Caring is Beautiful: Memories of Pretty Classrooms and What They (Can) Mean in Higher Education


Physical classrooms are part of our elementary school memories. Remember the ABC’s in the classroom, that scenic inspirational poster, or that poster from a Highlights Magazine?  How about other instructional posters, graphs, and seasonally decorated bulletin boards?  Now, remember how some teachers were better than others?  Why?  What attracted you to the classroom?  The teacher?  The subject?

While some of us might articulate a memory, some of us might be able to remember the feeling of being in a beautiful classroom. What did beautiful classrooms represent?  Most likely, it represented a teacher that cared. Is this relevant to an online course?  Yes.  Research suggests that the aesthetics of an online course impact how students judge the course’s usability and credibility within moments of accessing the course (David & Glore, 2010).

Caring is radical. And that type of radicalism is beautiful.  Adding beauty to our learning environments sends the message to students that we care about their learning, our subject matter and their success.

Jump to higher education and our learning environments change.  We do not have an individualized classroom.  The walls do not belong to us or our discipline. So how can we make both our physical and virtual learning environments beautiful? How can we demonstrate we care about our learning environments, subject matter, and student success?  Through the practice of Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning.

4 Attributes of Caring

Geneva Gay’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice propose that we focus on “…caring for instead of caring about the personal well-being and academic success of ethnically diverse students… caring for is active engagement in doing something to positively affect [success]“ (Gay, 58). According to Gay, caring is:

  1. Attending to person and performance.  Teachers model personal values such as patience, persistence, and responsibility while incorporating skills such as self-determination throughout their curriculum.  “In other words, culturally responsive caring teachers cultivate efficacy and agency in ethnically diverse students”.
  2. Action-provoking.  It is not dumbing down rigor.  To the contrary, caring teachers demonstrate respect to students, provide choices and “…are tenacious in their efforts to make information taught more understandable to them.  
  3. Prompts Effort and Achievement.  Supportive instructional styles incorporate reciprocal experiences, such as providing students feedback reflecting our stories, can improve cognitive understanding between the students and the instructor. (Let them know they are not alone in their learning process.)
  4. Multidimensional responsiveness.  Caring is a process.  “Caring is anchored in respect, honor, integrity, resource-sharing, and a deep belief in the possibility of transcendence, that is, an unequivocal belief that marginalized students not only can but will improve their school achievement under the tutelage of competent and committed teachers who act to ensure that this happens” (69). 

Applying care to our learning environment requires passion, empathy, and effort, and a collective commitment to provide all students with the individual support they need to succeed.  Through the use of Canvas and course design, we can let our students know we care for them.  We can ensure their learning experience will be safe, fun, informative and successful by intentionally making the design inviting and beautiful.  Just like caring for elementary school teachers and their classrooms, we can take extra time to make our Canvas pages beautiful too. 

Let’s Take a Tour!

Trying to reconnect with my childhood learning memories, I decided to attend an elementary school to interview a teacher and see her classroom – Mrs. Marisa Torres (Ok yes.  She’s my cousin). She shared with me her way of showing she cares for students, their learning and their overall environment.

Mrs. Torres designed a classroom that feels safe, fun, informative and adventurous with no competition.  Behavior expectations, academic goals, and resources were available for students to take risks while feeling safe.  Yet she went above standards in her learning environment to send a message to her students that she cares and that they matter.

But she can’t do this alone.  She needs inspiration.  Because her school only covers about 10% of the materials in her class, she needs inspiration from her colleagues, other colleagues, online via Pinterest and then her family. Ultimately, Mrs. Torres wants her students to feel like they are walking into a second home.

Her process represents the effort and process we have to do to make our course shells beautiful.  We need inspiration, colleagues, communities of practice and the CCC Family. 

Let’s Get Started!

We may not be experts in HTML, photography or even course design, but we can make an effort.  Where to begin?  Right here on the @ONE blog!

Here are my favorite Posts about making courses beautiful:

Tip! Register for the free Can•Innovate session with Tracy Schaelen this Friday, October 26 at 2pm to learn to use Canva to create beautiful graphics for your Canvas course.

Posted in Articles, equity, humanizing, Online Teaching.

Fabiola Torres is an online Ethnic Studies professor at Glendale Community College, an Equity facilitator for the CVC/Online Network of Educators (@ONE). During the pandemic, Fabiola collaborated with a number of colleges throughout the country in offering professional development workshops and keynote presentations focussing on applying equity-minded methods such as culturally responsive teaching in the online environment, and humanizing online teaching and learning. Fabiola’s teaching principles are inspired by her M.A. in Chicana/o Studies from California State University, Northridge and M.A. in Learning Technology from Pepperdine’s School of Education and Psychology. She was awarded the Online Learning Consortium Advocate Award for Diversity and Inclusion in July of 2020. Fabiola is a fur-mommy of Luke, Leia and Wookie.

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