Promising Practices in Inclusive Teaching

by David Noffs

Learning designers Jeanne Kerl, Brian Runo, and David Noffs attended the Second Annual Teaching Forum on Promising Practices: Learning from Our Community held April 18, 2018 at the Norris University Center at Northwestern University’s main campus in Evanston.

The plenary session speaker was Dr. Frank Tuitt, Senior Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost on Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Higher Education at the University of Denver. His address was entitled, Making Excellence Inclusive in Challenging Times: Diversity Consideration for the Classroom and Beyond.

Dr. Tuitt started his presentation with a review of the challenging times we are facing. Headlines regularly reflect racism in America today, from patrons being removed from Starbucks because of their race, to the rise of hate groups across the country. While political polarization often hinges on extremist views on immigration and race, Dr. Tuitt sees an opportunity for educators in higher education to help bridge the political divisions and bring young people together to discuss and practice inclusivity. He described six areas that address inclusive excellence in teaching.

  • Diversity, identity, and context matters. Authentic recognition by instructors of who their students are and what they bring to the classroom matters.
  • There is no experts “toolkit”…no “one size fits all.” Each class is different because each student is different.
  • Advancing diversity requires self-awareness, courage, and commitment…continuously. THIS IS NOT EASY!
  • Creating inclusive learning environments is important for all disciplines and departments.
  • Good intentions do not guarantee good results.
  • We can always do better! This is a work in progress.

Dr. Tuitt suggests we need a pedagogical transformation that is more aggressive, where all lives can and should be enriched through recognition and celebration of the increasing diversity we invite into our classrooms.

What would this new inclusive pedagogy look like? According to Dr. Tuitt, it would be based upon the principle that identity matters a great deal. He suggested some initial goals of inclusive pedagogical strategy.

  • Embody inclusive practices.
  • Focus on intellectual and social development.
  • Develop and utilize institutional resources.
  • Try not to teach in isolation.
  • Create a welcoming classroom.
  • Establish learning environments that challenge everyone.

According to Dr. Tuitt, educators must, “Show up as your authentic self.” He continued on to say that students cannot take being “invisible” and when we do ask students to discuss their identities, we must “think carefully about how diverse students may respond to what we are about to do.”

During last year’s Inclusive Teaching Forum, a panel made up of students and faculty outlined norms that educators should embrace for creating a “Brave Space” in their classrooms. These norms include:

  • Respect.
  • Listen to understand –  Active Listening.
  • Take responsibility – Be authentic.
  • Create space for multiple voices.
  • Confidentiality.

In the spirit of both Inclusive Teaching Forums, and echoing the sentiments of last year’s speakers, Dr. Tuitt warned that we must, “Step into our uncomfortableness” and that well-meaning faculty may do more harm than good if they are not fully prepared to show and share their true selves. For this reason, faculty should consider exploring critical self-reflection of their own teaching practice as part of their commitment to Inclusive Excellence in their classrooms.

For more information on Inclusivity Excellence in your own classroom, contact Northwestern’s Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching. In addition, the Association of American Colleges and Universities has created an excellent Board Statement on diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence that can be found here.