Inclusive Teaching

We strive to foster learning experiences that are inclusive of and welcoming for everyone. Doing so involves recognizing how our identities, experiences, privileges and challenges shape our approach to learning, our engagement with course materials and our interactions with one another. Here we present some ideas for incorporating a commitment to inclusivity in course design, and for facilitating welcoming and inclusive interactions with and among students.

Recommended Inclusive Teaching Practices

These recommendations offer some practical ways you can begin or continue to incorporate inclusive teaching practices into your course.

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Follow Best Practices for Course Design

The first step to inclusive teaching is course design. Designing an effective course helps students focus on what you want them to learn and achieve. Find resources for course design.

Establish a Welcoming Tone

The aim of inclusive teaching is to make each student feel welcome, valued and supported in their learning. Students who feel welcomed can focus more on course content, and more easily trust and collaborate with fellow learners. In addition, this often has a significant impact on how the student feels about the entire field the course is in and may encourage them to pursue a related profession.


  • Create a welcome letter or video. Introduce yourself and share a bit about your background and interests. Modeling helps students know what is appropriate to disclose in class. Sharing hobbies, pets, family, etc. helps humanize you, and fosters positive relationships.
  • Create a basic needs syllabus statement to express that you care about students’ wellbeing and to share basic resources, such as for emergency financial assistance, mental health, and food insecurity. The Office of Financial Aid offers a list of Madison-based resources and starting points for identifying resources outside of Madison.
  • Include  the university’s institutional statement on diversity or craft your own statement to include in the syllabus.  Share how engaging diversity and inclusivity matters in your course, discipline, or area of professional practice.
  • Survey students about their access to technology for remote learning. The Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence (MTLE) program offers examples of survey language from UW-Madison instructors.
  • Clearly communicate best ways to get in touch with you, and when they can expect a reply. If your schedule allows, arrive for synchronous meetings (in person or online) 5-10 minutes early and offer to stay 10 minutes late to address questions that come up.

Effectively Communicate throughout the Semester

Clearly communicate the best ways that students can contact you and provide opportunities for students to communicate directly with one another over the course of the semester.


  • Check in with students via Canvas Announcements or Canvas Inbox throughout the term. Reiterate how to get in touch with you, and remind them that you are happy to help.
  • Consider which communications should be for the full class or individualized (e.g., use the “Message students who…” tool in Canvas Gradebook to communicate with students who did not submit a particular assignment or scored below a certain level).
  • Provide timely and focused feedback on assessments.
  • Use low-stakes formative assessments (e.g., quizzes or other classroom assessment techniques) to identify common issues. Provide additional practice opportunities or explanations to address these “sticking points.”
  • Build opportunities for meaningful instructor and/or peer feedback

Hold regular online office hours (including short slots for individual students), and use a mid-semester survey for students to share what is and what is not working well.

Acknowledge Impact of External Factors

Recognize that students may be experiencing a range of emotions and weathering a spectrum of effects due to current events and situations outside of the course. Hearing instructors acknowledge real-world events and situations can fosters a trusting, safe and inclusive learning environment.


Acknowledge when current events, such as national or local examples of racial violence, may be affecting students. Ask students if they would like to check in with each other in a group setting or invite them to reach out to you individually. Find openings for students to connect their experiences, interests, and skills to course material. Ask students what they find most interesting, confusing, surprising, frustrating, urgent, or relevant in the readings or lectures. Listen with curiosity – for adjustments you may make, and for opportunities to encourage higher order connections.

  • If your course engages with potentially traumatic or emotionally fraught content – such as representations of war, sexual violence, racial violence, or racist language – provide options to identify approaches that will allow all students  to engage.
  • Be attentive to students’ reaction to course content or discussion topics. Use and allow breaks and pauses to address students’ reactions.

Reflect Inclusivity in Content and Ensure Accessibility in Delivering Content

The substance and delivery of course content can play a critical role in fostering inclusivity in your course. There are opportunities when curating your course materials to select content that are meaningful to your students’ identities and experiences. In addition, ensure your course materials, assignments and activities are accessible both for students with documented disabilities and for students with jobs, caregiving responsibilities, limited internet, or unrecognized disabilities.


  • Review course materials and incorporate scholars and/or topics that mark the presence or importance of diversity in your field or context.
  • Highlight a diversity of perspectives and identities in your field or topic, and/or note missing or historically minimized perspectives and identities.
  • Let students create, find and curate personally-meaningful course content examples.
  • Be informed about ways to ensure accessibility and accommodation even during major disruptions in instruction.
  • Consider the cost of textbooks and materials. Explore sources for publicly available materials, such as YouTube, free articles and podcasts, Open Educational Resources (OER). Confer with a librarian to identify further resources and navigate copyright issues (see Library Support for Instructional Continuity).
  • Use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to identify ways to share materials and assignments via multiple means, such as adding caption to videos; multiple formats (e.g., Google Docs and PDFs) for handouts; assessment options for students to show content mastery; and flexible exam windows (e.g., rather than requiring all students to complete an exam at 11 am CST on Friday, offer an exam window open from 11 am Friday to 11 am Monday).
  • Consider what content can be made available asynchronously for students who may not have access to reliable technology, are in different time zones, or have other issues that could impact synchronous participation.
  • Use reflection activities such as the Minute Paper/Muddiest Point to engage students, pinpoint gaps in understanding and identify questions you or fellow students can help answer.

Foster Constructive Interactions with and Amongst Students

Use interactions – instructor-to-student and student-to-student – for intentional inclusive practices by fostering equitable participation, and by engaging differences among your students’ identities, ideas, strengths and contributions to the course.

Strategies – Prior to or Early in Semester:

  • Design your course to offer students multiple activity options to increase comfortable participation (e.g., some prefer contributing verbally, some through text). Hand-raising, think-pair-share, and asynchronous online forums are all ways that students might be asked to participate.
  • Use active learning approaches to engage students  with the content and with one another.
  • Develop or co-create ground rules for interacting with one another, and support students in implementing them. For an example, refer to the Department of Counseling Psychology’s Diversity Dialog Participant Agreement.
  • Understand the limitations of common ground rules – such as “presume good intentions” –  because they can invalidate the perceptions of students who correctly observe, for instance, that racial bias has informed a peer’s statement. Provide and model concrete questions that students can ask to engage productively with bad-faith arguments. For additional context and strategies, see Sensoy and DiAngelo, 2014.
  • Affirm and use students’ names and gender pronouns. Give students the option to share their pronouns in a private venue such as in a Welcome Survey or other written format.
  • Prepare to intervene in the case that students engage in inappropriate or harassing behavior, such as microaggressions, which can include well-intended comments like “Your English is so good!”.
    • Preemptively and consistently remind students of the ground rules and expectations, and provide opportunities for students to reflect on their own and their group’s adherence to these expectations.
    • Periodically review discussion boards and chats and report back about what you observe, with the goal of highlighting generative behaviors and intervening in harmful behaviors.
    • Consider the mix of full-class communications and private communications (targeted to individuals). For example, if microaggressions occur in an online forum, post a reminder to the full class of the expectations (and harms that can result from the behavior you observed), and send individual messages to students involved with a warm invitation to chat with you.

Strategies – During Semester:

  • Recognize spaces where students may feel exposed in their writing or linguistic abilities (e.g., some international students when participating in an English language discussion forum). Continually highlight the goal of communicating in such spaces (e.g., build relationships, develop a rigorous analysis); draw attention to substantive contributions.
  • Use asynchronous discussions or build “wait time” into synchronous meetings to allow students to think or write before responding.
  • Invite both verbal and written contributions (e.g., the chat tool in Zoom). If it’s hard to monitor a chat while facilitating synchronous discussion, ask students to help.
  • Don’t ask students to represent a group they visibly belong to (or that you may assume they belong to).
  • Facilitate structures in discussions where identity is salient or where controversial topics are engaged. For example, use an anonymous Google form to gather student experiences and prior understandings of the topic at hand to help you take the pulse of the class and plan the discussion. Use techniques (e.g., assigned discussion roles, pair or small-group discussions, text-based anchors, and processes for addressing and repairing around comments that are intentionally or unintentionally exclusive) to foster participation by all students, so minoritized students do not have to carry the load. Include debriefs or post-discussion reflections (e.g., Minute Paper).
  • Use synchronous time for “high impact” interactions, where there is a clear benefit from hearing from each other (such as to gather ideas to solve a problem or advance a project).
  • Guide groups in working together, and check in on groups periodically.
  • Anchor discussions in open-ended questions or problems to foster diverse responses and encourage participation and active listening.

Engage Peers for Support in Critical Reflection

Inclusive teaching is a reflective process that takes emotional and intellectual labor. Find a support network of trusted colleagues in doing this work so that you can continue to engage in this work throughout course design, instruction and post-course assessment.