Creating Inclusive Classrooms

Inclusive classrooms are pro-social environments that encourage students to respect diversity of thought, background, and perspective. Such classrooms are characterized by civil discourse that acknowledges and explores multiple perspectives. An inclusive classroom makes clear that all students have a voice, and diversity in all its forms is respected.

1. Inclusive Pedagogy has three major components.

These three components are:

  • Cultural competency, meaning awareness of the ways we define diversity. Cultural competency requires us to educate ourselves with a multicultural classroom in mind.
  • Course content that includes multicultural voices, multiple perspectives, and contributions from theorists and authors with different backgrounds.
  • Willingness to ‘meet students where they are’ by recognizing and valuing students’ contributions to the conversation, thereby viewing each student as an individual whose experience and voice are respected.

2. On the first day of class, establish civility norms and guidelines to foster respectful discourse.

Setting the tone for how students will interact with you and with each other is the first step in creating an inclusive environment. Consider including in your syllabus language that illustrates characteristics of an inclusive classroom environment. Here are some ideas for sample language.

3. Model for your students critical thinking skills and respectful discourse.

Consider the process you would like students to use as they analyze an idea, theory, or methodology, and how you expect them to respond to others’ ideas and perspectives. As you lead classroom discussions, model this process for them. Explain that students may challenge an idea (but not the speaker) and that they are welcome to request clarification if they are confused by a statement a student has made.

4. Create exercises and assignments that help students learn to view multiple perspectives.

There are many ways to help achieve this goal. For example, you might assign two readings on a topic, where each presents a different point of view. You might plan an exercise that helps students look for major differences and similarities within two seemingly opposing perspectives. Or you might ask students to explain or defend a position that differs from their own.

5. Teach students how to ground their views in research and theory.

When students work to back up their opinions in research and theory, they learn to support their viewpoints with facts or arguments. In class discussions, they learn to move from “I think” to “the author of the article proposes.” This grounded approach, which helps students distinguish between fact and opinion, needs to be nurtured in both oral and written work.

6. Prepare ahead of time for where you anticipate differing student perspectives.

Look at your course content for topics that are likely to spark disagreement or strong reactions from students. Proactively plan about how you will present these topics and when you might need to mediate the conversation.

7. Avoid making assumptions about student behaviors.

It is always a good idea to check out our assumptions about why students act as they do in class. For example:

  • Don’t assume quiet students are less intelligent than talkative ones. Quiet students may be shy, anxious, or introverted and may need more time than typically provided in class to think about their response to a question.
  • Students who consistently turn assignments in late or seem tired in class are not necessarily disengaged; they may have a part-time job that is more hours than they can handle or roommates who keep everyone up late at night.
  • Don’t assume that students who don’t readily understand a cultural or political reference are naïve. Oftentimes these references are not part of their past experience.
  • Students who are uncomfortable disagreeing with their peers or hesitate to engage in debates may be from cultures that view such behavior as disrespectful.

Being mindful of surface impressions of students is always a good idea, as this article illustrates.

8. Acknowledge your own implicit biases and be willing to admit your own mistakes.

Recognizing and reflecting upon our own stereotypes, beliefs, and assumptions is a critical way to begin to create an inclusive classroom environment.

9. Do not look to one student to represent an entire race, culture, class, or background.

Students who are affiliated with a particular group (defined by gender, race, culture, or ethnicity) should not be singled out as ‘experts’ on that group. Asking a student to speak for an entire group is a form of stereotyping that can be interpreted as a micro-aggression. Here is an example of one student’s experience and recommendations to faculty.

10. Make use of AU resources on creating inclusive classrooms. 

CTRL, in collaboration with the Provost’s office and the Office of Campus Life, has created a website with multiple resources on ways to create inclusive classrooms.