What animals can teach us about inclusive pedagogy

Wildlife & inclusive pedagogy. How do these words correlate? For some, the relationship may be unclear. But for someone like me who studies animals, the animal kingdom can teach us (humans) a thing or two about inclusive pedagogy. But first, what is inclusive pedagogy? According to Georgetown University “Inclusive pedagogy is a method of teaching in which instructors and classmates work together to create a supportive environment that gives each student equal access to learning. In these courses, the content takes into account the range of perspectives in the class, and is delivered in a way that strives to overcome barriers to access that students might have. Inclusive classrooms work to ensure that both teacher and student participation promote thoughtfulness and mutual respect” (https://commons.georgetown.edu/teaching/design/inclusive-pedagogy/). In other words, inclusive pedagogy is simply making sure that students with different backgrounds, learning styles, perspectives, and experiences all receive an education that works for them (i.e., there is no “one size fits all” in education).

Image result for pig and tiger

While animals most likely do not consciously think about inclusive pedagogy or teaching in general, some animals raise and teach not only their own young but the young of others as well. These animals are inclusive. It does not matter to them that some of their pupils/babies/friends/choose whatever word you want, look different, sound different, smell different, act differently, etc. All that matters is that these animals are put in the care-for and teaching role – and they embrace it. Stories about an animal of one species befriending, taking care of, and “teaching” an animal of a different species are relatively commonplace. Of course there are stories that are twisted and misconstrued to pull at heart-strings (e.g., the lioness and the antelope), so it is important to take this all with a grain of salt, but countless examples of true mutual relationships between species exist. For example, there is the dog who is best friends with a duckling and helps teach the duckling to swim and the cat that adopts a baby squirrel that fell out of a tree and teaches the baby squirrel to purr (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Gr5P-36w1Q). I know – my point here may be a bit of a stretch, but I kept thinking about this all weekend and so had to get some of these thoughts out!

Image result for dog and duckling

Now, I realize many will argue that these examples of animals taking care of other animals is not teaching and is driven solely by some maternal or paternal instinct. And part of me agrees with that. But, another part of me has observed animals enough to know that they have empathy and compassion towards others and that they communicate in ways that are often too subtle for us to notice. I have watched my dogs teach my puppy how to do certain things (same species example, I know). However, it really doesn’t matter why animals will raise and teach other animals. It only matters that they do (and that it is really cute!)

14 Replies to “What animals can teach us about inclusive pedagogy”

  1. I really enjoyed your post! I think you pointed out a very cute fact about animals and how they are open to befriend other species. As you mentioned, some behavior in animals could not exactly be considered as teaching and are more instinctively driven, but still the fact that they accept other species as their own and behave them the same way is very cute and instructive!

  2. Thanks for the thoughts. While I was reading your post, I was trying to identify the connection between animals that do care for other species and humans that do care about other humans who may be different than them (and the other way around: the connection between animals that DON’T care for other species and humans who don’t care about other humans). I have to be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I am no psychologist, sociologist, etc. Just a person. But it seems like having respect for others (including a respect for differences) is a start.

  3. What an interesting perspective! I think you may be right about empathy being the critical commonality here. The ability to appreciate difference and see things from another person’s (or creature’s) perspective while recognizing a shared experience seems to be essential in both contexts.

  4. Erin, just WOW! This is an excellent post due to your use of animals to show inclusive behavior. It really got your point across and in a pleasing and joyful manner. This post itself is a source of knowledge on inclusive pedagogy and new ways to educate in general. Thank you for this and keep it going. Great Job!

  5. Thanks for the post! I really enjoyed reading it! And I really appreciated your last paragraph where you talked about empathy and subtleties in interactions. I think those subtle interactions are so important to consider.

  6. Beautiful! In Dr. Edward’s class (engineering ethics and public) we watched a video in which a dog (I think ) was helping an injured dog in a highway, it was incredible and of course sad. We also watched videos of ignorance of humans situations that others are in need for help. Indeed there is a lesson…

  7. Good evening Erin,

    I LOVE YOUR POST!!! You are definitely correct in that it might be a “paternal” reason as to why some animals would adopt another from a different species, but, that points out the cold hard fact some humans are missing this element. How terrifying is that? The thought of how war has segregated and maimed our hearts/brains to discourage cross association and inter-connectivity with a different culture is sad. I want to adopt both the cat and squirrel! LOL! 🙂


    Cheers, Lehi

  8. Nice blog, Erin!
    I always enjoy reading your blog since you are thinking out of the box and bring some examples from everyday life to explain the concept. I understand that it may not be directly related to teaching but as soon as the human learns this empathy to others like what animals do and they can incorporate this concept in their teaching, but as always we first should take the first step.

  9. Great post! I really enjoyed reading and looking at all the cute pictures. I completely agree with the points brought up in this post… we can learn lessons specially about empathy from animals.

  10. Interesting points. I think animals teach us so much about the world that we ourselves could not see or understand. I know when I was younger animals taught me remorse, love, kindness, anger, and the ability to supress and express these feelings. Granted I grew up around dogs who had puppies and the attachment was real. But if we think about love and kindness in terms of individuals especially in the classroom, I think it will open up a dialouge between students and teachers alike. I am furever (see what I did there) grateful to my former pets, current pets, and my parents for allowing me to have pets. Of course there was sadness and uncomfortable situations I had to deal with but they helped me grow as a person, and they helped me become confident in expressing my thoughts and feelings in a productive manner. Again, very interesting points.

  11. Good analogy…everyone loves a cute dog/duckling matchup. Like you said, we can learn from animals in this way. Animals from different species can’t communicate with each other, so what are their implicit biases then? Do they have any, other than knowing what is predator and what is prey?

    On the other hand, I work with cows. While most cows will accept and nurture their own young, some will reject and even try to kill their own calf right after it is born. Gruesome. So, I’m not sure what the analogy is there. Nature is complicated.

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