How to Build Inclusive Practices in Education

Cartoon characters represent group of diverse individuals

This article is featured in the resource guide, Effective Online Teaching Strategies.

Inclusive practices are critical to the higher education landscape in order to improve student learning.  Democratic principles are rooted in inclusion, and faculty and staff have a responsibility to provide personal and professional skills so that students fulfill goals of graduation and employment. 

Here, we’ll delve into inclusive practices that can be implemented within higher education by considering four key areas: 1.) purposeful curriculum, 2.) supportive climate, 3.) language, and 4.) desirable difficulty.

Inclusive Practices for Advancement

Learning is a lifelong process.  Although school assignments and projects require deadlines, the social action of learning continues far beyond classroom walls. Inclusiveness is also viewed in a political lens for members to be lifelong citizens.  

As mentioned above, the four key areas within higher education can be viewed as a constellation in order to guide professional and personal learning.  These four areas are woven throughout our work on inclusive practices so that faculty, staff, and community members act in ways that help students feel the excitement of learning and strive to achieve their dreams.

In particular, inclusive practices mean understanding the threshold, or called desirable difficulty, in order to learn effectively for the student population at the specific institution.  The more the university community works on supporting all types of students, the better curricula and assessments can be crafted. 

Also, creating high-quality syllabi with clear learning objectives (mastery shown by different phases of Bloom’s Taxonomy) and engaging in dialogues create classrooms with collaborative environments of purpose. When students learn challenging concepts, they have to get uncomfortable—taking risks and missing the mark at times. Learner-centered and/or student-centered environments are significant components to achieving desirable difficulty, because professors have to find out which objectives students understood and/or what level of mastery.  

Key Practices

Below are five key principles to promote—with consistency—for all students.

Students need time and opportunity to grapple with the material.  

A learning objective should be interwoven throughout the course, because if a lack of spacing in the curriculum exists, that will lead to forgetting a one-time concept.  It is critical to keep making connections and allowing time to re-study and to evolve the framework, especially as presented in the syllabus and key questions.  Learning is not necessarily linear; often it spirals with different emphasis on multiple levels of understanding.

Examples are great tools for an initial idea while encouraging creativity.

 The sample student work that is shown should be viewed as a springboard so that the current students can take ownership of their ideas.  The goal is to push students to be uncomfortable in which they are thinking, using, connecting, questioning, and evaluating material in a brand-new way.  Ask them to put a new twist on classic ideas.  Educators can model creativity by incorporating music, kinesthetic activities, and other outlets that support students to learn with sustainable meaning.

All students have a preferred way of learning

Professors are responsible to use multiple ways that provide understanding of the topics and language.  Be aware of what ways you like since we may over-use those techniques (implicit bias in how people learn). Visual aids, outlines, analogies, technology, hands-on design, group discussions, and reflections are just a few ways that educators can implement the language and allow them time to use the language, too.

If the word is an important concept and/or significant term of the course, then special attention should be given to it

Most importantly, these literacy skills provide the springboard for more complex thinking.  Watch the students to see if they are engaged—the facial expressions and nonverbal cues are powerful indicators of interest, confusion, excitement, and other levels of engagement.  

Struggles are necessary, creating space and time to grapple with meanings are beneficial for growth  

However, struggles should have prompt, effective feedback, which is also a critical piece of educators’ responsibilities.  Decades of research studies show that high expectations and positive interactions during this phase will lead to success (Baxter & Bowers, 1985; Daragh, Clifton, & Garavan, 1999; Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968; Wang & Lin, 2014).  Moreover, the increased level of language will instill confidence in the learners.

The Social Action and Political Lens of Inclusion

It is said that inclusion is rooted deeply in the democratic principles of both justice and opportunity (Blessinger, Hoffman & Makhanya, 2018).  Therefore, justice and opportunity are key elements to provide in a classroom.  Encourage students to present and to publish their work and to show ownership of their work. Inclusivity on the collegiate level, furthermore, is also vital to the development of a well-functioning democratic society beyond the classrooms. Higher education administrators should view inclusion as the fair and equitable treatment for all people. When inclusion is promoted on college campuses, students are engaged in all facets of the educational process.  An education, whether it be primary, secondary, or collegiate, is the foundation for all political, economic, social, ethical, and personal development.  Every stage of education is a step closer to developing an inclusive mind.  Students, faculty, and staff must develop a change in mindset and practices that direct a college campus to where everyone is valued. As students are included, they realize they are a part of a community that wishes members to reach their fullest potential.


Baxter, G., & Bowers, J. (1985). Beyond self-actualization: The persuasion of Pygmalion. Training & Development Journal, 39(8), 69-71.

Blessinger, P., Hoffman, J, & Makhanya. (2018), Introduction to Contexts for Diversity and Gender Identities in Higher Education, in Jaimie Hoffman , Patrick Blessinger ,Mandla Makhanya , (ed.) Contexts for Diversity and Gender Identities in Higher Education: International Perspectives on Equity and Inclusion (Innovations in Higher Education Teaching and Learning, Volume 12) Emerald Publishing Limited, pp.1 – 12.

Murphy, D, Campbell, C., & Garavan, T. (1999). The Pygmalion effect reconsidered: Its implications for education, training and workplace learning. Journal of European Industrial Training, 23(4/5), 238-251. 

Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the Classroom: Teacher Expectation and Pupils’ Intellectual Development. New York, NY, US: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Wang, Y, & Lin, L. (2014). Pygmalion effect on junior English teaching. Advances in Language and Literacy Studies, 5(4), 18-23.

Mr. Reinard Valentine is a doctoral student whose research interests include inclusive practices and equity issues.  He has a passion for social justice.

Dr. Brevetti has written dozens of articles on virtue-ethics, multicultural education, and educational technology.  She enjoys working with students from PK-12, as well as her current position instructing student-teachers and graduate students.