Inclusive Teaching

“While many courses do not (and many cannot) include content that directly addresses diversity, and many classes and institutions (regrettably) do not reflect a powerfully diverse student demographic, I contend that all classrooms can contribute to an inclusive climate. Classrooms are social environments, and all social environments are places where inclusivity happens—or fails to happen” (Armstrong, 2011, pg. 53). The techniques below are just a few strategies that instructors have used to incorporate inclusive teaching practices in their classrooms.

Be Reflective

  • Examine your own cultural-bound assumptions and consider how they might influence your interactions with students.
  • Consider your comfort level with sharing your own experiences with diversity.
  • Reflect on how the experiences and backgrounds of your students might influence their motivation and learning.

Create a Safe & Inclusive Learning Community

  • Communicate clear expectations. Include a code of classroom conduct in the syllabus.
  • Treat students fairly and as individuals.
  • Encourage multiple viewpoints in discussions.
  • Meet students informally outside the classroom for discussions. Use office hours for this purpose.
  • Provide constructive and encouraging feedback.
  • Encourage all students to establish or participate in departmental organizations or school organizations that align with their interests.
  • Introduce students to the various available campus resources such as campus mentoring programs, workshops, support services, and resource centers.

Critically Examine Course Content

  • Look at your curriculum from multiple perspectives.
  • Include materials (videos, articles, case studies, etc.) that represent various viewpoints and are written/created by a diverse group of experts.
  • Discuss with students the ideologies and established conventions valued in your field.
  • Encourage students to share views and experiences related to course topics in class or in online discussions.
  • Be open to students’ reaction to the course material and give serious consideration to their requests for alternative study material that could be more up-to-date or represent aspects of student groups more accurately.

Use Various Teaching Methods

  • Vary your teaching and assessment strategies to address diverse learning modalities and preferences (ex: individual/collaborative learning).
  • Keep lessons relevant (bring in “real-world” cases or research, host guest speakers, etc.).
  • Incorporate universal design principles in your teaching such as wearing an assistive listening device and presenting material both orally and visually.
  • Offer multiple ways for students to engage in class discussions (in class, online discussion boards, or blogs).

When Dealing with “Spark” Moments

  • Anticipate conflict when dealing with sensitive material.
  • SOAR (stop, observe, assess, react).
  • Acknowledge emotions (“I see that you’re upset,” or “I understand that this is a powerful topic for you”).
  • Address any disrespectful behavior immediately.
  • Turn the situation into a learning opportunity and present it as such to the students.
  • Listen and restate perspectives, especially if one student is receiving all of the heat.

Assessing Classroom Climate

Take some time to assess the classroom climate through feedback from students. It is optimal to do so mid-semester so you can make changes as needed.

  • Explain to students that you are collecting feedback on their experiences in the course so far.
  • Provide students with blank index cards.
  • Ask them to respond to prompts anonymously. Prompts can be:
    • I feel comfortable participating in class: Yes, Always, Sometimes, Never.
    • One thing that would help me be more comfortable is: ___________.
  • Collect responses and review for common themes or issues.
  • Summarize responses in the next class. Explain how you will respond to the feedback and describe any changes you will make.


Armstrong, M. A. (2011). Small world: Crafting an inclusive classroom (no matter what you teach). Thought & Action, Fall, 51-61.

Burgstahler, S. E., & Cory, R. C. (Eds.). (2008). Universal design in higher education: From principles to practice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fleming, N. (2003). Establishing rapport: Personal interaction and learning.The Idea Center.

Ginsberg, M. B., & Wlodkowski, R. J. (2009). Diversity & motivation: Culturally responsive teaching in college (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gurin, P., Dey, E. L., Hurtado, S., & Guring, G. (2002). Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes. Harvard Educational Review, 72(3), 330-366.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress. New York, NY: Routledge Press.

Kaplan, M., & Miller, A. T. (Eds.). (2007). Scholarship of multicultural teaching and learning: New directions for teaching and learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Salazar, Maria D., Norton, Amanda S., & Tuitt, Franklin A. (2009). Weaving promising practices for inclusive excellence into the higher education classroom. In Linda B. Nilson and Judith E. Miller (Eds.), To improve the academy (pp. 208-226). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Warren, L. (2006). Managing hot moments in the classroom.Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University. Retrieved from: