Creating An Inclusive Classroom

October 26, 2016

By Jessica Harris and Bryan Jack

During the 2015-2016 academic year various groups at SIUE took part in conversations around issues of diversity on our campus. At smaller meetings between students and senior level administrators, as well during campus-wide conferences sponsored by the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, members of our community expressed particular concern about ongoing challenges to inclusion in the classroom. Discomfort and fear students and faculty not having the language or tools to broach difficult subjects or interact with others across lines of difference emerged from these conversations as among the main barriers precluding our ability to cultivate the type of inclusive and welcoming environment desired.

"Even though some of us might wish to conceptualize our classrooms as culturally neutral or might choose to ignore the cultural dimensions, students cannot check their sociocultural identities at the door…”(Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman 2010, p. 169-170). As faculty, we are thus challenged to employ best practices and strategies in our classrooms that  reflect an understanding of social identity development so that we can anticipate the tensions that might occur  and be proactive about them, and explore organizational strategies and practices that promote meaningful social and academic interactions among students who differ in their experiences, views and backgrounds (Tienda, 2013).
Below are some strategies to consider in order to create a productive, positive and inclusive classroom climate for students:

1. Anticipate and Prepare for Potentially Sensitive Issues (Ambrose, et al., 2010, p. 185)

To prepare students to learn from “hot topic” discussions, carefully frame the topic by acknowledging the personal significance it could have for some students and communicate the expected tone of the discussion. Also give an explanation to why the topic is being discussed and set and communicate ground rules for discussion management.
Some examples of ground rules are:
- Listen actively and attentively.
- Ask for clarification if you are confused.
- Do not interrupt one another.
- Do not offer opinions without supporting evidence.
- Critique ideas, not people.

2. Address Tensions Early (Ambrose, et al., 2010, p. 185)

If you sense tension starting to build due to marginalizing comments or actions by you or others, quickly address the issue.  Depending on the situation, you might speak to the student after class to discuss the impact of the comment, explicitly address the tension, ask questions that encourage deeper participatory discussion of the issue or possibly apologize. You may want to also discuss intent versus impact.

3. Turn Discord and Tension into a Learning Opportunity (Ambrose, et al., 2010, p. 186)

Instead of shutting down a discussion because tension is rising, channel those emotions into constructive conversations. You may utilize role-playing so students understand a situation from a different perspective, implement a “time-out” so students can think about or write down their feelings and thoughts in order to be more constructive, or just explain how and why discomfort can be valuable to learning.

4. Facilitate Active Listening (Ambrose, et al., 2010, p. 186)

Build active listening skills by asking students to paraphrase another students’ comments and ask whether the paraphrasing was accurate or complete. You may also model this skill by doing the same.
For more strategies, please click the link below, then click “log in as a guest”:
Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M., Lovett, Marsha, Norman, M. (2010). Why Student Development and Course Climate Matter for Student Learning. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.
Tienda, M. (2013). Diversity ≠ Inclusion: Promoting Integration in Higher Education.
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