What is inclusive teaching?
Inclusive teaching is a practice that may differ depending on the instructors, the subject, the activities, the students, and the environment that’s co-created. Therefore, there is no single correct definition of inclusive teaching. For example, inclusive teaching in a tenth grade environmental science class will look different from a large undergraduate mathematics course which will be different from a small graduate philosophy seminar.
In L&S, inclusive teaching is defined by our community of instructors and students. Consider the various attributes below, which come from the literature and from sources within and outside of UW-Madison.
“Inclusion describes a culture in which all learners feel welcome, valued, and safe, and it requires intentional and deliberate strategies.”
(Hogan & Sathy, 2022, p. 5)
“I think bringing students into the conversation to define what teaching inclusively means is the most important to me. To get that idea down into one attribute, I would choose the word flexibility or adaptability on the side of the instructor. In one semester, the way I teach from one class to another varies based on students’ responses in class + me asking them what works for them and what doesn’t. It may not be possible to teach an entire lesson in the way that one student might like, but through differentiating instruction and allowing students to be a part of the conversation, it can increase student motivation and increase the chances of engaging everyone in the room at some point in the lesson or unit.”
Parker Story, PhD student and Instructor, Department of French and Italian
“One attribute to teaching inclusively that is important to me is ensuring that I support all the students in my class by engaging with them in ways that make them feel welcome and fully engaged. It’s a win-win: inclusive teaching practices encourage buy-in from students, which benefits their learning.”
Melanie Buhr-Lawler, Clinical Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
“[I]nclusive teaching involves designing learning environments that are (a) equitable, where all students have the opportunity to reach their potential, and (b) welcoming, and foster a sense of belonging.”
(Addy et al., 2021, p. 4)
“L&S endeavors to make academic excellence inclusive by sustaining a community of free inquiry in which people of diverse race, ethnicity, cultures, veteran status, marital status, socio-economic level, national origin, religious belief, physical ability, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, class, political ideology and lifestyle participate in, contribute to and benefit equally from a liberal arts education based on the Wisconsin Idea — one in which we all contribute to advancing society.”
“Inclusive teaching should acknowledge that students come from different backgrounds and face unique challenges that are not immediately evident. So inclusive teaching involves getting to know students and trying to anticipate their needs.”
Luis Loya, PhD candidate in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication
What key terms are important?
Understanding inclusive teaching relies on understanding key terms as they are applied to higher education. Expand the sections below to view how several of these terms are defined by a variety of sources. Language and meaning are always evolving, so some of these key terms and the provided definitions may differ from what you have seen or heard before. Terminology will continue to change in the future and new terms will also emerge as others become outdated.
- Underrepresented, Minoritized, & Minority
- Accessibility & Accommodation
- Wisconsin Idea
- Wisconsin Experience
“Diversity is a source of strength, creativity, and innovation for UW–Madison. We value the contributions of each person and respect the profound ways their identity, culture, background, experience, status, abilities, and opinion enrich the university community. We commit ourselves to the pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, outreach, and diversity as inextricably linked goals. The University of Wisconsin–Madison fulfills its public mission by creating a welcoming and inclusive community for people from every background — people who as students, faculty, and staff serve Wisconsin and the world.” (Diversity, equity & inclusion)
“A diverse liberal arts community — reflected in the student body, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees and other stakeholders — promotes effective teaching, produces greater learning outcomes and provides students with the tools and skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly diverse workforce and pluralistic society in which differences are respected and appreciated. The College of Letters & Science is also committed to advancing and retaining students from underrepresented populations, nontraditional patterns of academic preparation, economically disadvantaged backgrounds and first generation status.” (L&S Diversity Statement)
“Diversity describes the ways students are similar and different from one another. A diverse population doesn’t mean the learning environment is automatically inclusive.” (Hogan & Sathy, 2022, p. 4)
“[H]ow learners differ from one another with regard to their social identities, demographics, perspectives, prior experiences, attitudes, knowledge, skills, and other attributes.” (Addy et al., 2021, p. 4)
“Diversity encompasses all the ways in which human beings differ. There are many types of diversity: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, age, marital status, education level, country of origin, parental status, religion, physical or cognitive abilities, and more. Diversity can also represent differences in lived experience. Valuing diversity means recognizing such differences, acknowledging that these differences compose an essential asset, and striving for diverse representation as a critical step toward equity.” (Inclusive communications guide)
“Equity-focused Teaching is a corrective tool that allows instructors to acknowledge and disrupt historical and contemporary patterns of educational disenfranchisement that often negatively impact marginalized and minoritized students. It recognizes that systemic inequities shape all students’ individual and group-based experiences of social identity and produce vastly different relationships of power in and outside of the classroom, which impact students’ learning and success. The corrective work of equity-focused teaching involves deliberately cultivating a learning environment where students:
- Have equal access to learning
- Feel valued and supported in their learning
- Experience parity in achieving positive course outcomes
- Share responsibility for the equitable engagement and treatment of all in the learning community.” (Equity-focused teaching)
“Equity is the goal we strive to reach, in which all learners start by having access to the same opportunities. But access is not enough. Equity requires naming and dismantling the systems, structures, and oppressive forces that act as barriers for some students more than others. When we work to remove barriers, more individuals can succeed. This is an ongoing process.” (Hogan & Sathy, 2022, p. 4-5)
“Equity acknowledges the differences between learners, their diversity, and the types of learning environments that help diverse students succeed.” (Addy et al., 2021, p. 4)
“Equity is achieving equal outcomes, not merely providing equal rights. Equal rights, without acknowledging unique circumstances and barriers and providing sufficient resources and opportunities, can still result in inequality. A more equitable future requires acknowledging the harm caused by our nation’s history of unequal access to power, education, income, housing, health care, intergenerational wealth, and other resources and confronting how it continues to affect outcomes today. A diverse, inclusive environment is more likely to lead to equitable outcomes than a homogeneous and hierarchical one.” (Inclusive communications guide)
“As Badgers, we are committed to creating an inclusive environment where every student feels a sense of belonging, and where we appreciate and celebrate one another’s abilities, views, and accomplishments.” (Student Affairs)
“Academic Belonging is about cultivating students’ sense of connection to and ability to see themselves in the discipline or profession, your course, or a community of scholars (including your class or campus.)” (Equity-focused teaching)
“A classroom is a community within many other levels of community (discipline, institution, higher education). Inclusion means helping all students feel part of the classroom community. Educators may take for granted the experiences and privileges they had as a student, making it difficult to know what others need to feel a sense of belonging and value.” (Hogan & Sathy, 2022, p. 146)
“Identities are qualities, beliefs, appearances, or any other attributes that make an individual student unique. From a psychological standpoint, personal identity reflects how a student sees themself.” (Addy et al., 2021, p. 76)
“To be genuine and authentic, representation is when a representative of a community reflects the shared power and inclusion experienced by that community on campus. If a community feels marginalized because they are not truly included in the campus community, then the representative is being tokenized.” (Inclusive communications guide)
“[W]e used to use the term underrepresented minority (URM) to include Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. We now use the word minoritized in place of URM. This terminology shifts away from characteristics that are socially constructed and recognizes systemic barriers and oppression that have characterized particular groups (Sotto-Santiago, 2019).” (Hogan & Sathy, 2022, p. xi)
UW-Madison reporting tools use the following terms:
“Minority: Domestic (not international) students who have identified a race/ethnicity other than solely White.” (Glossary of Terms)
“Underrepresented students of color include Black/African American, Native American, Hispanic/Latino/a, Southeast Asian (Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese & Hmong). Students of color include all underrepresented students of color as well as other Asians and Native Hawaiians. International students are not counted for students of color/underrepresented students of color.” (APIR 2022 Diversity Update)
“Accessibility is proactive and strives to remove barriers during the design stage of an event, program, or service. Accommodation is reactive and strives to remove barriers caused by inaccessible design. This ensures people with disabilities have the same access as people without disabilities. Being proactive when it comes to accessibility at UW-Madison is the right thing to do because it puts people first now, and in the future. We want to think of accessibility as a way of planning ahead to create an inclusive environment for all. The benefits of designing experiences with accessibility in mind include creating an inclusive learning and working environment, better retention, and cost and time savings. Inaccessible experiences exclude people, cause harm, and damages the university’s reputation.” (Accessibility@UW)
“The University of Wisconsin-Madison supports the right of all enrolled students to a full and equal educational opportunity. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Wisconsin State Statute (36.12), and UW-Madison policy (UW-855) require the university to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities to access and participate in its academic programs and educational services. Faculty and students share responsibility in the accommodation process. Students are expected to inform faculty of their need for instructional accommodations during the beginning of the semester, or as soon as possible after being approved for accommodations. Faculty will work either directly with the student or in coordination with the McBurney Center to provide reasonable instructional and course-related accommodations. Disability information, including instructional accommodations as part of a student’s educational record, is confidential and protected under FERPA. (See: McBurney Disability Resource Center)” (Guide syllabus statements)
“One of the longest and deepest traditions surrounding the University of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Idea signifies a general principle: that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom.” (Wisconsin Idea)
“I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every family of the state.” (UW President Charles Van Hise, 1905) *Van Hise is a complex historical figure known as a progressive conservationist and a supporter of eugenics.
“UW–Madison’s vision for the total student experience combines learning in and out of the classroom, with students engaging in four areas of intellectual and personal growth: Empathy & Humility, Relentless Curiosity, Intellectual Confidence, Purposeful Action.” (Wisconsin Experience)
Empathy & Humility: “Badgers bring heart—empathy and humility—to everything that we do. It’s the very lens of our worldview. We develop and demonstrate a cultural understanding of ourselves and others; we engage locally, nationally, and globally in a respectful and civil manner; and we appreciate and celebrate one another’s abilities, views, and accomplishments.”
Relentless Curiosity: “Badgers show relentless curiosity at every step of life’s journey. We question things that no one has ever thought to question. We actively learn with expert instructors, scholars, and peers; we engage in creative inquiry, scholarship, and research; we develop resilience; and we foster courage in life and learning.”
Intellectual Confidence: “Badgers fearlessly sift and winnow until we achieve intellectual confidence. At our core, we’re learners and teachers. We develop competence, depth, and expertise in a field of study; we integrate ideas and synthesize knowledge across multiple contexts; and we exercise critical thinking and effective communication.”
Purposeful Action: “Badgers strive to find greater meaning every day through purposeful action. We work for the common good—for something that’s bigger than ourselves. We apply knowledge and skills to solve problems; we engage in public service, partner with others, and contribute to the community; and we lead for positive change.”
Reflection helps us grasp new concepts, appreciate our personal values, and understand our professional context. The reflection questions below aim to guide individuals through active inquiry and response to help you integrate new ideas and formulate your own perspectives that will guide future action.
Review the questions below, or make a personal copy of the questions for your own reflective writing.
- Which attributes above resonate with you? Why?
- Which attributes don’t resonate with you? Why not?
- Are there any attributes that conflict with your discipline’s view of teaching?
- Are any key terms new to you?
- How do these ways of teaching compare with how you were taught?
We want to better understand how our L&S community defines inclusive teaching and learning. Consider what you have learned so far, your ideal inclusive classroom, the classes you lead, and the classes in which you participate.
What’s one attribute of teaching inclusively that’s important to you?
Use the button below to post an attribute and explore the contributions of others. Posts are anonymous and will be approved by a moderator before they become visible. Unpolished ideas and thinking via writing are welcome!
If your group hasn’t yet, please sign up so we can help facilitate your process. If you are participating in the Teaching Network with a group, your facilitator will choose and adapt one or more of the discussion guides below and provide you with any preparatory instructions.
Our discussion guides aim to help existing groups of instructors have productive conversations about inclusive teaching. Instead of trying to gather a group of disparate individuals together in a new space, we want to provide a catalyst for groups that already exist to have transformative exchanges about teaching and learning in their own familiar settings. We know that your group will have a unique combination of motivations, prior experience, and purpose for engaging in a discussion. Our discussion guides are intentionally flexible so that the discussions can meet the needs of each group.
- Audience: Facilitators, Participants
- Time Required: 60 minutes, plus preparation
- Materials Needed: Instructions for participants and prepared handouts (electronic or paper); facilitator note-keeping document
- Structure: Highly structured
When working to address a challenge or incorporate a new idea, we are often inclined to jump straight to solutions or implementations, which may be incomplete or lack nuance. A discussion of the facets of the issue at hand and the questions it raises can help us take a more productive approach, promoting more efficient and meaningful future changes. This discussion encourages participants to consider various perspectives on inclusive teaching, drawing attention to the complexity of defining this term. This discussion promotes questioning and expansive thinking. Rather than converging towards a single definition, this discussion aims to leave participants with multiple ideas to explore further.
- Audience: Facilitators, Participants
- Time Required: 60 minutes, plus preparation
- Materials Needed: Instructions for participants (electronic or paper); flipchart, whiteboard/chalkboard, or projection equipment; participant devices or projection equipment
- Structure: Structured
Concept formation is an inductive strategy that asks a group to identify attributes of a concept and apply them to one or more examples. Collaboratively identifying attributes can provide every member of a group agency in the process, ground your process in local experience, and expand thinking about a concept. Applying attributes can help a group make progress toward shared working definitions of a concept. Working definitions are particularly important for concepts that are complex, nuanced, and personal. This discussion guides participants through identifying and applying attributes of inclusive teaching using participants’ own experiences as well as video teaching vignettes.
How can you start to take action to be more inclusive in your teaching? Evolving your teaching practice takes time, patience, and intention. Each new semester provides an opportunity to make small changes toward your goals. Teaching more inclusively is no different, whether you are just getting started or building on what you are already doing well. Making a small change can have a big impact. Review the inclusive syllabus strategies below and pick one idea that you will try in a current or future course.
Inclusive Syllabus Tips
See tips for revising syllabus language and content, as well as ideas for actively using your syllabus, in our guide.
Compare two example syllabi – one that is attuned to the student experience, and another that is not – to get a sense of changes that make your syllabus more inclusive.
References & Further Reading
- Academic Planning and Institutional Research. (2022). UW-Madison Diversity Update: November 2022. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://diversityforum.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Diversity-Forum-2022-APIR-Diversity-Report.pdf
- Accessibility @ UW-Madison. (n.d.). Accessibility vs. Accommodation. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://accessible.wisc.edu/guides/accessibility-vs-accommodation/
- Addy, T. M., Dube, D., Mitchell, K. A., & SoRelle, M. E. (2021). What inclusive instructors do: Principles and practices for excellence in college teaching. Stylus Publishing. https://search.library.wisc.edu/catalog/9913486102502121
- Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement: University of Wisconsin-Madison. (n.d.). Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Retrieved December 27, 2022, from https://diversity.wisc.edu/
- Equity-focused Teaching: Principles, Strategies & Resources | CRLT. (n.d.). Retrieved December 27, 2022, from https://crlt.umich.edu/equity-focused-teaching/principles-strategies-resources
- Hogan, K. A., & Sathy, V. (2022). Inclusive teaching: Strategies for promoting equity in the college classroom. West Virginia University Press. https://search.library.wisc.edu/catalog/9913597472102121
- Guide | Syllabus Statements. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://guide.wisc.edu/courses/#SyllabusAccommodations
- L&S Diversity Statement | College of Letters & Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison. (n.d.). Retrieved December 27, 2022, from https://ls.wisc.edu/about/diversity-and-inclusion/statement
- Office of Data Management and Analytics Services. (n.d.). Glossary of Terms in Administrative Data and Reports. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://search.data.wisc.edu/glossary
- Student Affairs: University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2022). Create Your Wisconsin Experience. Retrieved December 27, 2022, from https://students.wisc.edu/
- University Communications: University of Wisconsin-Madison. (n.d.). Inclusive Communications Guide. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://uc.wisc.edu/inclusive-communications-guide/
- Wisconsin Experience: University of Wisconsin-Madison. (n.d.). It’s Your Wisconsin Experience. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://wisconsinexperience.wisc.edu/
- Wisconsin Idea | University of Wisconsin-Madison. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://www.wisc.edu/wisconsin-idea/