Definitions and PWI Focus - There are No “Best Practices”

Definitions of Inclusive Teaching

We offer our working definition of “inclusive teaching at a PWI,” in part, because there is not a shared or agreed upon definition of inclusive teaching. Most definitions of “inclusive teaching” acknowledge that unintentional teaching often leads to exclusionary teaching practices. Unintentional teaching typically means teaching in ways that work best for (or seem natural to) the instructor and/or teaching in ways that mimic the instructor’s experiences as a student. This could also be called “inherited” teaching methods where instructors teach in ways that are typical for their disciplines or subject areas. These inherited teaching practices are often longstanding and may not reflect the needs or diversity of our current students.

At its core, inclusive teaching is student-centered and explicitly intentional because it asks specific questions about the teaching context. The context is vital. Who are my students? What are their identities? What are their learning needs and interests? In what ways are they academically prepared or underprepared for this course or program? Most definitions of inclusive teaching ask the question, inclusive for whom?

Inclusive teaching, even with a focus on race and Indigeneity, is not the same thing as anti-racist pedagogy, decolonizing the curriculum, social justice pedagogy, or critical pedagogy.  While it is possible for inclusive teaching to draw upon the insights and practices of these various pedagogies, the primary purpose of inclusive teaching is not structural transformation (the goal of anti-racist pedagogy, for example). The purpose of inclusive teaching is to convert unintentional teaching into intentional teaching that is responsive to the learning needs of a diverse student population.

PWI Focus

We emphasize inclusive teaching at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) because inclusive teaching at the University of Minnesota as a PWI will look different than inclusive teaching at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) or even other PWIs. And more than that, every college, department or program within a PWI has its own specific context. This is why we challenge the common assumption in the literature on teaching and learning regarding “best practices.” We argue that there are no best practices for inclusive teaching at a PWI because the context matters and the context varies. The specific context (subject matter, student demographics, instructor demographics, disciplinary culture, local or regional culture and more) shapes and informs the dynamics of inclusive teaching at any particular PWI.  

Suggested, Not “Best,” Practices

Rather than “best practices,” this guide presents a flexible framework and suggested practices that will help instructors develop their own repertoire of teaching methods for their specific contexts. These practices should be viewed as a starting place, rather than a checklist or endpoint, and they require instructors to develop the ongoing practice of assessing the effectiveness of their teaching. Moreover, one’s teaching context will change. So in order for inclusive teaching to remain effective, instructors will always need to evolve their teaching practices.