Fostering Inclusive Excellence in the Classroom: Thoughts from Inclusive Excellence Workshop #1

This academic year, the Schreyer Institute is sponsoring a workshop series exploring the topic of Inclusive Excellence, or how college instructors can harness the power of diversity in their classrooms. The series, which first ran in the Fall 2011 semester, is being repeated this Spring. The first of the three workshops was held last week:


In the workshop, we identified the benefits and characteristics of a welcoming classroom space, and we discussed practical ways to harness the power of diversity in service of student learning.

In this blog post, I wanted to build on some of the themes, suggestions, and tips generated in the workshop, and also post some resources for further reading on the topic.

First, here’s the workshop prezi:

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1. Know Your Students: Inclusive Excellence is all about harnessing the differences people bring to the table in a productive way to better student learning. Getting to know your students not only alerts you to the various qualities, life experiences, struggles, and proclivities that your students possess, but also strengthens the student-teacher relationship, which is proven to improve student engagement and learning.

  • Check out the Penn State Fact Book for current data on student enrollment.
  • Spend some time getting to know the students (especially their names!). Consider having students complete a pre-course questionnaire or a brief autobiographical essay for their first homework assignment – this can give you valuable intel about why students are in your class and what they hope to gain from their experience. Ask students about their background with the material, how they learn best, or their biggest hope/greatest worry for the class. 
  • Collect feedback from your students. Student feedback is helpful at all stages of the teaching and learning process, but especially when there’s time to make adjustments as the course goes on. The Penn State Teacher II (pages 113-122) has an excellent breakdown of various informal and formal ways to collect student feedback, including Minute Papers, the Background Knowledge Probe, and mid-semester feedback.

Boucke.jpg2. Know Your Resources: Inclusive Excellence promotes “the purposeful development and use of organizational resources to enhance student learning”. At Penn State, you are not alone in your efforts to help support students and make them feel welcome, but many instructors aren’t aware of the many resources, centers, and services available. Get to know each of these resources, join their mailing lists, facebook pages, or monitor their blogs, so that you can advertise upcoming events and refer students. Here’s a list of Penn State resources related to diversity, along with a short description of what they offer and a link to their website.

3. Know Yourself: One of the biggest barriers many of us face in making our classrooms more inclusive is that we “know not what we do” – we worry that we may be inadvertently offending a student, committing a microaggression like the ones we discussed in the workshop, or perhaps ignoring an important aspect of accesibility. Indeed, research shows that even our own gender or racial identity may make us appear to be more or less accessible to students, or even affect our student evaluations. How can we get a handle on how these unknown factors could be affecting student learning?

  • Let students know that you acknowledge that your background or identity may limit you in certain ways from understanding their experience in your class, and to please bring oversights to your attention if necessary (this works best in combination with a system for collecting feedback).
  • Pay attention to course content. Diversify sources of authority to the degree possible.
  • Consider having a Schreyer Institute Consultant observe one of your classes, and give you confidential feedback as to ways you might make your classroom more inclusive.
  • Be practical. Incremental changes are okay.

ST.jpg4. Continue the Conversation: Continue attending workshops like this one! Educate yourself about issues relevant to the groups that populate your classes. Attend talks sponsored by the organizations/centers mentioned above. By nature the best teaching is inclusive teaching – making these types of incremental changes will improve your teaching for all students.

On that note, there is Campus-Wide Straight Talk Program coming up on February 29, 2012 at 6pm in the HUB Auditorium. You’re welcome to attend and feel free advertise the program to your students!

Straight Talks are panels of speakers comprised of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally students from a wide range of beliefs and background who educate the university community on sexual orientation, gender identity, oppression, and diversity at Penn State University.

If you have thoughts or ideas about this material, or know of other useful resources, please post them in the comments section!

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