By Annette Finley-Croswhite, Kristal Kinloch-Taylor, and M’hammed Abdous

What Inclusive Instructors Do

Tracie Marcella Addy, Derek Dube, Khadijah A. Mitchell, and Mallory E. SoRelle, What Inclusive Instructors Do: Principles and Practices for Excellence in College Teaching. New York and London: Taylor and Francis Group, 2021.

The authors of "What Inclusive Instructors Do" begin with the premise that inclusive teaching is good teaching. They go on to offer readers multiple ways to take ownership of the process of creating an inclusive classroom environment. In the preface the authors note that circumstances surrounding COVID and the move to online instruction as well as the racial violence that occurred during the pandemic caused them to act on their beliefs that faculty need practical resources to address equity and inclusion in their classrooms. Beginning with a survey of 306 instructors from different backgrounds, disciplines, and universities, the authors asked them to define what inclusive teaching means, what strategies they use to promote inclusivity, and what their universities are doing to implement inclusive teaching initiatives (173). Faculty responses are then infused throughout the text so that the reader hears directly from faculty on key topics. Based on their findings, the authors stress two major themes: 1) Inclusive teaching is equitable and involves designing classrooms in which all students can thrive and meet their potential; and, 2) Inclusive classrooms are those where all students feel welcomed with a real sense of belonging (4).

One of the great benefits of the book is that it operates as a tool. It is divided into three sections that address: 1) evidence of inclusive principles; 2) practices of inclusive teaching; and 3) sustaining a culture of inclusive teaching. Each chapter contains reflective questions the reader can use to explore one’s personal thoughts and/or knowledge of inclusive teaching.  Useful appendices include potential welcome statements to use on syllabi, among other suggestions, as well as a “Welcoming Classroom Worksheet” that can help faculty better realize the identities and needs of their students as a pathway to building a more positive classroom community and environment. 

At the Center for Faculty Development, we decided to read the book together and discuss its content. Each CFD staff member offers insight below into what they liked best about the book. Annette Finley-Croswhite was pleased to see that in a chapter on inclusive classroom management, the TILT method was discussed. Pedagogical scholar Mary Ann Winkelmes developed TILT or Transparency in Learning and Teaching as a classroom strategy of equitable teaching practice in which emphasis is placed on clearly explaining to students the purpose, task, and grading criteria for assignments distributed in class. These three items may seem obvious to instructors, but that is not always the case to students, especially first- generation. The TILT method thus places emphasis on transparency and taking the time to craft will-designed assignments. Special emphasis is also given to discussing with students “why” a particular assignment has been devised and how it relates to the class, discipline, or even the students’ future profession. Because the CFD has emphasized TILT and promoted it in several workshops, it was good to see it included in this book.

The authors’ focus on sense of belonging resonated with Kristal Kinloch-Taylor who devised and led a CFD three-part humanizing series this semester offering ODU faculty practical ways to transform and create student-focused courses. At the core of the humanizing series was identifying viable approaches to help our diverse student population feel welcomed. The authors of “What Inclusive Instructors Do” stressed that implementing inclusive welcome strategies encourages “environments where various student differences are openly acknowledged and accepted” (74). To achieve this feat, faculty can focus on these three areas:

  • Learn Names, Correctly Pronounce Names, and Ask Preferred Names and Pronouns
  • Allow Students to Self-Identify Visible and Invisible Identities
  • Support the Whole Student Intellectually, Personally and Socially

Small changes to course design can shift the classroom setting and enhance students’ sense of belonging. Building on these recommendations, faculty can request students provide the pronunciation of their names. This information can be achieved with the inclusive teaching tool provided in the text. For distance courses, faculty can modify the initial welcome prompt to include student pronunciation, preferred names, and pronouns.

We all have visible and invisible identities. It’s important to allow students the chance to bring their whole experience in the college setting. “Whole student approaches address the emotional and social needs of students (77).” Rest assured, Kinloch-Taylor notes, that strategies can be applied to in-person or distance education courses.

M’hammed Abdous notes that because of the unprecedented diversity of Generation Z, many current teaching methods marginalize underserved students. Educators must rethink course design, materials, and techniques to create environments where all students can meaningfully participate. To implement student demographic assessment, Abdous points out that the authors invite us to ask:

  • What percentage of your students are first-generation college students? Consider respectfully inviting students to share their experiences.

The authors also offer concrete, research-based recommendations for implementing inclusive principles. Rather than just theories, the book offers active strategies such as assessing classroom diversity and adjusting instruction accordingly. This moves away from one-size-fits-all instruction to customized, flexible methods that embrace student differences. To put inclusive course design into practice, the authors encourage reflection on:

  • What curricular changes could incorporate diverse approaches? What's currently missing or underdeveloped?
  • Take any course topic. What teaching method have you used? What's a different approach you might try?

Abdous observes the book emphasizes moving beyond superficial tweaks to deep shifts in thinking about equity and inclusion. It challenges educators to challenge assumptions, take risks, and continually improve in order to break down barriers and put students' belonging at the center. To foster a welcoming classroom, the authors encourage inquiry:

  • What welcoming strategies have you used? Did they promote belonging and equitable practices? Why or why not?

Finally, Finley-Croswhite, Kinloch-Taylor, and Abdous all found intriguing the "Who's in Class?" form the authors include in the book as a tool to help instructors better understand diverse student identities and experiences (139-49). These insights gained from using the tool can shape teaching practices to ensure that all students feel valued and empowered. CFD staff members worried, however, that some of the questions on the form were too personal and might make students feel uncomfortable. CFD staff concluded that answering the form should always be optional, and the form itself can obviously be modified with less-intrusive questions. Campus cultures from small privates to large publics might determine how many of the questions from the tool found in this book would be used.

Overall, the book provides concrete strategies and guidance for teachers to create more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming classrooms that empower diverse students. We encourage our ODU faculty to consider reading “What Inclusive Instructors Do.”

For more on the book see the authors webinar here: