Inclusive teaching refers to the range of approaches and strategies to teaching that address the diverse needs, backgrounds, and learning modalities and abilities of all students to create an overall inclusive learning environment where all students feel equally valued and where all students have equal access and opportunity to learn. Students are more motivated to take control of their learning in classroom climates that recognize them, draw relevant connections to their lives, and respond to their unique concerns (Ambrose et. al, 2010). To develop this complex climate, instructors must practice a mixture of intrapersonal and interpersonal awareness, regular curriculum review, and knowledge of inclusive practices (Salazar et. al, 2009). The learning environment we create has been directly correlated with learning outcomes: specifically, a student’s sense of belonging predicts motivation, engagement and achievement (Zumbrunn et al. 2014).

How might cultural assumptions influence interaction with students?

“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, nor can they instantly transcend their current level of development… Therefore, it is important that the pedagogical strategies we employ in the classroom reflect an understanding of social identity development so that we can anticipate the tensions that might occur in the classroom and be proactive about them” (Ambrose et al. 2010, p. 169-170).

Instructors can consider a variety of examples and strategies for mastering inclusive teaching pedagogy. Inclusive teaching begins by considering a variety of concerns:

Why do some types of students seem to participate more frequently and learn more easily than others?
How might cultural assumptions influence interaction with students?
How might student identities, ideologies, and backgrounds influence their level of engagement?
How might course and teaching redesign encourage full participation and provide accessibility to all types of students?

The benefits of inclusive teaching include:

  • Instructors can connect and engage with a variety of students.
  • Instructors develop supportive relationships with students
  • Instructors are prepared for “hot moments” that may arise when controversial material is discussed.
  • Instructors can decrease the potential for incivility and unproductive conflict
  • Students connect with course materials that are relevant to them.
  • Student participation and engagement increases
  • Students feel comfortable in the classroom environment to voice their ideas/questions.
  • Students are more likely to be successful through activities that support their learning modalities, abilities, and backgrounds.
  • Students are more likely to take intellectual risks, persist with difficult material and retain learning across contexts

Here are recommendations for how to implement inclusive teaching strategies in the classroom (Source: Yale Center for Teaching and Learning).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. It is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that helps give all students an equal opportunity to succeed. While the word “universal” may make it seem like this is about finding one way to teach all learners, UDL takes the exact opposite approach. UDL uses a variety of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning and give all learners equal opportunities to succeed. It’s about building in flexibility that can be adjusted for every student’s strengths and needs. Instructors can use principles of UDL as strategies for inclusive teaching (Chickering & Gamson, 1999) by employing the following:


  1. Creating a welcoming, respectful learning environment;
  2. Communicating clear and high expectations to students;
  3. Providing regular constructive feedback;
  4. Providing support for learning to enhance opportunities for all learners;
  5. Considering diverse learning preferences, abilities, and prior experience and knowledge;
  6. Offering multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge and mastery of the material; and
  7. Promoting respectful interaction among students and between you and the students

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Culturally-responsive pedagogy is about making changes to the classroom to provide each student with what they need to be successful. The course activities, assessments, assignments and even content used can help promote students’ sense of belonging and self-efficacy (Alfasi, 2003). Inclusion comes from building relationships with students and knowing who they are. An inclusive pedagogy is one that is relevant to the lives and aspirations of students. It requires that instructors employ equity-minded and culturally-affirming teaching practices (Harris and Wood, 2020) including:


  1. Being proactive, reaching out to students and positively reinforcing them with cues of belonging;
  2. Being relational, humanizing oneself to build trust and mutual respect;
  3. Being culturally relevant and affirming by selecting literature and materials that are race and gender inclusive;
  4. Being community focused by modeling the engagement expected from students; and
  5. Being race-conscious and not ignoring race or conversations about it in and out of the classroom.


Alfasi, M. (2003). Promoting the will and skill of students at academic risk: An evaluation of an instructional design geared to foster achievement, self-efficacy and motivation. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 30(1), 28–40.

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M. & Lovett, M.C. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1999). Development and adaptations of the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. New directions for teaching and learning, 1999(80), 75-81.

Harris III, F., & Wood, L. (2020, March 26). Employing equity-minded and culturally-affirming teaching practices in virtual learning communities [Webinar]. In CORA Learning Webinar Series. Retrieved from

Salazar, M., Norton, A., & Tuitt, F. (2009). Weaving promising practices for inclusive excellence into the higher education classroom. In L.B. Nilson and J.E. Miller (Eds.) To improve the academy. (pp. 208-226). Jossey-Bass.

Zumbrunn, S., McKim, C., Buhs, E., & Hawley, L. R. (2014). Support, belonging, motivation, and engagement in the college classroom: a mixed method study. Instructional Science, 42(5), 661-684.