Inclusive Teaching

group of students




Universities across the country are investing in inclusive teaching methods, endeavoring to create “a culture in which all learners feel welcome, valued, and safe” (Hogan & Sathy, Inclusive Teaching p. 10). Inclusive pedagogy is rooted in the belief that all students are capable of success, and that faculty have many opportunities to support that success by responding to the varied needs of an ever more diverse student body. Creating inclusive courses takes time, curiosity, and commitment, and SMU’s Center for Teaching Excellence is here to help. Below are resources for designing inclusive course materials and teaching strategies to benefit all students.


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Inclusive Teaching Resources by Topic

Consider Adding More Structure to Your Courses


Students in courses with low structure will have relatively few opportunities to earn credit, with overall grades largely hinging on only a few assignments. While these courses are still common in higher education, numerous studies have shown that students of all backgrounds benefit from courses with more structure. Hogan and Sathy describe highly structured courses as those that require students to repeatedly practice the skills they will need to succeed in the course. Highly structured courses will hold students accountable for completing work before, during, and after class meetings, and will provide students with many chances to earn credit over the term. 

Some ways to add structure to your course:

  • Always open class by telling students the goals you have for their learning and how the day’s class will facilitate that learning.

  • Require pre-class assignments such as quizzes, discussion board posts, or  response sheets students can use to guide their engagement with assigned materials.

  • Require all students to participate in class by offering several different ways of doing so, such as small-group discussion, polling, and individual written responses.

  • Require all students to reflect on the learning they’ve done after each class, using assignments such as a brief writing about what they learned and how what they’ve done has moved them closer to achieving the learning goals you’ve outlined for the course. 

  • Reward participation in pre-, during, and after class work by awarding students a small number of points toward their overall grade through this participation.

Some students may feel that, in highly structured courses, they are not receiving enough instruction from faculty. You can head off this concern by emphasizing that learning is a practice they are responsible for rather than simply a result of attending class. 

Most students respond very positively to highly structured courses. Hogan and Sathy note that students tend to feel that they are members of a community in highly structured courses that require robust participation and collaboration among students. Highly structured pedagogy has also been shown to especially benefit marginalized students, closing gaps in performance that can proliferate in courses with low structure.

Downloadable Tip Sheet


Create a Welcoming Classroom Environment


An inclusive classroom is one that is welcoming of all students. To create a classroom environment in which students feel welcomed and primed for success, follow the tips below:






  • Be sure to introduce yourself to students, and consider sharing some information about yourself not only as an academic, but as a person. Faculty can share photos of their pets, talk briefly about their own experiences as an undergraduate, or tell students a bit about why they enjoy teaching and look forward to getting to know their students over the term. Seeing you as a person can help students feel connected to you and cared about.

  • Have students introduce themselves. After modeling a brief and warm introduction yourself, ask students to introduce themselves to you and to their peers and share something about themselves, whether that be something that draws them to their major, where they come from, or something that they enjoy like a television show or sport. Students not only want to see faculty as whole people, but want to be seen as interesting and complex people themselves.

  • Welcome students to class each day, using their names whenever possible. This will show students that you see them as individuals and value their presence in your course.

  • Students feel valued when they are given opportunities to make choices about how class time will be spent. You can do this in a number of ways, including using anonymous polls to decide between two different but important workshop activities, or to decide which topics will be reviewed ahead of an exam. Giving students the opportunity to make choices makes them feel like part of a community in your class and actively engages them in their own learning.

  • Be sure to give direct feedback to students when they contribute to the course. A quick “that’s an excellent point!” or “thank you for bringing us back to that topic!” can make students feel seen and assure them that their work in your course matters. Actively affirming students in the moment can create a more welcoming and generative environment for everyone. 

Downloadable Tip Sheet


Demystifying Office Hours


Office hours provide opportunities for consistent faculty-student interaction that is crucial for student success (Griffin et al., 2014), but too often students do not take advantage of this time. Students’ anxiety and confusion about the purpose of office hours is so widespread that Arizona State University created this funny video to encourage students to give office hours a try. Faculty can increase office hours attendance by  explaining to students what the point of this time is, but that is not the only thing you can do to improve engagement. Below are several ways that you can demystify office hours for your students and make them feel more confident about utilizing this important resource.

  • Very early in your course, take a few minutes to not only tell students when and where you hold office hours, but to explain what students can use office hours to accomplish. What kinds of questions would you welcome hearing in your office hours? Would you like students to drop in to chat about things they found interesting in class discussions? Can students use office hours to build relationships with faculty in advance of asking for letters of recommendation or other professional and/or academic requests? Let students know that it is normal to feel some confusion about the purpose of office hours and that you are invested in helping them to understand as part of your overall investment in their success at SMU and beyond.

  • Consider holding your office hours in a location that feels more welcoming and familiar to students, such as a campus library. Students may be intimidated by visiting a less familiar part of campus and be more likely to visit you if you hold your office hours somewhere they already feel comfortable and confident.

  • While faculty at SMU are required to hold some office hours on campus, you might consider also offering some time to meet with students virtually. Building in this flexibility and convenience for students can improve office hours attendance and show them that you are invested in making time for all students.

  • Consider renaming your office hours to something more student-centered. “Office hours” can feel stuffy and unclear. Some faculty have decided to rename their office hours to “Student Hours” or even “Hangout Hours” to create a more student-centered and relaxed atmosphere (Nadworny).

Downloadable Tip Sheet


Drafting Inclusive Syllabi


As Kelly A. Hogan and Viji Sathy write in their Inclusive Teaching, syllabi are an excellent way to communicate to students not only the expectations faculty have for their courses, but also their own commitment to inclusivity and student success. Some questions to consider when drafting syllabi with an inclusive mindset:


  • What is the tone of your syllabus? To create a welcoming tone, avoid capitalizing words and sentences for emphasis. Capitalizing whole words or sentences can create a confrontational or even hostile tone that might prevent students from reaching out to faculty for support over the term. Another way to improve the tone of syllabi is by using student-centered, first-person words. For example, you can write “You should plan to spend x number of hours per week reading the assigned materials in preparation for in-class discussion” instead of “Students shall be required to spend x number of hours reading assigned materials.”

  • How can you best communicate to students your availability and willingness to support them outside of the classroom?  Can students find information about your office hours on the syllabus? Can they also find information there about the purpose of office hours and what kinds of questions and concerns they should meet with you to discuss? Does your syllabus offer any direction for how and when students who cannot meet in office hours might still be able to meet with you? Do you have a policy about email communications outlining when students should expect to receive a response when they email you? Including these details in your syllabus will demonstrate your commitment to supporting students and help students access that support.

  • Should you include a formal statement in your syllabus detailing your commitment to inclusive teaching? Consider adding such a statement and also any certifications you have earned that demonstrate your ongoing learning about diverse groups of students. Inclusive Teaching offers a variety of example statements you can reference to create your own diversity statement for syllabi.

  • Does your syllabus include the work of a diverse set of people? We should avoid relying on a single group of people for our materials and instead highlight how diversity has contributed to the production of knowledge within our fields.

  • Are your course materials accessible to all students? Consider cost especially when choosing which texts and other materials you will require students to use in your courses. 

  • Can you make your syllabus available to students prior to the first day of class? Consider doing so if possible, so that students have a chance to prepare themselves for the course and come to the first day of class ready with questions and already assured that they will have your support.

Downloadable Tip Sheet 

Inclusive Grading


Even when our courses are otherwise designed to be inclusive, some grading practices can have the effect of alienating and deflating students and making them feel incapable of success. To avoid this, consider the following tips to make sure your grading practices are inclusive.

  • Create and use a rubric and share this rubric with your students. A rubric can help you grade more inclusively, fairly, and consistently, can show your students that the grade they’ve received is not biased or arbitrary, and can help students determine what skills and knowledge they need to develop to earn better grades in the future. 

  • Consider keeping students anonymous while grading. This can help to avoid implicit bias and keep grading fair and inclusive.

  • Ditch the curve. Students report that being graded on a curve creates competition between students rather than creating the collaborative and inclusive environment we strive for. Assign students the grade they have earned outright rather than curving.

  • Take the time to evaluate the feedback you give students and determine whether it is accomplishing what you want it to or not. See the downloadable tip sheet below for more on this.

  • Consider using other forms of evaluation, such as peer workshops that allow students to practice identifying and resolving issues in their own and others’ work.

Downloadable Tip Sheet