Make Your Classroom Inclusive from Day One

West Quad at Duke

The first days of class present a great opportunity to set the tone for your class, your interactions with students, and students’ interactions with each other. Many of the best practices for inclusive classrooms are common best practices for instructors on the first day of class, such as the following suggestions from Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching:

  • Introduce Yourself. What should students call you? What pronouns do you use? What is your educational background? What do you find compelling about your field? Why do you enjoy teaching? Would you like to share about your personal life, interests, and/or hobbies?
  • Let Students Introduce Themselves. Ask students to introduce themselves and see if you can come up with a way to work your subject matter into the introduction.
  • Provide a Course Overview. Why is this course important for students, and what will they learn from it? What are your goals for the course? What does this course cover?
  • Set Clear Course Expectations and Requirements. What does a student need to do to be successful in this course? What will students do in the classroom? What will they do outside of class? What are the students’ responsibilities? How will you evaluate their performance in the course?

For a specific example of how to welcome your students to class, please read Learning Innovation’s post about how Don Snow, a professor in Academic Writing, welcomed his first class at Duke Kunshan University.

An important element of creating an inclusive learning environment is to encourage a sense of belonging. Learning and using your students’ names and pronouns is a simple way to help students feel like they belong, as is seeking multiple answers or perspectives to questions you ask in class.

At Duke, incoming undergraduate classes are increasingly diverse, and Learning Innovation has a number of suggestions about how to teach so all of your students learn. And, in particular, Learning Innovation provides some specific guidelines for trans* inclusion in the classroom.

Communication Guidelines

To make your classroom more inclusive, you will need to set clear expectations for interaction, whether it’s your interaction with students or their interaction with each other. It’s helpful to include discussion guidelines in your syllabus and to review them with the class on the first day and periodically throughout the semester, perhaps even asking for student input. These guidelines could include the following (adapted from the University of Michigan’s discussion guideline examples):

  • Respect that others’ opinions and beliefs may differ from your own. If you disagree, you may critique the idea, but not the person.
  • Listen carefully, be courteous, and don’t interrupt.
  • Support your statements with evidence and a rationale.
  • Try to moderate how much you contribute to the discussion—if you have a lot to say, try to avoid dominating the conversation; if you’re reluctant to speak up, try to find an opportunity to share your perspective.

instructor smiling at desk near screen at front of the classAs far as instructor-student interaction, be sure to specify your role in class discussions: How will you guide discussion? And how do you expect students to contribute to the discussion? In addition, how should students communicate with you outside of class or if they have questions?

There are a number of other practices you can consider to make your classroom more inclusive. To learn more, check out the following online resources from the University of Michigan:

The Globally Inclusive Classroom

Finally, it’s worth considering how to make your class accessible to international students. While geared to online courses on its own platform, Coursera has a great video about creating globally inclusive learning environments.

Strategies for making your class more globally inclusive, as highlighted in the video, include:

  • Use examples that draw from a range of multicultural backgrounds.
  • Clarify or explain idioms, slang, and US-centric terminology and references.
  • Provide course material in various formats to assist students who aren’t native English speakers.

The Coursera video has a clever approach to putting you in an international student’s shoes, reminding us all that learning requires us to leave our comfort zone. As teachers, our job is to provide an environment that encourages growth while ensuring, as best we can, that all students feel included.