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Inclusive Teaching


An important step towards more inclusive teaching is to reflect on our own positionality and biases. Race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, abilities, background, and experiences impact the way that we interact with the world and the way that others (including students) perceive us. Examining our own privileges and biases can help us to be more inclusive educators and work more effectively towards social justice.

Here are some ways you might reflect on your positionality and biases:

Getting to Know Students

In the article, “How to Teach a Good First Day of Class,” James Lang remarks, “We do not teach brains on sticks. We teach human beings who are inspired by wonder, driven toward community, beset by fears and anxieties, and influenced in countless other ways by aspects of their lives beyond the purely cognitive.” Getting to know our students, and letting them get to know us, sets the stage for a more inclusive learning environment. 

We can get to know our students in a number of ways:

  • Learning and using students’ names and their preferred pronouns. In a face-to-face class, you can ask students to write their names and preferred pronouns on a table tent to help you (and the students) learn names quickly. If you are having students meet in a synchronous, online session (via Zoom, for instance), you can give students the option to update their name and include pronouns and/or name pronunciation (here’s how to update your name in a Zoom session).
  • Asking students to fill out a questionnaire before the first day of class. In the questionnaire, you might ask them about their prior experiences related to the course content, their goals for the course, and any concerns they would like you to know about.
  • Being aware of students' cultures and national identities. If you're working with international students, you can find more resources here.

In addition to getting to know the students in your courses, it is also helpful to understand the demographics and experiences of students in the institution at-large. Here are a few sources to consult:

  • The Anti-Racist Teaching Showcase panel, organized by the Digital Humanities Working Group in 2020, presents some of the pedagogical work being done by faculty, staff, and students on our campus that uses digital technologies to work toward racial justice, or that questions the racial justice and equity of digital media. Presenters are faculty, staff and students from across the disciplines who are engaging antiracist work in their digital teaching and research projects, including community-engaged research, mapping projects, digital exhibits, and video essays.

  • SCU conducted a campus climate study in 2018. You can read about the results of that study, as well as campus initiatives that resulted from the study, here.

  • The Office of Diversity and Inclusion has a diversity dashboard on their website which allows you to see statistics and trends related to the demographics of SCU’s students, faculty, and staff.

Structures and Expectations that Support Success for All Students

The structures and expectations we put into place can go a long way towards making the classroom environment more inclusive. For instance, clear expectations and policies in the course syllabus that are conveyed with a caring (rather than punitive) tone can set the stage for an inclusive class from day one. Assignments that have a clear purpose, task, and criteria help all students to navigate the assignment successfully, but these explicit expectations are even more beneficial for students from underrepresented groups (for instance, first-generation students). Finally, clear expectations for discussions and synchronous online sessions can support greater participation and the civil exchange of ideas.

Here are some strategies and resources that can help you create a structured and transparent course:

  • Syllabus design:  There are a number of tools you can use to ensure that your syllabus clearly lays out course expectations and conveys an inclusive teaching approach. The Inclusion by Design survey and the Syllabus Review Guide for Equity-Minded Practice include a number of questions you might ask yourself as you review your syllabi.
  • Assignment design:  You can create more equitable learning tasks for students with different levels of academic experience by making expectations and processes explicit. One way to do that is by using the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework to clarify the assignment’s purpose, task, and criteria. Research on the use of TILT suggests that it offers the greatest benefits for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students (Winkelmes et. al, 2016).
  • Class discussions:  Setting expectations or “ground rules” for discussions is always a good idea, but it’s particularly important when discussing contentious issues. Asking students to create these expectations with you can help to ensure that there is consensus around the expectations (see this handbook for more ideas about engaging students in difficult conversations). If heated moments do arise during the discussion, you can remind students of the expectations that were established and the importance of following them. For more information about handling “hot moments,” see this guide.
  • Synchronous online sessions:  Sometimes, awkward moments can arise in Zoom sessions because students don’t know what kind of meeting etiquette is expected (for instance, when they should put their microphones on mute). It’s never too late to clarify expectations, and often students can help to co-create these norms. This article has some great suggestions for other ways to make Zoom sessions more inclusive.

References and Additional Resources 

Dewsbury, B., & Brame, C.J. (2019). Inclusive teaching. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 18(2), 1-5.

Harbin, B., & Roberts, L.M. (n.d.) Teaching beyond the gender binary in the university classroom. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Nunn, L. (2018). 33 simple strategies for faculty: A week-by-week resource for teaching first-year and first-generation students. Rutgers University Press.

Sathy, V., & Hogan, K. A. (July 22, 2019). How to make your teaching more inclusive. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Winkelmes, M., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review, 18(1/2), 31-36.

Winkelmes, M., Boye, A., & Tapp, S. (Eds.). (2019). Transparent design in higher education teaching and leadership. Stylus Publishing.


Page author:
Dr. Rachel Stumpf, SCU Faculty Development Program Manager

Last updated:
Sep 19, 2022