Welcome to McMaster’s Inclusive Teaching and Learning resource. Here we introduce five broad principles for inclusive teaching and provide concrete examples of how to put these principles into practice.
This resource page was developed in partnership with the MacPherson Institute, the Equity and Inclusion Office, in line with the McMaster Equity, Inclusivity and Diversity Strategy, the McMaster Accessibility Council and staff, students and faculty. We acknowledge and appreciate the work of Columbia University in their Inclusive Teaching Guide which we reference and recommend throughout this resource.
While this resource page will provide some information with respect to inclusive teaching and learning consideration in relation to Indigenous education perspectives and learners, as well as Indigenous academic supports, please see the Indigenous Student Services website for more information about Indigenous programming, services, and supports at McMaster.
Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion, Arig al Shaibah, introduces the Equity and Inclusion office and the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Resource.
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.
While the five principles for inclusive education expanded in Columbia University’s guidebook are highly relevant to our Canadian context, there are several policy, legislative, and historical distinctions in our national and provincial context that have a bearing on our teaching practice to enhance equity and inclusion.
- Calls to Action to Further Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous communities
- Legislative Requirements and University Policy: Human Rights, Accessibility, and Freedom from Discrimination and Harassment
- Freedom of Expression, Protest and Dissent
We elaborate these below and their specific teaching implications.
In 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada was established to document the history and lasting impacts of residential schools on Indigenous children and their families. In 2015, the TRC announced 94 Calls to Action aimed at redressing the legacy of residential schools and promoting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Calls to Action specific to education include: (1) addressing the educational and employment gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, (2) eliminating the ongoing discrepancy in funding Indigenous education, and (3) educating for reconciliation.
In June of 2015, Universities Canada articulated a statement of Principles on Indigenous Education, encouraging universities to enact education-related recommendations emergent from the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2012/2015) and aligned with UNDRIP principles.
In its nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, the Government of Canada has also, in the last decade, renewed its commitment to recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership, “rooted in the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)”.
The University has committed to initiatives to facilitate reconciliation through education, improved academic programming, increased access to equitable learning, and Indigenous research support; these initiatives are occurring across the institution.
In 2016, McMaster released an official Land Acknowledgement to acknowledge and recognize Indigenous peoples’ long standing connections with the traditional territories on which the institution resides: McMaster University recognizes and acknowledges that it is located on the traditional territories of the Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations, and within the lands protected by the Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement. The Land Acknowledgement emphasizes that non-Indigenous settlers are guests on this territory. This Land Acknowledgement does not make up for Canada’s colonial history; rather, it is intended as a step towards truth and reconciliation.
The University aims to advance Indigenous programming by engaging Indigenous communities and educating students about Indigenous knowledges and histories.
McMaster’s Indigenous Studies Program (ISP), founded in 1992, recently moved to its new location in L.R. Wilson Hall. This new space includes community learning environments like the Ceremonial Room, Elders Room, Teaching Kitchen, and the student library which features hundreds of books on Indigenous Knowledge. In the early 2000’s, McMaster also established the Indigenous Student Health Services Office (ISHS) dedicated to providing services and supports for the academic success and wellbeing of all First Nations, Inuit and Métis students in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster.
In 2015, McMaster expanded its Indigenous curriculum by launching a Four-Year Honours Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Indigenous Studies; collaborative courses with other programs have been established to introduce indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing across disciplines. Recently, the Arts and Science Program and School of Social Work implemented three mandatory courses in Indigenous studies as part of their curricula, and conversations about required Indigenous coursework for all students are ongoing between community members and senior administrators.
In 2016, the University unveiled The Indigenous Circle to acknowledge the importance of Indigenous knowledge for McMaster and its community; this outdoor space is used for classes, ceremonies, and performances. Also in 2016, the University inducted a Director of Indigenous Student Services (ISS) to facilitate enhanced guidance and support for Indigenous students at McMaster. Admissions and financial awards specific to students who self-identify as Indigenous have been established to support Indigenous learners.
McMaster University recognizes the right of Indigenous peoples to engage in their cultural and spiritual ceremonies on campus. Smudging is one such ceremony; the Smudging Protocol serves to provide information and guidance to the McMaster community in order that Indigenous-identified individuals and groups are affirmed and supported when they engage in their cultural and spiritual practices, including Smudging. See the Smudging Protocol and the Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observance (RISO) policy for more information.
What this means for educators:
- Educators are encouraged to review the TRC Calls to Action, especially those that relate to education, as well as Universities Canada Principles on Indigenous Education. We hold individual and collective responsibility for contributing to truth and reconciliation efforts in our teaching practice.
- In the Guidebook, Principle 3 includes examples that can prompt us to consider how to integrate attention to Indigenous histories and knowledge in our courses.
- Review McMaster’s Indigenous Education Primer
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), places a legal obligation on organizations to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to accessibility governance and training, goods and services, facilities, information and communication, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025. The implementation of the requirements of the AODA is staggered and integrative with almost all of the requirements occurring before the 2025 goal. As set out in the Policy on Accessibility, the University is committed to accessibility as expressed in AODA. Please visit the AODA section on McMaster’s Accessibility Hub for more information about legislative roles and responsibilities. You can refer to McMaster’s Accessibility Policy for more information.
The same rights and obligations as set out in the Human Rights Code, as well as a prohibition against general harassment, are set out in the University Policy on Discrimination and Harassment: Prevention and Response, while the Sexual Violence Policy includes prohibitions against sexual harassment as well as acts targeting gender identity and gender expression. The Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities outlines accommodations procedures in line with AODA. The Academic Accommodations for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances aligns with provisions in the Human Rights Code. In addition, the Undergraduate Course Management Policy outlines what policy statements must be included in undergraduate course outlines.
What this means for educators:
- Educators at McMaster are responsible for familiarizing themselves with and following McMaster policies on accommodation and prevention/response to discrimination and sexual violence.
- Enacting the five inclusive education principles is an important step for proactively facilitating accessibility for students so that we support the provincial goal of achieving accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.
- Applying these principles will also contribute to creating equitable and inclusive educational environments and learning experiences, goals established in the university’s Equity Diversity and Inclusivity Strategy.
- Educators are strongly encouraged to take Flex Forward training offered through McMaster to further enhance their support for accessibility in their teaching and to contact the Equity and Inclusion Office for addition training related to inclusivity.
As an institution of higher learning, McMaster University is committed to upholding fundamental Charter Rights including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all its members. This includes the rights and freedoms of members of our community to exchange ideas, question and challenge received wisdom, engage in respectful and informed debate, discuss even the most potentially controversial issues, and engage in peaceful protest and dissent. In exercising these freedoms, all members of the University community are, however, required to respect the freedoms and human rights of others and are expected to engage with one another in a spirit of mutual respect, understanding, and regard for human dignity.
With respect to their pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, University faculty (along with those who are invited to participate in academic fora at McMaster) enjoy the additional protections of academic freedom to pursue multiple avenues of inquiry; to teach and to learn unhindered by non-academic constraints; and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion, even when unpopular or even abhorrent.
These freedoms are not incompatible with some administrative decisions being exercised where circumstances warrant, nor would they necessarily preclude all claims that a student was discriminated against in the provision of educational services by the University or its Faculty. These freedoms may also be limited by statute and common law on grounds ranging from defamation law to criminal prohibitions against hate speech.
What this means for educators:
- Educators are responsible for teaching in a way that respects the rights and freedoms of all students in accordance with relevant university policies and legislation, and that facilitates mutual respect, understanding, and regard for human dignity among students.
- Controversial topics may arise in the classroom in a planned or unplanned way. Drawing on the principles of inclusive teaching and learning, and teaching strategies developed through training offered by the MacPherson Institute and/or the Equity and Inclusion Office, can enable you to more skillfully facilitate difficult discussion, debate and dialogue to more effectively navigate such challenging topics.
- Indigenous Student Services
Located in L.R. Wilson Hall, Indigenous Student Services offers First Nations, Inuit, and Metis students at McMaster with services and resources like a student counselor, writing skills workshops, a student library featuring Indigenous works, a student lounge, a research librarian, Soup Days, and the Indigenous Student Wellness website.
- Equity & Inclusion Office (EIO)
The Equity & Inclusion Office (EIO) aims to advance equity and inclusion across campus through two programs: the Human Rights and Dispute Resolution Program (HRDRP) offers confidential advice, guidance, and consultation on issues related to human rights to students, staff, and faculty; and the Education, Outreach, and Support (EOS) program engages the McMaster community through educational workshops and special events.
- Undergraduate Course Management Policy
The Undergraduate Course Management Policy summarizes instructors’ responsibilities and outlines regulations for managing undergraduate courses including course outlines, due date restrictions, maximum value of academic assessments, early feedback, returning grades and assignments, academic dishonesty, and student accommodations.
- FLEX Forward Accessible Education training
Focus on Learning and Eliminating Exclusion (FLEX) Forward Training is an accessibility and inclusive teaching and learning resource covering topics such as understandings of disability, principles for accessible education, course design, student engagement, and assessment and evaluation.
- Policy on Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities
The Policy on Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities outlines the roles and responsibilities of students, instructors, and administrative staff regarding academic accommodations for students with disabilities.
- Land Acknowledgement Guide
McMaster’s Land Acknowledgment is an act of reconciliation that aims to recognize and show respect to Indigenous peoples and their enduring connection with their traditional territories and its histories. This Land Acknowledgment Guide introduces land acknowledgements and their purpose, and outlines McMaster’s official statement.
- Smudging Protocol
The Smudging Protocol introduces the practice of Smudging, identifies permanent on-campus Smudging sites, and describes McMaster’s commitment to recognizing and affirming spiritual relationships with Indigenous cultures and Traditional and Sacred Medicines.
- Smudging Protocol
- Policy on Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances (RISO)
The Policy on Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances (RISO) outlines the processes and responsibilities of students, faculty, and administration in requesting and providing academic accommodations for observances.
- Policy on Discrimination and Harassment: Prevention and Response
The Policy of Discrimination and Harassment: Prevention and Response describes McMaster’s commitment to preventing and addressing discrimination and harassment, and outlines the options, policies, supports, and services available to affected members of McMaster’s community.
- Sexual Violence Policy
The Sexual Violence Policy communicates McMaster’s commitment to preventing and addressing sexual violence and outlines the options, policies, supports, and services available to affected members of McMaster’s community.
- Accessibility Hub
The Accessibility Hub provides resources, events, training and support related to accessibility at McMaster.
- Indigenous Students Health Science Office
The Indigenous Students Health Sciences (ISHS) office is solely dedicated to providing services and supports for the academic success and wellbeing of all First Nations, Inuit and Métis students in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster. Examples of our programming include Elders in residence, mentorship, graduate/professional development, student leadership, and community collaborations. ISHS also engages with broader Indigenous communities and knowledge shares with non-Indigenous students, staff, faculty, and departments interested in Indigenous health.
- Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia (CTL)
This Guide provides instructors with an overview of five evidence-based principles for inclusive teaching; practical, accessible, and flexible teaching strategies; and further resources to inform inclusive teaching and learning approaches.
- Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
In 2015, Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Commission of Canada announced 94 Calls to Action aimed at redressing the legacy of residential schools and promoting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. This resource provides a comprehensive list of all 94 Calls to Action including those that apply to educational systems and educators.
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is purposed to develop, implement, and enforce accessibility standards for goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures, and premises in Ontario on or before January 1, 2025. This document provides an overview of the Act, what is included, and where to look in the Act for information on specific topics.
- Ontario Human Rights Commission: The Human Rights Code
The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits actions that discriminate against people based on fourteen protected grounds (egs. age, race, gender identity) in five protected social areas (ie. accommodation; contracts; employment; goods, services, and facilities; membership in unions, trade, or professional associations). This resource outlines the protected groups and social areas and provides a guide to individual rights and responsibilities under the Code.
- Equity, Diversity and Inclusion-Minded Practices in Virtual Learning Communities
This document was originally developed for Innovation from the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) within the COVID-19 context of ‘emergency remote teaching’, but may serve as a helpful guide for all virtual environments, including research settings. The principles, strategies, and practices outlined in this document are intended to support teachers in the classroom but also faculty working as research supervisors and mentors.