Classroom Environment

Emory & Henry students in classroom.

Maintaining a classroom that understands and respects diversity maximizes student involvement and participation. A tone of inclusiveness will ensure a safe and comfortable environment for student learning.

Some suggestions for creating inclusive classrooms…

On choosing course content:

Whose voices, perspectives, and scholarship are being presented? 

Include content and scholarship that represent diverse cultural backgrounds. Similarly, it is important to include works authored by members of the group the class is discussing.

How are the perspectives and experiences of various groups being represented? 

Include materials from diverse groups in ways that do not trivialize, marginalize, or essentialize the group and their contributions to the topic at hand.  Avoid dichotomies and binaries by acknowledging the complexities of diverse perspectives and scholarship.

Assumptions we should challenge:

Students will seek help when they are struggling with your class. 

Consider making one-on-one office appoints a requirement for your course. This will give students the opportunity to become more comfortable talking with the instructor and remove the stigma often associated with office hours.

Students from certain backgrounds are poor writers.

Avoid the assumption that poor writing skills suggests limited intellectual ability.  Writing preparation varies across secondary education and it is misleading to equate writing with intellect.  Be clear about what type of writing is expected in your course and give every student access to the resources necessary to meet those expectations.  

Students whose cultural affiliation is tied to non-English speaking groups are Multilingual. 

If you feel that it is important to know whether students speak or understand other languages, you should ask this question of all students, not just those to whom you think the question applies.

Students who are affiliated with a particular group are experts on issues related to that group and are comfortable being seen as information sources or spokespeople.  

If you would like to hear from a particular student on a specific issue that relates to group membership, you should speak with the student privately instead of calling on the student when the issue arises in class. 

All students from a particular group share the same view(s) on an issue. 

Avoid expressing surprise when people from the same group express opposing views and remember that some students may feel uncomfortable publicly expressing a view that differs from the “anticipated group position.”

Students from certain group are more likely to be argumentative OR disengaged in classroom discussions.  

Encourage equitable participation by using exercises that engage multiple learning and communication styles (i.e. small group discussions, in class writing, etc.). Avoid tone policing and ask students to create shared guidelines for classroom engagement.  

Setting the tone in your learning space: 

Consider adding a diversity statement to your syllabus. 

A diversity statement that is prominently located on your syllabus, and is discussed on the first day of class, can set an expectation for inclusion throughout the rest of the semester. 

Get to you know your students quickly. 

Learn their names and how to pronounce them correctly.  Avoid making jokes about the difficulty of someone’s name. Consider a first day writing exercise that asks the students to share a bit about themselves with you. 

Set the tone quickly. 

Let students know about you, too. Ask students to generate a set of shared expectations for classroom engagement. Let students know that you’re there to learn, too.

Consider a “check-in” time with students at the beginning of class.

Students’ outside lives don’t stop when they enter the classroom.  Simply asking students how they’re doing can be a powerful tool. 

Adapted from Saunders, S. & Kardia, D., (2004). Creating inclusive college classrooms.


The following resources are for your reference, if you need additional assistance or access to these documents please contact Travis Proffitt.

  • Creating Inclusive College Classrooms  - University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. Addresses five aspects of teaching that influence classrooms, from course content and planning to instructor assumptions, knowledge, and behaviors, and uses examples to illustrate recommendations for making classrooms more inclusive.
  • No, We Won’t Calm Down: Tone Policing and Privilege - Have you ever tone policed someone in a conversation on oppression? Tone policing focuses on the emotion behind a message rather than the message itself – and you might think you’re helping by making the conversation more “comfortable.”
  • Classroom Civility - Center for Teaching, University of Utah
  • Designing Culturally Inclusive Environments(PDF) - Flinders University, Australia. Offers “Theory into Practice” recommendations for thinking about culture, including questions to guide instructor reflection and concrete tips for designing culturally inclusive teaching environments.