Summary of Principles of Inclusive Teaching and Learning
Here we present five principles of inclusive teaching and learning. These principles and the summaries below are adapted from Guide to Inclusive Teaching at Columbia. Full descriptions of each principle with additional concrete strategies can be accessed in the Guide.
The Guide also includes a comprehensive glossary of terms. The principles are explained further below, bolded terms are found in the Guide glossary.
Inclusive teaching asks us to create a classroom climate that supports learning for all students and accounts for the individual differences inherent in teaching and learning. This means attending to the intersectional (e.g. students with varied gender, racial, religious identities, with/without disabilities and how these identities intersect) identities of students and structuring the course and classroom activities in ways that recognize and value these differences.
Part of the responsibility for creating this inclusive classroom climate falls to us as educators in the design of the course and the facilitation of interactions in learning spaces, while students and educators share responsibility for engagement and learning.
Cultivating a classroom climate that fosters belonging for all students is not only an obligation for educators but supports better student learning. Feeling valued and respected as individuals increases participation and encourages students to meaningfully integrate and apply learning in ways relevant to the individual goals.
These are a few strategies to establish and support a class climate that fosters belonging. Many more strategies are available in the Guide to Inclusive Teaching at Columbia or by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org:
- Invite each student to fill out an index card or online survey with their name, their pronouns (see Trans Inclusion Resource), their reasons for taking the course and their academic/persona interests.
- Invite all students to include a phonetic spelling of their name to help you pronounce them correctly.
- Use icebreakers to support students in learning about one another; foster collegiality by encouraging small group work.
- Do not expect individuals to speak for the experience of an entire group with which they identify.
- Address challenging moments directly and immediately; encourage a focus on the issues rather than individuals (e.g. “We notice in the assigned reading…”).
- Encourage students to reach out to you or the TA with questions or concerns about how the course is running and their experience in the classroom.
- At the midpoint of the semester, solicit anonymous feedback on the course, the classroom climate and your teaching. Let students know what you can and cannot change as a consequence of their feedback. The MacPherson Institute can facilitate this feedback session, or you can do it yourself.
- Review McMaster’s Trans Inclusion Resource for strategies specific to the inclusion of trans students.
Having clear goals, or learning outcomes, for your course ensures that all students are clear on the expectations for success, motivates learning and focuses student effort on the learning that matters most. In designing your course, carefully consider what you want students to know, do or care about by the end of the course, then design your assessments to measure this learning. Be as explicit as possible about assignment expectations: share rubrics, provide timely feedback and offer guidelines on approximate time to dedicate to an assignment. Clearly establish expectations for classroom engagement for everyone in the class, including you as the educator.
Being explicit about course goals and assignments helps students of all backgrounds focus on the essential learning of the course. This principle is tightly connected with Principle 1, as setting explicit expectations can not only prevent misinterpretation, it communicates your care for how students are learning, not just what they are learning.
- Explain assessment criteria and provide a rubric. Invite students to apply the rubric to their own work prior to submitting it.
- Develop a group agreement with your students about the expectations for engagement in the class, classroom behaviour and classroom culture; add to this agreement as the course progresses, as needed. Let students know how to connect with you if they feel the group agreement is not being followed.
- Provide examples of exemplary work.
- Review the Undergraduate Course Management Policy to ensure all policy statements are included in your syllabus.
Regardless of the subject we teach, the content in our courses contributes to creating an inclusive teaching and learning environment. Inclusive course content matters in all subjects and disciplines and means offering multiple perspectives or being explicit about the perspectives presented (e.g. noting when only dominant perspectives are included).
Beyond assigned readings or lecture material, course content includes assignments and classroom interactions. Ensure case studies, project topics, and in-class examples offer multiple perspectives, or where single perspectives are unavoidable, be intentional and explicit.
What we chose to include in the course content implicitly describes what matters and what is valued in the discipline. While it may not be possible to alter the content of your course, being explicit with students about why and how you chose the course content can demonstrate a wider context and encourage inclusivity.
- Select content that engages a diversity of ideas and perspectives.
- Select content by authors of diverse backgrounds.
- Use examples in class that draw from a range of identities and backgrounds.
- Be mindful of the cultural, literary and historical references you use as not all students will recognize or connect with these examples. See our section Canadian Context for more detail.
A Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach encourages educators to provide “multiple means” of representing course content (e.g. slides, lectures, audio recording), engaging in course activities and relationships, and expressing learning. For example, making course content available online assists not only students who may have difficulty getting to class, but can help students who find it useful to revisit materials. UDL is a way of intentionally designing courses and learning experiences with flexibility and accessibility. Instructors can proactively work to facilitate the removal of barriers so that all students can learn what they need and want to learn. Making a course more accessible does not mean that it will be less rigorous or will compromise academic integrity; it means eliminating biases about what valued participation, expression of knowledge, or ‘mastery’ of course content looks like.
Enhancing the accessibility of a course benefits all students because rather than assuming students learn best in particular ways or have the same pre-existing knowledge or abilities, we intentionally teach with diversity of all kinds in mind. Provincial legislation also requires that we ensure the accessibility of post-secondary education.
These are a few strategies to design course elements for accessibility. Many more strategies are available in Forward with FLEXibility: A Teaching and Learning Resource on Accessibility and Inclusion (Flex Forward), a McMaster specific resource and the Guide to Inclusive Teaching at Columbia or by reaching out to email@example.com:
- Consider the physical, cognitive, linguistic, or social barriers that students might experience with course content, activities, assignments, and interactions and how they might be mediated or addressed.
- Provide multiple and alternative formats for course content (e.g. play videos with captions on; provide written notes in addition to oral information; choose a textbook with a screen-reader compatible e-version).
- Offer students some choice and flexibility with assignment topic and/or format (e.g. presentation or essay; individual or group engagement).
- Incorporate intentional scaffolding or opportunities for feedback within the course to address differentiated pre-existing knowledge, break-down ideas into smaller parts, and to make learning processes more transparent (e.g. providing background context; articulating the steps of assignment completion; creating a glossary of course terms).
- Review McMaster’s Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities policy to understand your responsibilities as an instructor. Ensure that students with disabilities are aware of their rights to accommodations by including the required
“Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities” statement in your syllabus and highlighting the Student Accessibility Services website.
- Consider creating an “accessibility statement” for your syllabus and course as well, to reflect efforts to make learning more inclusive and accessible for all students.
It is important for us as instructors to consider how our identities and beliefs about teaching and learning shape our practice. We can develop unintentional approaches to teaching over the course of our practice: we may rely on teaching strategies or habits that are traditional for our discipline or pull from our own preferences to learning. We may also hold implicit biases (e.g. stereotypes we hold that influence our actions in unconscious or involuntary ways) about learners who appear similar or dissimilar to us, as well as those who we identify as privileged or marginalized in our classrooms.
Despite our best intentions to promote inclusivity, our implicit biases may prevent us from understanding the true needs and experiences of our learners. Reflecting on our perspective and personal beliefs will allow us to reveal any biases we may hold about our learners and challenge our assumptions about teaching and learning.
These are a few strategies to reflect on your beliefs and increase your commitment to inclusive teaching. Many more strategies are available in the Guide to Inclusive Teaching at Columbia or by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org:
- Reflect on your understanding of yourself and your personal values. How these might impact or influence your beliefs or assumptions about learners?
- Consider implicit and explicit biases that may influence your teaching practice and encourage others to do the same.
- Challenge stereotypes that are perpetuated in course content, teaching practices, and classrooms more broadly. Use incidences of stereotyping as teachable moments.
- Consider how you structure your classroom and teaching activities. Plan activities that encourage participation by all students in the learning environment.