Resources for Inclusive Teaching

Culturally Inclusive Pedagogy

What is culturally inclusive pedagogy? Culturally inclusive teaching is actually just effective teaching. There are even articles with titles like “But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.”

When done well – particularly from a neuroscience perspective, culturally inclusive teaching doesn’t necessarily look like you might think. It’s not multicultural education, i.e., it’s not based necessarily in the celebration of other cultures, although that can be included. It also isn’t social justice education, but that can be included too.

The goal of culturally-inclusive teaching for everyone to learn, but for everyone to learn they need to have their basic needs met first. Basic needs include esteem needs, belongingness needs, and safety needs.

Why culturally inclusive pedagogy? We recommend using culturally-inclusive teaching moves in your class because students deserve them, students demand them, and students learn more when teachers use them. If you still have some questions about this, consider reviewing the How to Create a Culturally Inclusive Course Guide or reading How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusivewhich also has a great common questions guide. Still feel stuck? Read this open letter from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity to learn why this deep work deserves priority and requires participation from all faculty, not just DEI folks. You’ll also learn what it means to “decolonize your syllabi.”

How does learning happen in the brain? To learn, students must first feel socially and emotionally supported, allowing their amygdala to relax. If the amygdala is triggered, it stops students from being able to pay attention to course material. Next, students must be engaged by the material, which means stimulating the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in the brain. To be engaged by material, students need to connect to the material. Finally, students can really start building those neuronal connects, which means they are learning new facts, skills, and modes of thinking.

How do culturally-inclusive teaching techniques help students learn? Culturally inclusive teaching techniques focus on (1) creating a supportive environment (calming the amygdala), (2) making content relevant (stimulating the RAS), and (3) cultivating content knowledge (connecting neurons).

What does a culturally-inclusive pedagogy look like in the classroom? 

Creating a supportive environment

  • Reflect
  • Add a diversity statement (and live into it) + land acknowledgement
  • Support difference
  • Forge meaningful relationships

Making content relevant

  • Center marginalized voices
  • Acknowledge colonization

Cultivating content knowledge

  • Embrace active learning

Where can I learn more about Diversity Statements and Land Acknowledgements?  Diversity statements and land acknowledgements signal your commitment to inclusivity in the classroom. However, it’s important that these statement be born from authentic engagement with diversity and Indigenous peoples in the classroom, lest they simply be performative.

Learn More:

  • Check out Brown University’s Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning for more guidance on Diversity Statements.
  • Check out Amnesty International Canada’s Land Acknowledgement Resource for more guidance on land acknowledgements and the Native Governance Center’s Tip Sheet.
  • Visit Duke Gardens’ page to learn about the Indigenous Land Relationships in the Carolinas and educate yourself about the colonial genocide that marks our history, and become familiar with the 18 tribes that exist in the Carolinas today. Also, check out the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation’s Official Land Acknowledgement to learn more about local indigenous nations.
  • Also, check out John Fay’s GIS-based Land Acknowledgement and this map of Native Land.
  • Please note that maps of Native lands are often inaccurate, due to changes in Native land boundaries and to the erasure of Native history that was concomitant of colonialization. In the Southeast in particular, it is difficult to be precise due to the intensity of the colonial project here.
  • Want to learn more about Land Acknowledgements, including the controversy around using them? Please visit the Land Acknowledgement Pre-Reading Handout, which also includes a link to a sample acknowledgement.

How can I support difference in the classroom?

To support difference in the classroom, you can both honor difference and encourage collaboration. Please see ideas below for how to do both. If you’re looking for example syllabi or sample language about resources that support difference, please visit the Duke Syllabus Language Menu and the Duke Student Government Syllabus Bank.

Honor differences:

  • Add pronouns to your email signature & introduce yourself with them.
  • Record the way you pronounce your name and add to your email signature. 
  • Greet people by name and learn how to pronounce students’ names correctly. Check out Anpu London’s guide, How to Pronounce My Ethnic Name.
  • Foreground land acknowledgements and diversity statements.
  • Provide opportunities for people to contemplate their core values.
  • Point out social power dynamics.
  • Use contemplative practices.
  • Emphasize “growth mindset” principles.

Encourage collaboration:

  • Co-write memos, reports, and beyond. 
  • Acknowledge that everyone has important contributions to make. 
  • Do quick go-arounds in meetings.
  • Develop leadership.
  • Create mentoring partnerships.
  • Co-develop person-centered professional goals.
  • Revise evaluations to incorporate metacognition and multi-directional feedback.
  • Designate a facilitator in meetings to promote positive group dynamics.

How can I forge relationships with my students?

  1. Express interest in your students by using a pre-class survey and making chit-chat before class starts.
  2. Encourage open communication with you by soliciting feedback from students during class, allowing  students to give anonymous feedback with a link, & indicating your availability for office hours. 
  3. Create a warm classroom climate by sharing personal, but appropriate details about your life & using a warm tone in your syllabus.
  4. Create positive group dynamics by adding discussion guidelines to syllabus, encouraging reflection and discussion, & developing a learning community among students.

How do I center voice of groups that have been marginalized* in the classroom? You can center marginalized voices in the classroom by (1) using materials representing marginalized groups (e.g., book chapters, case studies, podcast); (2) using created by authors representing marginalized groups (e.g., guest speakers, academic work, essays, popular media) and 3) having students bring in materials they locate or find personally meaningful. *Note on terminology: there is no agreement on the proper terminology to use to describe those groups that have been historically and are currently excluded from conversations and power. We used the term marginalized here to show that one group has historically had and used power over other groups.

How do I acknowledge colonialization? To acknowledge colonialization in the classroom allow for sustained discussion about the origins and backgrounds of your discipline, key ideas, and key sources. Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers, but you do need to provide space for these conversations to happen.

How do I embrace active learning? Active learning is an umbrella term for teaching techniques that actively engage students in the learning process, rather than having them passively take in information. These are most effective when they include metacognitive reflection. Find active learning activities here.