HFT Summer Academy, inclusive teaching

HFT Week Seven: Inclusive Pedagogy

In one of our readings this week, Viji Sathy and Kelly A. Hogan ask, "Is the role of a college instructor to help students feel included and ready to thrive?" It is the last part of this that I have been the most concerned with in my own teaching. When I am in the classroom—whether on campus, in Zoom, or online—I feel my greatest responsibility is to helping students thrive.

To do this, I must undergo the tricky task of getting to know them. Finding out what they are passionate about, gently asking after their needs and limitations; and most importantly, listening to their stories. I cannot assume that my lesson plan, my goals for the week or for the term will mesh with their own, or will be the secret formula for helping them thrive. I have to be willing to listen, and I have to be willing to learn.

To me, the essence of "inclusive" pedagogy is finding out how narrow my view may be, how small my world. I am less interested in "including" students in my world, my knowledge, my perspective; I am much more interested in exposing my knowledge to their knowledge, my perspective to their perspective. Inclusion for me, then, is as much about students finding a place in the classroom I am leading as it is me finding a place in a classroom they will create.

But there are also very real considerations—of race, gender expression, sexuality, physical ability and mental health, and more—that our classrooms must make room for. And that's what this week is all about: discovering ways to make our classrooms safe, our classrooms welcoming, our classrooms equitable. And investigating what that means when those classrooms are fully online or hybrid.

Maha Bali writes:

Being truly open, inclusive educators is difficult. It entails making ourselves vulnerable by making our practice explicit and public. It entails opening our classrooms (usually behind walls) into spaces for others to observe and critique. It entails trying to accommodate diverse others we did not even know existed, and being excited about how they hack our ideas and what beauty this all brings, even when it initially makes us defensive or disappointed.

In other words, being inclusive doesn't consist of simple best practices, or good habits. Being inclusive can be questioning the assumptions behind how we teach, what we teach, why we teach, and who we teach (and, online, where we teach).

Activity: I Am From...

This week's activity originates from poet George Ella Lyon, and asks for a bit of vulnerability. As educators, if our work is to help students thrive, and if we do this in part by creating inclusive communities in the classrooms we occupy, then beginning to understand how inclusion works and how it feels is a valuable activity.

For this week's activity, I'm asking you to write a poem. It can be long or short. It doesn't have to rhyme. It can include math equations, images, or sounds. When you're ready, post the poem in a shared Google Doc. You may post anonymously.

The document will offer a loose structure for your poem. But you may approach the exercise anyway you like. The goal is to reveal a small bit of your complexity through the small elements or underlying themes of your life. Some possible prompts for your thinking include:

  • Familiar foods, especially those associated with family gatherings
  • Sights, sounds, and smells from your neighborhood
  • Familiar sayings heard repeatedly growing up
  • Familiar people, family members, friends, or ancestors
  • Discipline-specific topics (influential authors, experiences related to your field, motivation for selecting your field, etc.)
  • Anything else.

Take some time to write your poem. Then, post it to the shared document. Read others' poems, but do not comment. Diversity and inclusion (and listening) can be very quiet online.

As always, you are invited to annotate these articles using Hypothesis.

Author image

About Sean Michael Morris

Sean Michael Morris is the Director of Digital Pedagogy Lab and Senior Instructor in Learning, Design, and Technology at the University of Colorado Denver.
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