Practical Suggestions for Inclusive Classrooms

On a day-to-day basis, there are many things professors can do and not do in order to make it clear they're aiming for inclusive classrooms.

Things you might do more of

  • Assume there are students in your classroom who are diverse in ways that you can’t see - that might be related to national origin, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, spiritual beliefs, or many other possibilities.
  • Treat your students as individuals. Get to know them at the beginning of the semester; address them by their preferred name (pronounced correctly); make eye contact around the room; be balanced in how you give praise.
  • Develop a broad repertoire of cases and examples that include situations and people from a variety of backgrounds/cultural groups.
  • Assign readings with varying perspectives by authors from various backgrounds.
  • Use inclusive and respectful language wherever possible.
  • Set ground rules for class discussions that address issues like not making generalizations about entire groups of people, critiquing ideas instead of people, whether anecdotal evidence is acceptable, etc.
  • Set up class discussions so that students get in the habit of taking one another’s ideas seriously and responding to one another; think about ways you can structure difficult discussions so that varying points of view will definitely be included. For example:
    • Have students formally pose questions to one another in response to comments in a discussion;
    • Have them summarize another person’s ideas (especially someone they disagree with);
    • Have some formal debates;
    • Ask students to provide constructive feedback on one another’s work (with some instruction from you on how to do it well).
  • Encourage or help set up diverse study groups, which have been shown to help many different kinds of students with many different kinds of intellectual tasks and problem-solving.
  • Think about how you want to handle controversial topics and respond to racist or otherwise inflammatory or insensitive comments (because if you ignore them, students often think faculty agree with or don’t care about them).
  • Implement strategies for mitigating stereotype threat (pdf).
  • Emphasize the importance of educated global citizens being able to consider different viewpoints – and follow through by gathering them (in class and in readings). Include at least 3 different perspectives so students don't see every issue as simply black and white.
  • When giving feedback, make it honest and constructive but also supportive (making clear you believe that students are capable).
  • Invite students to give (anonymous) feedback about whether they feel comfortable in your class.
  • Make accommodations for students with documented disabilities and understand faculty rights and responsibilities related to disability. Make clear that you want to be an ally in students' learning.
  • Think about the challenges non-native English speakers might have in your class.
  • Learn more about preferred behavior and teaching suggestions related to disability in (pp. 3-8 of) Elon’s Disabilities Guidebook (pdf).
  • Arrange your classroom so that it meets your pedagogical needs. For example, move chairs into a circle for discussion in which all voices are equal, into rows facing one another for debate, into rows facing front for presentations, and out of the way for a “taking a stand” exercise.
  • When giving feedback, convey that you evaluated work using high standards and that you believe an individual student can achieve those standards.
  • Arrange your classroom to maximize student learning. Make sure students (including those with and without disabilities) can see things on the board or screen and can hear presentations and audio and can hear one another in discussions.
  • Take time to think about the "cues" you might be sending to students from various groups.
  • Try to convey that you too are a lifelong learner who doesn't know everything about all groups of people but wants to become more informed about the history and culture of groups other than your own. Then follow up by doing so.

Things to avoid

  • Don’t assume individual African American students (or those from any other group) want to be asked to speak for a whole race or category of people.
  • Don’t make assumptions about any type of student – such as X are going to need extra help or Y are going to excel.
  • Don’t make jokes about groups of people. Don’t laugh or be silent when other people do.
  • Don’t call on men more than women or vice versa; don’t ignore or avoid particular people. (You can ask someone to observe your class to look for such trends.)
  • Don’t assume everyone in class is __________________ (fill in the blank). Some incorrect assumptions might be that all students own their own laptop or car, have parents who went to college, are Christian or have any type of faith, are heterosexual, subscribe to a particular political ideology, want to have children, etc.
  • Don’t assume everybody understands the same cultural references (yours) to television shows, music, etc.
  • Don’t be dismissive of student comments by interrupting, etc.; you may think you’re simply responding to a particular idea, but that may be interpreted differently by the person who has expressed that idea.
  • Don't use language that offends students.
  • Don't appear annoyed that you're forced to make accommodations for students with disabilities.

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