Create a Validating Classroom Environment

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A classroom environment is shaped by many factors, including the seating arrangement, the tone of written assignments and handouts, and of course, the demeanor of the instructor. An environment of validation can be fostered by an individual instructor, or it can be promoted with coordinated efforts of a department or institution.

Linares and Muńoz (2011) offer the following examples of validating experiences.

  • Learn students' names and refer to them by name.
  • Give students opportunities to witness themselves as successful learners.
  • Craft a curriculum that reflects the students' backgrounds.
  • Share knowledge with students and become partners in learning.
  • Coach students, "You can do this, and I am going to help you."
  • Encourage students to support each other (to form friendships, develop peer networks, work together on assignments, and provide positive reinforcement).
  • Take time to help students select courses and plan their futures.
  • Serve as mentors for students and be available to meet with them outside of class.

Hydrology for urban areas - activity page screenshot

Specific Classroom Strategies

  • Use role models who come from backgrounds similar to the students. These can be guest speakers, case studies, or noteworthy alumni.
  • Allow students to contribute to the classroom conversation, and acknowledge that the perspective and knowledge they bring is as valuable as what others think and know.
    • For example, a student from a different culture offers a perspective that you may not have, and this enriches the discourse.
    • Conversely, you and the students may have a common background. This shared experience can build community and trust.
  • Develop assignments that affirm students' personal histories, such as essays, investigative projects, or family interviews. Example, Geology in Family Photos
  • Build in opportunities for students to be successful, so they can begin to trust their abilities and boost their academic self-efficacy.
  • Use immediacy behaviors, such as a relaxed posture while engaging with the class.
  • Use geologic or geographic locales that represent students' backgrounds and cultures.
  • Emphasize earth science issues that are relevant to students. For example, when studying climate change, urban students may find little connection to sea ice, but are more likely to be interested in the urban heat island effect. See an example heat island activity
  • Consider using service learning projects that benefit students' communities. See examples of service learning projects
  • Point out how skills and content from your course are connected to the students' overall development. For example, using Excel to plot stream discharge or ocean currents also builds spreadsheet skills that are needed for accounting, business, management, and many other fields. Example: Learning hydrology in an urban environment
  • Assign group work to coach students to work together, learn to validate each other, and build an academic/social network. Find many resources about group work at Pedagogy in Action, for example, Cooperative Learning.


Barnett, E. A. (2011). Validation experiences and persistence among community college students. The Review of Higher Education, 34(2), 193-230.

Callahan, C. N., Libarkin, J. C., McCallum, C. M. and C. L. Atchison (2015). Using the Lens of Social Capital to Understand Diversity in the Earth System Sciences Workforce. Journal of Geoscience Education, 63(2), 98-104.

Linares, L. I. R., & Muñoz, S. M. (2011). Revisiting validation theory: Theoretical foundations, applications, and extensions. Enrollment Management Journal, 2(1), 12-33.

Rendon, L. I. (1994). Validating culturally diverse students: Toward a new model of learning and student development. Innovative Higher Education, 19(1), 33-51.

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