture: 

  • Treat the first day of collaborative learning as a new beginning 
  • Create a mini-syllabus for collaborative experiences, and leave blank spaces for students to cultivate their own values, norms, and group identity 
  • Assist students in establishing values and norms regarding power sharing and meaningful contributions 

Developing cognitive culture 

Culture shapes cognition and human development (Ji & Yap, 2016; Thompson et al., 2016). Cognitive culture pertains to the values, norms, and attitudes regarding the types of thinking that are cultivated and valued in a classroom setting. A considerable portion of the literature dedicated to teaching and learning emphasizes and values the concept of critical thinking. Consequently, critical thinking emerges as one of the predominant and highly prized forms of thinking in academic circles. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that divergent thinking holds equal value and utility at various points in a course. Faculty members are encouraged to deliberate on the specific types of thinking they wish to emphasize or appreciate and explore additional approaches to thinking that can enhance the overall course experience. Here are various modes of thinking to take into account when constructing assignments, offering inquiry opportunities for students, or revamping an online course: 

  • Critical thinking: Evaluating, analyzing, and synthesizing information to form reasoned judgments and make informed decisions (Golden, 2023) 
  • Creative thinking: Generating innovative ideas, solutions, and approaches by thinking outside conventional boundaries (Karunarathne & Calma, 2023) 
  • Strategic thinking: Planning and executing actions with a long-term perspective, considering various factors and potential outcomes (Commander, 2003) 
  • Holistic thinking: Considering the interconnectedness and interdependence of various elements within a system or context (Johnson, 2023) 
  • Divergent thinking: Generating various possible solutions or ideas in response to an open-ended question or problem (Fletcher & Benveniste, 2022) 
  • Convergent thinking: Focusing on finding a single, correct solution to a well-defined problem (Shettar & Tewari, 2020) 
  • Reflective thinking: Examining and analyzing one’s own thoughts, actions, and experiences for personal and professional growth (Chen, Hwang, & Chang, 2019) 
  • Systems thinking: Understanding complex systems by examining their components, interactions, and feedback loops (Shaked & Schekter, 2019) 
  • Metacognition: Thinking about one’s own thinking processes, understanding how to learn, and managing cognitive resources effectively 
  • Emotional intelligence: Understanding and managing one’s own emotions and those of others to navigate social interactions effectively (Khassawneh, Mohammad, Ben-Abdallah, & Alabidi, 2022; Zhoc, King, Chung, & Chen, 2020) 
  • Conceptual thinking: Grasping abstract concepts and understanding the relationships between them (Maclellan, 2005) 

Tips for building cognitive culture: 

  • Teach students about the different types of thinking that would be most beneficial in the subject matter or teaching style 
  • Integrate different types of thinking into the syllabus value statement 
  • Guide students in identifying the most effective thinking for different assignments 
  • Encourage fanciful thinking before engaging in fact-based or critical thinking activities 
  • Differentiate assignments based on different types of thought, but have the same learning goals, objectives, and outcomes 

Final thoughts 

Culture molds learning experiences (Thompson et al., 2016), and culturally responsive teaching is a powerful tool for creating robust learning environments (Byrd, 2016). As faculty members, it is essential for us to broaden our perspective on the impact of culture within our classrooms. Faculty should strive to understand and incorporate cultural applications in their teaching, going beyond traditional notions of culture. This involves intentional consideration of the culture cultivated around the community, collaboration, and cognition in each course, contributing to a more inclusive and purposeful learning environment. This involves a deliberate effort to comprehend how each course can be culturally responsive, extending beyond traditional notions of culture to include considerations of community, collaboration, and cognition. By doing so, we contribute to creating a richer, more inclusive educational atmosphere. 

Courtney Plotts, PhD, is an author and speaker, and former national chair of CASEPS. She is also the founder of Neuroculture.   


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