Inclusive Pedagogy

As I was reading this week’s material on inclusive pedagogy, I started reflecting on my own experience as a student through the undergraduate level until today. As I was processing the ideas in Arao and Clemens [1] and in The Teaching Commons articles I found myself listing the most memorable classes where the classroom felt like it worked for everyone and that we learned the most. I also remembered some of the bad experiences where the professors did not set ground rules and did not promote an environment of mutual respect, unfortunately. However, in this post I focused on practices from the “memorable” classes.

Below I would like to share some of the strategies that I, as a student, felt were effective in fostering an inclusive environment that I would build on when I teach in the future:

Getting to know your students

I have always appreciated it when professors took the time early in the semester to learn more about us, their students. That could be achieved in different ways such as direct introductions with a fun fact or filling out a survey.

Getting to know your students can facilitate communication in the classroom, by learning about their backgrounds the professor can avoid certain things that could trigger some students such as microaggressions that the professor might not have known about before. It also helps the teacher stay mindful to foster an inclusive environment by avoiding stereotypical examples, jokes, or expectations, especially when you know your own biases (no one is perfect!).

Building a community in the classroom

This strategy builds on the previous one in the sense that in addition to getting to know your students you encourage and facilitate students getting to know each other. I think that creating group activities and discussions are an effective way. I often found that collaboration opens the door to increased inclusivity in the classroom and helped me as a student to develop skills for productive conversation. One idea in particular that I enjoyed was when the professor used to create a weekly discussion thread for students to describe their week in one sentence, it could be a high point, something they struggled with, or simply a meme. The level of engagement in that class created a sense of community between students.

Leading by example

One way to set the expectations and rules of conversation in the classroom is to have it mentioned in the syllabus and discussed early in the beginning of the semester. Additionally, another powerful way to help your classroom become more inclusive is to practice certain techniques while engaging in discussions with students which will be teaching them by example. These techniques can be as simple as paraphrasing, recapping what the other person just said before you proceed, focusing on the idea and not the person, use hypothetical questions and so forth.

In the end I hope that by doing this exercise I can leverage this knowledge to put myself on the right track to become an inclusive teacher who fosters a classroom that is a brave space for everyone to learn and be heard and respected.


[1] Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces. The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators, 135-150

15 thoughts on “Inclusive Pedagogy

  1. Sam,

    I like the direction you’re taking here. For me, classes can sometimes seem so impersonal. Often the instructor doesn’t seem like they want to be there, and frankly, the students probably want to be there even less. The strategies you share in your post, however, work to make learning feel more personal. You’re working to build community in your classroom, both between you and your students, and between the students themselves. I think this goes such a long way in making the learning environment feel positive, supportive, and productive. You emphasize community and mutual respect, two things that aren’t prioritized nearly enough in our classrooms. Nice job.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Logan! I think that building community in the classroom goes a long way even beyond the class itself, it is not emphasized enough in many classrooms, I agree.

  2. Sam,
    I really enjoyed your post. It shows three clear examples of how to make the classroom more inclusive using simple strategies. I also enjoy your way of thinking: by reflecting on past experiences as a student, we can improve our current and future teaching!

    1. Absolutely, having experienced those environments myself, I feel responsible and excited about providing the best learning environment I can for future students!

    2. I agree! Thanks for sharing your experiences with us Sam. You mentioned some very effective strategies and I think we could all benefit from using them in our classes. I especially liked the part about the discussion board activity. Checking in with folks each week to see how things are going: high points, low points, memes…I really liked tis idea and I’m going to hold onto it. You have probably already thought of this, but the idea to invite students to share a picture they took that week and to describe it/caption it with a sentence that shares why that image is important to them could be another variation on the activity. Anyway, your post listed lots of ways to build rapport, create community, and help folks get to know each other (especially important since we are primarily operating across a digital divide right now).

      1. Sara, thanks for taking the time to read my post, I am glad that you also found those strategies to be helpful! I like the picture idea as well, I think I am going to try to incorporate it in the near future for the class that I TA for. So far I found that both the professor and the students enjoyed and benefited from this discussion board activity.

  3. I have personal experience that how big of a difference it makes when the teacher tries to know the students. This can be as simple as remembering students’ names. For example, I was surprised that Dr. Leman from the stat department at VT remembered my name in a pretty big class only after one time of asking. Something as simple as this can reassure students that they are appreciated and accepted in the class.

    1. I totally agree, I have a similar experience (interestingly enough with a stat professor, haha) where the professor went out of his way to say hello at a coffee shop, it was a small act that had a big positive impact on me for the rest of that semester and beyond!

  4. Hi Sam,

    I enjoyed reading your post and thanks for sharing these strategies. I agree with you these techniques will be helpful for enhancing inclusion in a classroom. Since you mentioned the syllabus, there are many small things which a professor can do to create an inclusive pedagogy. For example, they can add a sentence “if anyone has in suggestions on how I as faculty can assist in improving your learning experience, please do not hesitate to contact me or send an email”. I think something like this means the professor is an open minded and being willing to take suggestions or make changes to ensure everyone is given equal and fair opportunity to succeed.

    Good luck!

    1. Hi Rania, thanks for stopping by!
      It is amazing how these actions can be fairly simple but still have a great impact on students and on the learning environment. Your mentioned a good example, I always appreciated professors who are open and respond fairly quickly to emails. Communication is key, as a future educator I want to always keep in mind that something that might appear simple to me could be stressful to students.

  5. Hey Sam,

    Thank you for sharing your reflection and what have you learned about inclusive pedagogy in this blog. I liked how clear it was listing those three strategies. As an architectural student, I can recall the first two strategies as part of learning environment style back in my undergrad, which we had this community aspect but as a whole class, and the professors made somehow of a connection with us therefore our learning experience in my undergrad was enjoyable and inclusive ( despite some certain classes) but what I want to say that once we took classes outside of our department ( where it has more no. of the student) we felt like outsiders and not enjoyable. as those two factors were lost in these classes. So I resonate with what you shared and I feel once you have those factors once it really hard to not have them elsewhere.

    1. Hi Kawthar. It seems like certain departments/classes focus more on group activities, it is understandable for architecture as an example. However, I think professors should make an effort to find ways to build a sense of community that works within the context of the subject of their class.

  6. I like that you pointed out the benefits of not only the professor getting to know their students but also the students getting to know each other in fostering an inclusive environment. It made me realize that my approach to this class’s questions and discussions about inclusivity was quite self-absorbed, where I was only thinking about what impact I could have. However, the students can have an even bigger impact on each other. They can also be a great motivational force to share their unique perspectives with their peers.

  7. Hello, Sam! I enjoyed reading your blog post this week and reflecting on my own experiences as an undergraduate here at Virginia Tech and now a public speaking teacher. I agree that getting to know your students is really important in establishing inclusive teaching strategies that hopefully connect and resonate with all students in a purposeful way. In public speaking, the students give a narrative speech at the beginning which often provides a great perspective on a memorable moment of their life. I always try and reference the students’ first speeches when coming up with impromptu speaking topics to help them speak about their life and further the community in the classroom! Lastly, I believe it is really important to learn your students’ names, as you NEVER know when you will bump into them. I recently saw a former professor from freshmen year at a coffee shop and he somehow remembered my name and it made my day. On another interesting note, I realized that a former student of mine is now my next door neighbor and he asked if I remembered his name! I think making the extra effort to get to know students can go a long way!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Andrew. I completely agree with you about learning students’ names, this little effort goes a long way. I also had a similar experience with a professor who still remembered me after the semester ended and said hi to me out in a coffee shop! I find this in addition to other strategies extremely important in today’s virtual classrooms especially for students who just joined the university during the pandemic, this group of students particularly can use some extra support to feel included and stay engaged.

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