Dear Bonni, I know it is important to be able to address the needs of diverse learners. However, how do I know how inclusive I am in my teaching? —Someone who wants to live out my values in practice
There is a key difference between an educator saying they want to meet the needs of diverse learners and that instructor actually taking the actions that would meet that goal.
The first step in making this goal of reaching diverse learners is to reflect on what it means to be inclusive in teaching, and letting that guide our teaching.
An important thing to keep in mind is that to teach well takes continually working to improve. Even the best teachers fail on a regular basis, but good ones learn from those hiccups and adjust. Put another way, both teaching and learning are messy. There are instruments and tools out there to help shape our teaching over time, as we seek to continue to pursue better teaching.
Espoused Values and Beliefs
The first source of information ought to come from your espoused values and beliefs. When you were hired into your teaching role, were you asked to provide some type of diversity statement? How long has it been since you reviewed it? When you go back and revisit your writing on the subject, how well does it align with your beliefs now? Ultimately, we want to determine how effectively we articulate our beliefs and in what contexts.
Self-awareness plays a crucial role in any attempts at inclusive teaching. Renea Brathwaite, chief diversity officer and dean of professional studies at Vanguard University, is an advocate for a relentless pursuit of these metacognitive efforts. Braithwaite stresses that, “We need awareness of our situatedness—in time, space, in culture and in how we experience the flow of history through us. We also have to be aware of how others are aware of us.”
Values and Beliefs in Practice
After reviewing any prior writing you have done on the subject, identify where those values show up in your teaching. Verify that your syllabus contains statements that reflect your values in this area. The Inclusion By Design syllabus survey can help you analyze a specific syllabus to “get a broader perspective on inclusion in your actual teaching practices.” Authors Ed Brantmeier, Andreas Broscheid and Carl S. Moore have organized the self-assessment tool into three sections:
- The context and design of your course
- The text of your syllabus and course design
- And the subtext of your syllabus
When Angela Jenks, an associate professor of teaching in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, was a guest on the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast on Episode 289, she provided extensive resources for syllabi creation. Jenks stressed that “the most important thing is thinking about the syllabus from a student’s perspective.”
Part of being able to consider the students’ perspectives is knowing who is taking your classes. The Who’s in Class? Form from Tracie Addy, Derek Dude and Khadijah A. Mitchell at Lafayette College provides instructors with information about the students taking their class. The content of the survey, which is completed anonymously by students, includes questions about access to technology, financial resources to purchase course materials, demographics, disability considerations and students’ first-generation status.
Changing Our Minds
Inclusive teaching doesn’t offer us a destination, but rather a path toward continuous attempts to align our practices with our values. As we uncover areas where we need more growth, having an orientation toward a lifetime of learning can be beneficial. An effort called Reworking the History of Social Theory for 21st Century Anthropology: A Syllabus Project depicts what happened when the authors worked to decolonize a syllabus that was otherwise overly Eurocentric and lacked voices from other “influential, though historically ignored, voices in anthropology.” By building relationships with colleagues who come from different cultures and contexts, we can create ways to help us see more clearly where change is needed in our teaching.
Brathwaite encourages educators to consider that when teaching feels easy, we’re probably not doing it right. “Every time we’re in a classroom environment, it should be difficult,” he says. “We should feel ourselves stretching and adapting as we engage in the intricate process of shaping minds that are, superficial similarities aside, different from our own.”
While we can hopefully be continuing to acquire new skills and approaches that can foster greater inclusion, each class is different, and every student we will ever teach is unique. Having an open mind about what we may need to change in our teaching is essential.
Changing Our Behavior
Stephen Brookfield, author of more than 20 books about teaching, suggests we regularly use his critical incident questionnaire to gauge our teaching over time. He describes how the instrument has helped him see his teaching from the students’ perspectives. He shares back to the class any feedback reported by at least ten percent of those who completed the questionnaire.
We can also invite others in to provide us with feedback, or even perform a self-evaluation of our teaching. One practice I’ve found helpful comes from a certificate I earned in College Teaching and Learning in Hispanic Serving Institutions from ESCALA Educational Services. They have modified a teaching observation method called The Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM. ESCALA expanded the feedback methods to include ones related to inclusive teaching and came up with a video observation tool called the TOPSE (Teaching Observation Protocol for Student Engagement). As part of the developmental program I participated in through ESCALA, I recorded myself teaching and was able to use the TOPSE to identify the types of questions I asked, who I posed them to in the class, and other gauges such as the percentage of time I spoke versus others.
As we assess our teaching and invite others to do so, we also will often find a deep well of joy.
This is difficult work. However, the rewards abound, when we witness the growth and change that is possible from learning.