An Inclusive Classroom Framework: Resources, Onboarding Approach, and Ongoing Programs

students in lecture hall

We all face the challenge of making our classrooms more inclusive. At Iowa State, a series of training opportunities helps guide faculty and academic leaders to the most effective methods for teaching inclusively and welcoming a diverse classroom, as Ann Marie VanDerZanden and Laura Bestler shared during the 2016 Leadership in Higher Education Conference.

The 2015 US Census reports an increasingly diverse population in the United States, and this diversity is also reflected in today’s college student population. Many national organizations of higher education have initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusivity to help address this new student demographic. Additionally, a number of institutions have followed suit and are implementing local diversity and inclusivity initiatives.

Iowa State University model

At the direction of the senior vice president and provost, the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) created and facilitated an Inclusive Classroom Task Force. This task force, made up of faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students, was charged with designing a faculty development program that would help faculty build positive student learning experiences by creating inclusive classrooms. The task force met six times between December 2015 and April 2016 and established these overarching initiative goals:

  • Learn about teaching inclusively and why it is important at Iowa State University
  • Identify an individual’s attitudes towards inclusion, determine how it impacts teaching, and develop strategies to be more inclusive
  • Enhance instructional skills that contribute to an inclusive campus environment
  • Become familiar with student support resources at Iowa State University

Creating an inclusive classroom

The centerpiece of the Creating an Inclusive Classroom initiative is a series of four online modules that participants complete prior to a three-hour face-to-face workshop facilitated by the teaching center. Each online module includes a short reading, a brief video(s), and a set of critical reflection questions. The online modules prepare the faculty to actively engage in conversation during the face-to-face workshop, and they include these topics:

  • Module 1: ISU policies that are relevant to inclusion
  • Module 2: Exploring your inclusive teaching persona
  • Module 3: Developing a mindful syllabus and course design
  • Module 4: What are micro-aggressions and how do they impact learning?

During the face-to-face workshop, participants engage in individual, small group, and large group activities to explore the inclusive classroom, the importance of inclusion to Iowa State University, barriers to effective inclusion, and strategies to overcome them. Next, in small groups, participants discuss two diversity and inclusion classroom scenarios and identify possible solutions. The workshop concludes with a work session where participants complete a guided exercise to generate an individual action plan for implementing inclusion in their classroom. This exercise gives participants a tangible takeaway from the overall training.

In addition to the online modules and workshop, the task force members provide guidance to the teaching center in developing the Strategies to Create an Inclusive Course and the Mindful and Learner-Centered Syllabus Checklist documents. These resources are used in online learning modules during the workshop and posted online on the CELT website at the Creating an Inclusive Classroom page.

Results to date
Most participants to date have been faculty members. Participants valued the content shared during the workshop and how it applied to their teaching, as well as how the workshop was organized with open discussion, interactive activities, and personalized action plans. Workshop facilitators observed the supportive interactions between faculty during the workshop and the in-depth discussions that occurred.

Two common themes emerged from written comments in the post-workshop evaluation: the usefulness of sharing and discussing this topic with colleagues, and the fact that participants feel more prepared to make changes to increase inclusion in their own courses. One participant shared, “In-depth discussion was useful—particularly hearing examples from other faculty. Sharing classroom experiences. There is no ‘right’ answer or one way to do something. Every situation is unique and needs to be handled as such.” Another participant stated, “We can all do more than we currently do. Having all faculty go through the exercise of adding specific changes to a specific course creates the best opportunities to personalize the topic to their work.” Furthermore, the post-workshop evaluation responses showed an increase in knowledge, awareness, understanding, and comfort with creating an inclusive classroom, which supported the overall initiative goals.

Next steps

The ISU Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching will offer the Inclusive Classroom Faculty Development Workshop eight times during the 2016–2017 academic year. In addition, CELT is also hosting and facilitating a monthly discussion group for faculty about inclusion titled Coffee and Critical Conversations during this academic year. This new program will provide faculty with an additional opportunity to discuss barriers to effective inclusion and strategies to overcome these hurdles.

Lessons learned

The inclusive classroom initiative at Iowa State University is a campus-wide initiative with input from multiple stakeholder groups, including faculty, staff, faculty senate leadership, college-level equity advisors, and graduate and undergraduate students. Input from these groups has resulted in a broad representation of viewpoints, opinions, and concerns. The success of this initiative to date stems in part from the process followed to create the deliverables (training materials, etc.). The process is not department specific and could easily be adapted to fit the local context of an institution, college, or curriculum area.

This article was originally featured in the Best of the Leadership in Higher Education Conference, a collection of articles from some of the top-rated presenters and sessions at the 2016 conference. Download the full report »


Garibay, J.C. “Creating a Positive Classroom Climate for Diversity.” Accessed May 5, 2016.

Saunders, S., and D. Kardia. “Creating Inclusive College Classrooms.” Accessed May 5, 2016.

Ann Marie VanDerZanden is director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Iowa State University. Laura Bestler is the program coordinator of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Iowa State University.