Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Strategies for Inclusive Teaching

Structuring classroom interactions is an effective way to promote productive and respectful discussions (Goodman, 1995). Adding structure to discussion benefits students because it makes discussion expectations transparent and encourages multiple voices and viewpoints. This in turn can help improve student participation and performance, help students consider new viewpoints, and prevent conflict in the classroom (Sorenson et al., 2009; Bergom et al., 2011). Sample guidelines can be found here. There are many ways to introduce and integrate guidelines:

  • On the syllabus: Under your description about discussion and participation, include a list of guidelines (Sulik & Keys, 2014). Make sure to highlight in person the value of having these rules in place for ensuring good discussions and valuing each student as a contributor, and ask the class if they have any questions about them or wish to add anything.

  • On the first day: Ask your students to think about the best and worst group discussions they have been a part of, and reflect on what made these discussions so satisfying or unsatisfying. Then, have your students generate a list of guidelines and decide as a class which ones to adopt (see Diclementi & Handelsman, 2005 for an example). Write them down on a board or piece of paper, and make sure that they officially are added to the syllabus and/or course site.

  • In the moment: If a conflict arises during a discussion and guidelines were not previously established, pause the discussion and have students reflect on how they could collectively re-play that scene (“Okay, everyone, emotions seem to be getting high—how could we rephrase those comments so that they are more respectful of the people involved?”). Then, have the class generate guidelines right then and there, which you can write on a board or on a piece of paper that will be sent around later. Discussion can then continue.

  • In general: Encourage your students to monitor themselves and each other for violations of the guidelines. If you notice discussion becoming derailed or negative, pause the class discussion and have your students identify which guideline has been violated. New guidelines can always be added by you or your class to address any issue that comes up in the moment.


Bergom, I., Wright, M. C., Brown, M. K., & Brooks, M. (2011). Promoting college student development through collaborative learning: A case study of hevruta. About campus, 15(6), 19-25.

DiClementi, J. D., & Handelsman, M. M. (2005). Empowering students: Class-generated course rules. Teaching of Psychology, 32(1), 18-21.

Goodman, D. J. Difficult Dialogues: Enhancing Discussions about Diversity. College Teaching 43(2): Spring 1995. 47-52.

Sorensen, N., Nagda, B. R. A., Gurin, P., & Maxwell, K. E. (2009). Taking a "Hands On" approach to diversity in higher education: A Critical‐Dialogic Model for effective intergroup interaction. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 9(1), 3-35.

Sulik, G., & Keys, J. (2014). “Many Students Really Do Not Yet Know How to Behave!” The Syllabus as a Tool for Socialization. Teaching Sociology, 42(2), 151-160.

Research has shown that students perform better when they know what is expected of them (Kang et al., 2016; Winkelmes et al., 2016). While all students benefit, being explicit about expectations from the start particularly helps students with diverse backgrounds understand both course expectations and cultural or disciplinary norms for each assignment.

  • Use your syllabus to establish your learning objectives and general course expectations for all aspects of the class. Go through it with your students on the first day, or create a homework assignment around it.
  • Talk to your students about the norms of your discipline, even if they seem obvious to you. Some common norms that can vary widely depending on the field include writing conventions (who is the audience and is there a standard set of guidelines for how papers should look be organized?), research and citation conventions (how should research be presented in a student paper or report?), and what a “good” grade looks like (curved tests versus standard grading).
  • Create and share rubrics in advance for written assignments and presentations.
  • Dedicate time in class for students to discuss and ask questions about assignments or assignment expectations.
  • Emphasize the larger purpose or value of the material they are studying/assignments they are completing.
  • Give feedback early and often. Encourage students to come to you (or their TA) with questions.



Kang et al. 2016 “Transparency and Problem Solving: The UHD Experience”

Winkelmes et al, 2016 “A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success”

GO TO:  Universal Design for Learning  |  Culturally Responsive Teaching  |  Stereotype Threat  | Imposter Syndrome

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GO TO:  Microaggressions  |  Hot Moments  |  Culturally Responsive Teaching  |  Stereotype Threat

Whether you anticipate difficult dialogues in class because of the course content, you are concerned about maintaining a good classroom climate, or you want to be ready in case external events make their way into the classroom, it is good to think ahead about how you would react in situations of heightened student emotions.

  • Know your personal triggers. Everyone has biases, pet peeves, and things that push their buttons. Being aware of what causes an intense emotional response in you will help you manage those feelings if a triggering event occurs in the classroom or you have to manage student emotions.


Huston, T. A., & DiPietro, M. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. In D. R. Robertson & L. B. Nilson (Eds.) To Improve the Academy. Vol 25. Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development (pp. 207-224). Bolton, MA: Anker.



GO TO:  Microaggressions  |  Hot Moments  |  Teaching after Tragedy

There are many resources on campus that are available to students. During times of distress, however, students may forget that they are there or may be reluctant to ask for help. It is important to remind students of these CMU services and encourage them to seek them out.

See Eberly’s “Quick Links for Teaching”


GO TO:  Teaching in Tumultuous Times

By giving students choices, instructors can enhance student motivation (Adams et al., 2017). This lets students address topics that are culturally relevant to them. It also gives some agency to students over their own learning. There are a variety of ways to offer choice, depending on your level of flexibility and comfort. Here are a few examples:

  • Allow students to choose the topic for their project or paper (and have them run it by you in advance).
  • Allow students to choose the format of their final project (oral presentation, recorded podcast, or a written document).
  • Revisit your assessments and their alignment to your learning goals. If oral presentation skills are not part of your learning goal, requiring public speaking in a big group may not be the best assessment for every student. Instead, give students the choice to express their knowledge in a different format.
  • Allow students to choose one or several topics of discussion/learning in your class when possible. You could reserve some time at the end of the semester and poll your students about what they would like to learn.
    • “We are going to learn about neurobiological diseases in this class. Some of you might have an interest towards specific diseases, and I would like to offer the option to cover those this semester. Let me know by email by next week, which one you would like to survey during the last two weeks of the semester and I will choose the most popular ones.”


Adams, N., Little, T. D., & Ryan, R. M. (2017). Self-Determination Theory. In Development of Self-Determination Through the Life-Course (pp. 47-54). Springer Netherlands

GO TO:  Universal Design for Learning

In general, feedback is most effective when it is prioritized, actionable, constructive, timely, and specific (Ambrose et al, 2010). However the tone of your feedback can also have an impact on student success. Students who are at risk for experiencing stereotype threat or imposter syndrome also tend to interpret critical feedback differently from their peers. Claude Steele describes this in Whistling Vivaldi as such:

“The mere fact of being black, in light of the stereotypes about it, creates a quandary over how to interpret critical feedback on academic work. Is the feedback based on the quality of their work or on negative stereotypes about their group’s abilities? This ambiguity is often a contingency of black students’ identity” (2010: 162).

As an instructor, you can practice delivering effective feedback by:

  • Giving students multiple opportunities for low-stakes practice and feedback such as draft submissions, small quizzes, or in-class exercises.
  • Communicating your confidence in your students’ abilities - remind students that learning is a process, but that you believe in their potential for success with practice and effort (Cohen et al, 1999).
    • “The comments I provide [below] are quite critical but I hope helpful. Remember, I wouldn’t go to the trouble of giving you this feedback if I didn’t think, based on what I’ve read in your [work], that you are capable of meeting the higher standard I mentioned” (Cohen et al, 1999).


Ambrose, S…. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based strategies….

Cohen, G.L.; Steele, C.M., & Ross, L.D. (1999). The mentor’s dilemma: Providing critical feedback across the racial divide. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 25, 1302-1318.

Steele, C. (2010) Whistling Vivaldi: and other clues to how stereotypes affect us. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

GO TO:  Stereotype Threat  |  Imposter Syndrome  

Are certain perspectives systematically not represented in your course materials (e.g., a course on family focusing only on traditional families, or a course on public policy ignoring race issues, or a cell biology course where all recent primary literature is authored by men)? Neglecting some issues implies a value judgment (hooks 1994), which can alienate certain groups of students.

  • Add non-mainstream perspectives into your course content, and reflect on what value they add to the course.

  • Have students take opposite sides of an argument (and provide materials for different perspectives)

  • When discussing founding scientists of your discipline, make sure to look for under-represented groups that may have been sidelined. 


hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.


GO TO:  Microaggressions  |  Universal Design for Learning  |  Culturally Responsive Teaching

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GO TO:  Universal Design for Learning  |  Culturally Responsive Teaching

It is important for women and underrepresented students to see evidence of the presence of others with similar identities in the discipline or in the discipline-specific careers. Women and underrepresented students report feelings of exclusion that negate other inclusive initiatives when the instructors use a generic “he” or address the classroom as if all students were white males (Gibbons and Schnellman, 1984). Multiple examples increase the likelihood of students relating to at least one of them. Take care to include examples that speak to students of all genders and that work across cultures. Using multiple and diverse examples will also help to make the content meaningful to them.

  • Include multiple examples. To help you generate those examples, ask yourself: Would an international student understand this example? Would students from a different socio-economic background relate to this example?
  • Solicit examples from students:
    • “Can you think of similar examples that would illustrate this concept?”
    • “What examples helped you grasp this concept better?”
  • Examine your content for diverse perspectives. 


Gibbons, J. L. and Schnellman, J. (1984). The perception by women and minorities of trivial discriminatory actions in the classroom. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association Conference, Toronto.


GO TO:  Universal Design for Learning  |  Stereotype Threat  |  Imposter Syndrome  |  Culturally Responsive Teaching

Academia and society at large are deeply affected by biases. It permeates our hiring practices (Moss-Racussin et al, 2012), and even graduate student advising (Milkman et al, 2012; 2015). Because many of these biases are implicit (i.e. we have them without being aware of it), it is important to be mindful of them when teaching. In particular, implicit biases can reveal themselves during grading (Malouff and Thorsteinsson, 2016), calling on students (Hall, 1982), or during classroom discussions (Hall, 1982).

  • When grading, instructors should strive to grade anonymously (Malouff and Thorsteinsson, 2016). Some Learning Management Systems, including Canvas can handle this task. For hard copy exams and papers, cover up the names ahead of time with sticky notes and shuffle the papers.
  • To prevent a small group of students from dominating discussions, adopt active learning strategies that will encourage everyone to participate, wait longer before taking answers so more hands go up, and if you are using cold calling, make sure that it is truly randomized (e.g. use a number generator or a deck of cards, etc.).
  • Clearly state your policies on grading and regrading on your syllabus. In particular, indicate if you will use rubrics. This gives students an understanding of procedures to follow and lets you apply them to everyone without bias. Students feel more secure that one does not need “special access” to the instructor to obtain a good grade or be re-graded.


Hall, R. 1982. Classroom Climate: A Chilly One for Women? Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges.

Malouff, J M and E B Thorsteinsson. 2016. “Bias in Grading: A Meta-Analysis of Experimental Research Findings”. Australian Journal Of Education. Vol 60 (3). 245-256.

Milkman K., M. Akinola, and D. Chugh. 2012. Temporal Distance and Discrimination: An Audit Study in Academia. Psychological science. 23:710-717.

Milkman K. M. Akinola, and D. Chugh. 2015. What Happens Before? A Field Experiment Exploring How Pay and Representation Differentially Shape Bias on the Pathway Into Organizations. Journal of applied psychology.

Moss-Racusin, C. A., J. Dovidio, V. L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and J. Handelsman. 2012. Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, vol 109, no 41, 16474-16479.

GO TO:  Stereotype Threat

Dr. Carol Dweck, cognitive psychologist and leading expert on “mindset,” describes growth mindset as “the understanding that we can develop our abilities and intelligence.” The opposite is a fixed mindset, where intelligence is seen as unchangeable. A student who claims, “I’m just bad at math,” would be demonstrating a fixed mindset, whereas a student who says, “I can strengthen my math skills through practice,” would be advocating a growth mindset. Training at-risk or underrepresented students on growth mindset has a positive effect on their GPAs and persistence in school (Paunesku et al., 2015, Yeager et al., 2016). With a growth mindset, all students see learning more as a process and can claim ownership and control over their learning, which can lead to greater academic success. As an instructor, there are many opportunities for you to advocate for a growth mindset:

  • Emphasize the productive opportunities of failure. This can take different forms:
    • Tell your students of your own struggles in the classroom or with your research.
    • Have students earn credit by going to one (or several) office hours with questions that they have on the material.
    • Use the “muddiest point” activity at the end of class: have students write 1 or 2 questions they still have about the material. By doing this regularly, you show students that you expect everyone to have questions.
  • Give students the opportunity to practice the core skills of the class and work with the course material through low-stakes assignments or quizzes.
    • “This exercise is meant to give you an opportunity to practice X skills. If you do not get it right on the first try, do not despair: it means that you are in the process of learning.”
    • When going over homework or exams: “Many of you ran into trouble at [this point] in [problem X]. This is very normal. Let’s go over it together so you can see how to recognize and work through this kind of problem.”
  • Question and challenge your own fixed mindset practices related to beliefs about your students as well as your own learning and intelligence. Consider what you can do to help students who are struggling with the material.
  • Model growth mindset practices yourself, by being open to feedback from your students and being transparent in your efforts to improve (ask for an Eberly Early Course Feedback Survey or Focus Group to collect this information)

Learn more about an Early Course Feedback session with Eberly.


Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success (Ballantine Books trade pbk. ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.

Paunesku, D.; Walton, G.M.; Romero, C.; Smith, E.N.; Yeager, D.S.; Dweck, C.S. (2015). Mind-Set Interventions Are a Scalable Treatment for Academic Underachievement. Psychological Science 26, 784-793.

Yeager, D. S. et al. (2016). Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale. PNAS113(24): E3341–E3348.

GO TO:  Stereotype Threat  | Imposter Syndrome

As an instructor, be vigilant about the comments that may arise during discussion. Research has shown that students will take their cues from the instructor about how to react to a hot moment or difficult dialogue – if the instructor ignores it, it can further marginalize minority students and squander an opportunity to dispel stereotypes and promote mutual understanding (Huston & DiPietro, 2007; Sue et al., 2009; Bergom et al., 2011). There are many ways to respond to a hot moment, based on the context and your personal preference. Here are some examples of things you can do:

Specifically, here are some steps you can go through:

  1. Take a deep breath: collect your thoughts before responding.
  2. Acknowledge: know and recognizethat the other person’s perspective is their reality and truth.
  3. Inquire: Give students the benefit of the doubt. First, ask the student to clarify, elaborate or further explain. This will give you more information about where s/he is coming from, and may also help the speaker to become aware of what s/he is saying.
    • “Could you please say more about that?”
    • “Can you elaborate on your point?”
    • “It sounds like you have a strong opinion about this. Could you please tell me why?”
    • “What is it about this that concerns you the most?”
  4. Reframe: Create a different way or perspective from which to view at a situation.
    • “Could there be another way to look at this?”
    • “Let’s reframe this to explore other perspectives/interpretations. Consider for moment that…  What if...?”
    • “I’m wondering what message this is sending and how it’s being received. Do you think you would have said this/drawn this conclusion if…”
  5. Identify: Directly respond to student comment as problematic. Calmly and politely explain which specific words or phrases you experienced as disrespectful (or that someone else might have). Use an “I” statement to express feelings, as appropriate, rather than commenting on or labeling the speaker.
    • “Saying ___ often comes up in popular culture. Some might find it problematic because of ___”
    • “When you said X, I felt like Y. In the future, please…”
    • “This seems like a good time to revisit and remind ourselves about the guidelines for discussion that we agreed upon as class.”
  6. Diffuse to allow productive re-engagement: Sometimes, a hot moment can get out of control.
    • Ask students’ to pause and write individually for moment about what just happened and how they feel about it.
    • Use this time as an opportunity to formulate a strategy for re-engaging the hot moment in a productive, inclusive way.
    • Remind your students which discussion guidelines are relevant to the situation.
  7. Revisit: Sometimes one is caught by surprise, misses an opportunity, or wishes s/he could have a do-over in response to a microaggression or “hot moment”. Even if the moment has passed, it’s ok to go back and address it later in class. Research indicates that an unaddressed microaggression can leave just as much of a negative impact as the microaggression itself.
    • “I want to go back to something that was brought up in our class.”
    • “Let’s rewind ___ minutes.”
    • “I think it would be worthwhile to revisit something that happened ____.”
  8. Check in: in person, talk with the targeted student(s) after class. Let them know that you value their experiences and perspective, and see if they have any suggestions about how to better support them in class.


Bergom, I., Wright, M. C., Brown, M. K., & Brooks, M. (2011). Promoting college student development through collaborative learning: A case study of hevruta. About campus, 15(6), 19-25

Burton, S., & Furr, S. (2014). Conflict in multicultural classes: Approaches to resolving difficult dialogues. Counselor Education And Supervision, 53(2), 97-110

Huston, T. A., & DiPietro, M. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. In D. R. Robertson & L. B. Nilson (Eds.) To Improve the Academy. Vol 25. Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development (pp. 207-224). Bolton, MA: Anker.

Sue, D. W., Lin, A. I., Torino, G. C., Capodilupo, C. M., & Rivera, D. P. (2009). Racial microaggressions and difficult dialogues on race in the classroom. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15(2), 183-190.



GO TO:  Hot Moments

Even instructors make mistakes. You may be caught by surprise when a hot moment or difficult dialogue arises, and say nothing. You may unintentionally say something to a student that makes them feel marginalized or not supported, and realize the impact of your words later. Or, a student may approach you because the assignment you gave does not properly accommodate their disability. When these situations arise, it is important to openly acknowledge your misstep and apologize. Although you may be concerned about maintaining your authority in the classroom, research has shown that students take their cues from you and are negatively impacted by harms that go unacknowledged (Huston & DiPietro, 2007). Here are some sample statements for different scenarios, which you can adapt for your context and personal voice:

  • If you froze during a difficult dialogue: “Ten minutes ago/yesterday/last week, a statement was made in class that I did not address at the time but want to do so now.”
      • Apologize for the delay and acknowledge that by not responding immediately, you (as the instructor) may have given the impression that you condone the behavior and comments that caused
      • Identify the problematic statement(s) that caused the high emotions and
      • State your commitment to responding to incivilities more quickly and desire to better support the learning and well-being of all students.
  • If you committed a microaggression: “[Student], I want to apologize for the comment I made yesterday/what I said to you yesterday. My intention, although poorly articulated, was to say [this]. I understand, however, that my words conveyed incorrect and harmful assumptions about you. Please know that I intend to be more mindful and reflective about what I say in the future.”
      • Try to speak to the student as soon as possible after you have become aware of the harmful impact of your words. In person is best.
    • If a student makes you aware of an aspect of your course that is not accessible to them: “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I apologize for the oversight and am happy to work with you and the Office of Disability Resources to come up with a solution.”


Huston, T. A., & DiPietro, M. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. In D. R. Robertson & L. B. Nilson (Eds.) To Improve the Academy. Vol 25. Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development (pp. 207-224). Bolton, MA: Anker.


GO TO:  Microaggressions  |  Hot Moments