Culturally-Inclusive Pedagogy

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 Inclusive, which also has a great common questions guide.

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? 

Where can I learn more about Diversity Statements and Land Acknowledgements?  Diversity statements and land acknowledgements signal your commitment to inclusivity in the classroom. 

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. Please use this land acknowledgement as an example. Also, check out John Fay’s GIS-based Land Acknowledgement and this map of Native Land.

How can I support difference in the classroom?

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.

Reflection: The Work of an Educator

To become an effective educator, it is important to reflect on the content that you are teaching (see Decolonizing the Curriculum above), your teaching methods (see Culturally Relevant Education above and Steps to Diversity and Decolonize Your Syllabus and Classroom below), and your own biases. As Emdin (2016, p40) says, “To be an ally…the teacher must unpack the indoctrination we have all been subject to.”

Moreover, this type of reflection is critical to developing cultural competence. Cultural competence is especially important for science educators, as research indicates that students don’t leave science because of lack of ability, but because they are “unwilling to assume a cultural identity defined by science” that ignores problems relevant to their own cultures and communities (Tanner and Allen 2007). In particular, research shows two cultural values commonly presented in scientific fields that dissuade Black, Latina, and American Indian women from continuing their studies: 1) science without context and 2) science as a meritocracy.  

To confront your own background and biases,  it is highly recommended that you read and reflect prior to, while, and after decolonizing your curriculum. This could mean reviewing some of the myriad book on bias and becoming anti-racist: e.g., Blind Spot (Banaji), White Fragility (DiAngelo), How to Become an Anti-Racist (Kendi), Me and White Supremacy (Saad), and Mindful of Race (King). Check out these reading lists if you’re interested in more resources:

This might also mean participating in caucus groups, joining a reading group, taking workshops addressing various aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion, taking implicit bias quizzes (e.g., Harvard University’s Project Implicit), and journaling. Those that are quite serious about this journey might consider finding a coach to work through the Intercultural Development Inventory.

Action steps for teachers recommended include: 

  • Exploring your own values and life commitments (CIRTL INCLUDES n.d.; Storms et al. 2020, p104 citing Lee 2007),
  • Articulating where and how you developed your own world view (CIRTL INCLUDES n.d.),
  • Analyzing your personal privilege (Storms et al. 2020, p104 citing Lee 2007),
  • Learning about the nature of oppression (Storms et al. 2020, p104 citing Lee 2007),
  • Working to become multiculturally literate (Storms et al. 2020, p104 citing Lee 2007),
  • Developing your own social justice ethos (Storms et al. 2020, p104 citing Lee 2007), and
  • Inviting students to give you feedback on your facilitation and assessment styles (CIRTL INCLUDES n.d.)

Moreover, researchers have noted that “empathetic people are more likely to understand and appreciate the perspectives of others, which leads to less prejudice, more positive social overtures, and less stigma and discrimination” (Storms et al. 2020, p11 and references cited therein), and as educators we have the capacity to increase our own empathetic abilities and decrease bias through mindfulness-based practices (MAP) (Storms et al. 2020, p76). In addition, teachers who practice mindfulness are better equipped to help students engage with EDI issues, since mindfulness addresses biased behaviors that result from unconscious processes and help “create new neural pathways of self-awareness, self-regulation, and compassion” (Storms et al. 2020, p76). This is well-supported by research. 

Culturally responsive teaching tenets also suggest that we as educators must develop both cultural competence and critical consciousness. In developing cultural competence, educators need to understand and respect the culture of their students. In developing critical consciousness, educators must reflect, map the development of their own socio-cultural consciousness, and analyze their teaching practices to ensure they are culturally responsive. Educators can use “mindful learning” practices (sensu Langer 2016 The Power of Mindful Learning and Langer’s body of work, Kumagai & Lypson 2009)

For additional readings that will help stimulate your own reflection, could possibly be used in class, and can help contextual the need for this work, check out this reading list from a recent ASLE post on teaching about race and nature (that also includes a look at a class assignment):

  • Purdy, Jedediah, “Environmentalism’s Racist History,” The New Yorker 15 August 2015
  • Brave-Noisecat, Julian, “The Environmental Movement Needs to Reckon with its Racist History,” Vice
  • Cronon, William, “The Trouble with the Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, edited by William Cronon, W.W. Norton & Co., 1995, 69-90.
  • Selections from Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States. Beacon Press, 2015.
  • Selections from Estes, Nick. Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance, Verso, 2018.
  • Selections from Finney, Carolyn, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors. U of North Carolina P, 2014.
  • Selections from Spence, Mark, Dispossessing the Environment: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks, Oxford UP, 2000.
  • Whyte, Kyle, “Our Ancestor’s Dystopian Now” and “Indigenous (Science) Fiction”
  • Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization, Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, 1, 2012, 1-40.
  • Selections from Yusoff, Katherine. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, U of Minnesota P, 2019.

Recommended Citation: Cagle, N. 2020. How to Create a Culturally Inclusive Course. Available online at

Looking for the Reference List? Check out How to Create a Culturally Inclusive Course