Cultivating an inclusive classroom environment

This tipsheet is the first of a series designed to provide simple, generally applicable, tips on specific topics to enhance the inclusiveness of your courses. If you would like help implementing any of these ideas in your own course, please contact an instructional designer for your college.

Examine Your Syllabus

  • Use a welcoming and inclusive tone rather than jargony contract lingo.
  • Avoid using colloquialisms and define any terms/phrases that may be culturally specific. Often, the language that we think of as simple is completely unfamiliar to those new to our disciplines.
  • Ensure that your syllabus is fully accessible so that it can be read easily by a screen reader.
    • If your syllabus is a PDF, make sure the text is selectable.
    • Avoid using a table to organize your grade scale.
    • For more information, see this CTT Accessibility Checklist.
  • Tell students where to go for help, and make it clear that the resources are for everyone, not something that only ‘bad students’ need. Consult Teaching@UNL for information about resources available to students.
  • Prepare your students to start strong by having them read the syllabus before coming to class.
    • Consider making a welcoming video to outline key parts of your syllabus and make sure the video is captioned.
    • Give your students some type of activity to demonstrate their knowledge of the syllabus. This may take the form of a syllabus quiz, an introductory activity based on knowledge of the course requirements and syllabus, or a simple form asking students to verify that they have read and understood the syllabus.

First Day of Class

  • On the first day of class, get to know your students
    • Collect names and pronouns and always use them correctly.
    • Consider sending a survey that asks about prior knowledge of the subject, anticipated challenges with the material, and maybe some personal ‘fun facts’. Consult this before meeting with individual students to be more prepared for those meetings.
    • In small classes, try to learn names as quickly as possible. Students feel more connected to the class if the professor knows who they are.
  • Start with an engaging activity. Resist the temptation to read the syllabus.
    • Put students in small groups to solve a challenging problem that you’ll be discussing over the course of the semester.
    • To highlight the important features of the syllabus in an engaging way, consider doing a team scavenger hunt for important information.
  • Make it clear that even though the course material will be challenging, you believe every one of your students is able to succeed.
  • Look for opportunities to allow students to have a voice in the way the class will play out. Consider having them help develop guidelines for class discussions, the percentages of the final grade attributed to different assignments, or different options for major projects.
    • Make sure that you’re listening to the voices of students coming from under-represented groups. Ensure all student voices are equitably represented in these discussions.

First Assignment

  • Be sure the written instructions are so clear that they can be followed without any additional information you provided in class. Don’t assume that students can remember exactly what you said verbally.
    • Maybe have a colleague outside your discipline read through your instructions and see if they would have any difficulty following them.
  • Consider including a description of specific grading criteria so that students know exactly what they are expected to do and how grading will work.
  • Give feedback in an encouraging rather than discouraging way. This study shows how easy it can be to enhance student success using feedback".
    • As with instructions, make sure your feedback is specific in outlining your expectations so that students understand what to do better next time.