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Much of the work of creating an inclusive learning environment begins before the start of the class. This is when you set the tone for the course and build a space that is welcoming for all students.

A Few Guiding “Principles”

  • The playing field is not level, and it is our job to level it.
  • We have choices to make in design and interactions every day that provide opportunities for continual improvement.
  • Engagement and relationship are key for learning.
  • Work from an anti-deficit perspective that builds upon the knowledge and experiences students bring to the class.
  • Teaching to the margins improves learning for all.
  • Intelligence is not fixed. Develop a growth mindset.
  • We should assume all identities are in the room all of the time.
  • Transparency is essential.
  • Feedback at regular intervals impacts how successful we are.

Prior to the First Day of Class

1. Get to know your students, help them know you, and help them know each other.

  • Get the roster, and if possible, pictures, so you can begin to get to know your students ahead of the first class.
  • Give your students some information about yourself – Introduction video, welcome email or message before the first day.
  • Have students introduce themselves online or through “bio cards” for both large and small classes. Ask about their pronouns.
  • Learn and use student names. Make sure everyone learns the proper pronunciation.
  • Use office hours as an opportunity to get to know your students early in the semester, and for them to get to know you.

2.  Make sure the physical space is accessible and accommodates everyone.
3.  Consider how to keep costs down. Provide alternative ways to get readings and books that cost less, or see if your school has funds available. Also, you can put course materials on reserve in the library.
4.  Some students work – don’t assume everyone’s schedule is flexible.

Click on this Inclusive Environment Chart that lists some ideas for creating an inclusive climate. Included in the second column are some of the things that most of us do.  As you read through, check off in front of it the ones you already do. In the fourth column are ideas for how you might enhance what you already do by using more inclusive, student-centered language, and some new ideas that you might like to try.  As you read through this list, check off a few you might like to adopt or adapt.

The First Day of Class

  • Spend less time planning to review details on the first day, and more time creating a relationship – connection is key.
  • Greet students as they enter the class.
  • Facilitate an introductory exercise.
  • Set ground rules for conversation together.

Communication Norms/Ground Rules

Ground rules are a very important component of creating an inclusive climate. When possible, it helps to have students help generate them, but make sure everyone understands what is meant. You can always add some as well.

A Method for Helping Students Create Their Own Ground Rules:

  1. Ask students to think about the best group discussions they have been a part of, and reflect on what made these discussions so satisfying.
  2. Next, ask students to think about the worst group discussions in which they have participated and reflect on what made these discussions so unsatisfactory.
  3. For each of the positive characteristics identified, ask students to suggest three things the group could do to ensure that these characteristics are present.
  4. For each of the negative characteristics identified, ask students to suggest three things the group could do to ensure that these characteristics are not present.
  5. Use students’ suggestions to draft a set of ground rules to which you all agree, and distribute them in writing.
  6. Periodically, ask the class to reflect on whether the ground rules established at the beginning of the semester are working, and make adjustments as necessary.

(Adapted from Brookfield & Preskill, 2005)

Check out this online guide for generating ground rules.

This is a set of ground rules published in Women’s Studies Quarterly.

And these are some ground rules (PDF) we have gathered over time that we particularly like.


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