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Philosophy of Inclusive Instruction

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Theoretical Foundations

Developing an Equity-Oriented Mindset

When approaching instruction for the first time (or even if it's just the first time in a new context or environment), it can often be tempting to jump right into what seems to be the "meat and potatoes" - what are you going to teach? What are your students going to do? However, taking the time to step back and assess your mindset and approaches when it comes to teaching is invaluable. What are your pre-conceived notions about teaching and learning? What did your own experiences in school look like, and how did that shape your expectations and assumptions about becoming an instructor? Maybe you didn't enter librarianship with the intent to do much teaching, or maybe instruction was your gateway into the library. Anyone from any background can make the choice to transform their teaching.


The biggest takeaway is that inclusive teaching isn't an optional "add-on" to augment an existing lesson plan, program, or curriculum - it's a value-laden mindset that must be embedded and prioritized from the outset and incorporated throughout the entire instructional process. By interweaving inclusive teaching principles into every component of your design process, from initial planning all the way through assessment and the tinkering that comes after, you can ensure that you're doing the most to reach all of the students that come through your classroom, not just a limited subset of them. In order to do so, however, let's explore a few philosophical theories that underpin inclusive teaching.

Learning Theories


"Constructivism is the theory that says learners construct knowledge rather than just passively take in information. As people experience the world and reflect upon those experiences, they build their own representations and incorporate new information into their pre-existing knowledge." -University of Buffalo Center for Educational Innovation

Constructivism emphasizes the activation of learners' personal, prior experiences and that knowledge is actively constructed, rather than passively absorbed. Thus, there is an emphasis on active learning strategies. This is in direct opposition to earlier theories of learning, which viewed students as passive objects (or "vessels") in the classroom, to be filled with knowledge by the teacher. You'll hear these earlier methods referred to collectively as the "banking model," coined by Paulo Freire (where teachers make "deposits" of knowledge into students), or casually as "sage on the stage" (as opposed to the more constructivist-leaning "guide on the side"). Knowledge is constructed from the process of making meaning.

For more on constructivism, see:

  1. Constructivism as a theory for teaching and learning (McLeod, 2019)

  2. Workshop: Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004)

Desktop Workspace with Laptop and Open Book

Transformative Learning

Transformative learning theory in many ways builds upon constructivism and extends it further to suggest that as learners are exposed to new information and actively engage with it, they undergo a process of critical reflection where they re-evaluate their previously held ideas and ways of understanding the world. This process ultimately results in a transformation that leads to newfound understandings of themselves and the world around them. 


It was originally developed by Jack Mezirow in 1991 in Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning and is described as being "constructivist, an orientation which holds that the way learners interpret and reinterpret their sense experience is, central to making meaning and hence learning."

Transformative learning approaches allow students (and instructors learning to teach!) the opportunity to explore new perspectives that they may not have previously considered within the bounds of their existing worldviews; encourages them to engage in critical self-reflection in order to identify and question the assumptions and implicit biases that they hold; provides opportunities for critical discourse to evaluate multiple sides of an issue within a community of their peers; and empowers them to develop confidence in asserting themselves, their beliefs, decisions, and their justifications behind them. 

For more on transformative learning, see: 

  1. Transformative Learning Theory to Practice (Mezirow, 1997)

Critical Learning Theories

Transformative Learning is an example of a type of critical learning theory. While more "traditional" theory focuses only on descriptive or explanatory processes, critical theory aims to critique, change, challenge, and transform society and the world. Critical theories challenge and resist dominant narratives that insist that inequality in society is inevitable or the result of individual actions, and focus instead on how systems and institutions create and reinforce structural oppression. Race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities (including the intersectionality of multiple identities) are explored as "lenses" through which to understand inequity, marginalization, and power dynamics in society.


As applied to instruction and education, critical theories (of which there are many) maintain that the underlying purpose of all teaching and learning activities (no matter the subject or material) should be transforming the world for the better, often through collective action. This is in contrast to more traditional, historical understandings of the purpose of education, such as to maintain the rules and order of society, indoctrinate, acculturate, or assimilate individuals into becoming good citizens (think of early library efforts surrounding literacy efforts targeting immigrants), or preparing students for the workforce (which is still how many people think of the primary purpose of higher education).

Examples of critical theories include:

Critical Pedagogy

When we apply critical theories to the methods, practices, and theories surrounding education, we call that critical pedagogy. Like critical theories, there are many versions and variations in defining and describing critical pedagog(ies). What most have in common is the agreement that education is inherently political, non-neutral and non-objective (and, in fact, cannot be neutral nor objective), saturated with power dynamics and inequities, and that only through actively engaging with and resisting these structures and creating alternative, counter-narratives can education truly be transformative and liberatory.

If that sounds like a lot of pressure, and you're questioning how you could possibly address issues of that scale within the bounds of the library classroom, you're not alone! Moving from theory to practice is what we're here to do, and grounding these principles in concrete, actionable strategies and techniques is the subject of no small amount of scholarship in the fields of education and librarianship.

For foundational texts on critical pedagogies, see:​​

  1. Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary ed). New York: Continuum.

  2. hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

For more on critical theories, with a particular focus on CRT, see: 

  1. Brown, J., & Lopez-McKnight, J. [Association of College and Research Libraries]. (2019, May 30). ACRL ISTMC: Describing realities, imagining directions: critical race pedagogies. [Video]. Youtube.

  2. Brown, K., & Jackson, D. D. (2014). The history and conceptual elements of critical race theory. In Handbook of Critical Race Theory in Education. Routledge. Retrieved from:

  3. Ettarh, F. (2014). Making a New Table: Intersectional Librarianship. In the Library with a Lead Pipe. Retrieved from:

  4. Gorski, P. (2007). The Question of Class. Teaching Tolerance, 31. Retrieved from:

  5. Honma, T. (2005). Trippin’ Over the Color Line: The Invisibility of Race in Library and Information Studies. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 1(2). Retrieved from

  6. Schlesselman-Tarango, G. (2016). The legacy of lady bountiful: White women in the library. Library Trends, 64(4), 667–686. Retrieved from: 

  7. University of Sheffield Information School Critical Theory Reading List

Rawson (2020) Traditional Information Literacy versus Critical Information Literacy Comparison Table

from Critical Learning Theories + Critical Library Pedagogy (Rawson, 2020)

A Feminist Ethics of Care

“The ethics of care starts from the premise that as humans we are inherently relational, responsive beings and the human condition is one of connectedness or interdependence.” -Carol Gilligan

Ethics of Care in the Classroom

One major critique of traditional learning theories is their over-emphasis on the cognitive (thinking) component of the learning process, to the exclusion of the affective (feelings, emotions, moods, attitudes) dimension of learning. By focusing only on what students are thinking, or on what they are doing (their physical actions), teachers aren't acknowledging students' whole selves in the classroom. In contrast, critical theories almost always employ a holistic or person-centered approach to teaching, emphasizing that people are complex, multidimensional individuals. (See: Whole Person Librarianship) Feminist theorist Carol Gilligan espoused an "ethics of care" that has been applied and adapted across many disciplines, but has particularly resonated when placed side-by-side with critical pedagogies that focus on democratic ideals, mutual dialogue, relationship building, and education as a liberatory practice. An ethics of care demands that teachers go beyond focusing only on what or how well students are learning the material, and places a moral and ethical imperative on instructors to be responsive to the relational needs of their students.

Applying an ethics of care can look like cultivating a classroom environment that is welcoming, where you meet students "where they are," where emphasis is placed on building a sense of community (even if only for the hour or so that you're with them!), where you honor students' experiences and expertise in their own lives, and where you start to break down the teacher-student power dynamic that often keeps students from speaking up and speaking out when they have questions, ideas, and challenges to contribute. This has also been called "humanizing the classroom," echoing Paulo Freire's call for a humanizing, or liberating, pedagogy. (The origin of the exact phrase, "humanizing the classroom," seems to be a little more diffuse; to the best of my knowledge, the earliest I could find it in publication in exact terms was in Henson, 1975).

For more on critical, feminist pedagogy and ethics of care, see:

  1. Accardi, M., Drabinski, E., & Kumbier, A. (2014). Critical library instruction: Theories and methods. Duluth: Library Juice Press.

  2. Accardi, M. T., & Vukovic, J. (2013). Feminist pedagogy for library instruction. Duluth: Library Juice Press.

  3. Monchinski, T. (2010). Education in hope: Critical pedagogies and the ethic of care. New York: Peter Lang.

  4. Noddings, N. (1984). Caring, a feminine approach to ethics & moral education. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  5. Owens, L. M., & Ennis, C. D. (2005). The ethic of care in teaching: An overview of supportive literature. Quest, 57(4), 392–425.

  6. Stommel, J. (2020, June). Designing for Care: Inclusive Pedagogies for Online Learning. Presented at the Texas Peer Mentor Network Series: Transforming Crisis into Critical Opportunity. 

"Humanizing" the Classroom

The idea that students may need more than just rote content-based instructional support in lecture form isn't necessarily new, but widespread adoption of inclusive teaching practices hasn't necessarily been standard practice even in today's library classroom (or across higher education, more broadly). The hesitance to adopt a more humanistic approach to teaching may stem from a lack of understanding of what that looks like in practice, coupled with the longstanding tradition of lecture-based teaching. However, there are a number of models that break down the concepts behind humanized teaching practices, out of which we can draw strategies for implementation.

At the heart of inclusive teaching is the cultivation of a certain type of classroom climate through community building. While some forms of library instruction, such as the one-shot session, don't give us the same extended amount of time to leverage as, say, a course-embedded librarian might have, there are still basic foundations that can be applied regardless. Take the definition and basic elements of a "sense of community" as explored in the psychological theory by McMillan & Chavis (1986):


Here, the development of a sense of community relies on the following elements:

  • Membership in the community, or "the feeling of belonging or of sharing a sense of personal relatedness," as cultivated through:

    • Boundaries and Emotional Safety

    • Sense of Belonging and Identification

    • Personal Investment

  • Influence, or "a sense of mattering, of making a difference to a group and of the group mattering to its members," where community norms, consensus, validation, and power are all involved

  • Integration and Fulfillment of Needs, or a reinforcement of "feeling that members' needs will be met by the resources received through their membership in the group"

  • Shared Emotional Connection, or "the commitment and belief that members have shared and will share history, common places, time together, and similar experiences."

    • Where there is contact and high quality interaction

    • Where high quality interaction consists of shared events where successful closure and positive interactions outweigh ambiguity and negative interactions (loosely interpreted)

Put all together, "sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together." (McMillan, 1976). In the classroom context, students need to know that they belong there and are welcome, that their presence and their identity matter to someone, that their needs as individuals will be met, and that they have something in common with one another and with you. 

Holding those elements in mind, let's zoom in on one of those in particular - sense of belonging. What does it mean to feel like one belongs to a community? In Strayhorn (2012), a revised model of college students' sense of belonging is proposed that is modeled after the hierarchical structure in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid: 


By examining this model, it's clear that it's not possible to rise to one's fullest potential without feeling a sense of belonging, and that those positive outcomes remain elusive without that critical development. Kahu (2013) similarly honed in on the factors that influenced student outcomes, focusing on student engagement as a conceptual framework- but yet again, sense of belonging (and its parent domain, affect) are implicated at the very center of the framework. 














As can be seen by the antecedents (precursors) and consequences with their double-ended arrows, there's a complex web of interrelated factors contributing to student engagement. Academic relationships with teaching staff (under psychosocial influences) have significant bearing on the affective, or emotional/attitudinal dimension, of learning and academic achievement, including a student's enthusiasm, interest, and sense of belonging. Knowing the potential influence that we wield as instructors, we have a responsibility to cultivate a classroom environment that appeals to the affective needs of those students by being welcoming, or, as the next theorists would coin, by being invitational


Invitational Theory (Purkey & Novak) builds upon prior theories in an attempt to distill some universally generalizable elements of what makes people succeed or fail in their endeavors regardless of academic or professional context. There are five basic assumptions of invitational theory, and five essential elements. The five basic assumptions are that:

  • People are able, valuable, and responsible and should be treated accordingly.

  • Educating should be a collaborative, cooperative activity.

  • The process is the product in the making.

  • People possess untapped potential in all areas of worthwhile human endeavor.

  • This potential can best be realized by places, policies, programs, and processes specifically designed to invite development and by people who are intentionally inviting with themselves and others, personally and professionally.


The five essential elements of Invitational Theory are: 1) care, 2) trust, 3) respect, 4) optimism, and 5) intentionality


By now, it's become abundantly clear that there's a well-articulated body of research and scholarship devoted to understanding the many factors that influence student learning outcomes, and not just limited to cognitive outcomes. Student also require their affective needs to be met through the development of a particular kind of classroom climate, community building, cultivation of a sense of belonging, emotional safety, engagement, care, and all of the other elements that are inextricably linked with them. Let's move on to some practical strategies for doing so.

McMillan & Chavis (1986) Elements of Sense of Community and Their Hypothesized Relationships
Strayhorn (2012) Revised Pyramid Hierarchical Model of College Students' Sense of Belonging
Kahu (2013) Conceptual framework of student engagement, antecedents and consequences
Best Practices

Best Practices for Inclusive Teaching


“As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence.”  -bell hooks

Translating Philosophy Into Praxis: How to Move Beyond Theory and into the Library Classroom

Out of a review of the selected literature, similar themes arose regarding strategies, techniques, and methods to realize the visions put forth in the learning theories and models covered above. Simplified and condensed into suggestions that are practical, digestible, and within the capacity for most any library instructor to implement (whether a graduate student assistant new to teaching, or a full-time, professional librarian with years of experience), the recommendations are as follows. Beneath them are additional sources for reference and inspiration, including ones cited by this author, some in the form of handy checklists and plug-and-play templates for quick, easy implementation. Individual recommendations are loosely grouped into larger categories based on overarching conceptual themes.

*Note that the principle focus of the best practices in this section is on the cultivation of an inclusive classroom environment. For best practices related to inclusive lesson planning, including universal instructional design, see the Planning Instruction page.

Appealing to Students' Affective Needs - Cultivating a Warm, Positive Classroom Climate​

Start Building Rapport Early

  • Greet students at the door with a genuine welcome

    • It sets a positive, inviting tone right from the beginning of your session

    • It aligns expectations for what quality and character of interactions students can expect from you (while encouraging them to engage similarly)

    • Consider the reverse - if, as a student, you were to walk into a classroom and see your teacher at their desk, on their computer or hunched over their lecture notes, without a pause to look up to acknowledge or greet you, what would this convey to you personally about your instructor's feelings and priorities? Would you feel a sense of interest or investment in you as a student? What about a connection or the start of a relationship? 

    • Studies even suggest that greeting students at the door can increase the amount of time that students are engaged later during the lesson, as well as decrease off-task behavior (Cook et al., 2018 via Durbin, 2019)

    • This also has the side benefit of putting students at ease that they're in the right place, especially if they're visiting the library for the first time, or one of the first of their class to arrive

  • Mingle and interact with students before class starts (as appropriate)​

    • By showing interest in students, their classes, lives, and how they are doing, you have the opportunity to start building some early rapport and get to know some of the class you'll be working with

    • You're also letting students see you outside of your formal role at the "head of the classroom," which has the potential to break down some of the intimidation and anxiety that can come along from interacting with an unfamiliar instructor in a new setting

    • You can also consider having an introduction slide up as students enter with a humanizing bio on yourself (especially if you are teaching remotely, having this up via screen sharing while waiting on everyone to log on is a great strategy)

Demonstrate Genuine Enthusiasm

  • Have an enthusiastic but genuine demeanor

    • Your delivery matters more than you think - enthusiasm is contagious and ​can contribute to student engagement

    • "It's authentic, humanizing, amplifying, reciprocal, nurtures, is grounded in reality, and supports risk-taking." (Oakleaf et al., 2012)

  • Draw on what makes you passionate, and be authentic about it

    • You don't have to be over-the-top or put on a "performance" (students will pick up if you're faking it)
    • Think about what you find satisfying or meaningful about teaching, being a librarian, interacting with students, or working with the instructional material. Bring that enthusiasm to class, and the authenticity will shine through
    • Presumably, you're reading this because you care about your students - "caring is one of the most effective manifestations of enthusiasm" - so you're already halfway there! (Oakleaf et al., 2012)

Put Students at Ease

  • Set the stage with an environment that's conducive to learning

    • Consider playing music to set the tone - quiet, calm, relaxing, or bright, upbeat, inspirational​

    • To the extent possible, minimize distractions and interruptions to class time.

    • Don't try to cram too much material into a tight time frame. Keep track of timing benchmarks within your lesson plan and adjust as needed; ideally, you'll have some buffer time built-in for if certain activities go over. When material feels rushed, comprehension goes down and students are in turn more likely to feel overwhelmed and less likely to speak up with questions that they may have.

    • Come to class prepared, arrive on time, complete pre-class tech checks to ensure things are running smoothly, and don't wing it - structure and intentionality are the keys to student comfort, engagement, and successful learning outcomes. See Planning for help on instructional design to see how to accomplish this

  • Provide reassurance when needed

    • Pay attention to the "temperature" or demeanor of the class as you're teaching. Keep an open mind when it comes to your lesson plan- if students are struggling or issues arise, be prepared to stop and reassess what's needed to get back on track. The ability to be flexible and adapt to challenges is an important skill, but it also comes with practice and experience, so be patient with yourself as you develop those aptitudes!

    • Try not to let frustration or impatience bleed over to the class. When issues come up, be frank and transparent about how they're affecting you (shared vulnerability cultivates empathy and models emotional regulation for students), but don't let it derail class. Give yourself permission to regroup, get back on track, and then set aside some time and space for reflection after class (see the importance of self-reflection in Assessment).

Learner-Centered Instruction: Teaching as Facilitating Learning

Emphasize Cooperative, Participatory Learning

  • Remember "sage on the stage" vs. "guide on the side"? Think of yourself as the latter- a facilitator of learning 

  • You've already begun by exhibiting warmth and setting a positive, inviting tone from the beginning of the session. Build on that rapport by explaining that the session will be a cooperative one where ​you are all equal partners in learning

  • Be explicit that you're there to learn together

    • Set the expectation that their contributions will be recognized and valued on equal footing with the material that you will be presenting, and that the process of engaging with the material is as important as if not more than the product.

  • Encourage them to participate even if they're not 100% sure of the answer.

    • Fear of getting something wrong and being chastised by the teacher is something that many students bring into the classroom from negative past learning experiences, and while you can't erase that in one session, being clear about what you will or won't penalize them for can relieve some of the pressure and anxiety that stymies participation and engagement​

Shift the Power Dynamics

  • *If you're able, moving around the room can be one strategy to break down the physical delineation between teacher (front of the room) and student (facing the teacher from the back of the room).

    • ​If the room and furniture allow, an alternate class arrangement could serve the same purpose while potentially allowing you to sit, as well. Keep in mind accessibility concerns, ensuring that you remain fully visible and audible to the entire class. 

  • Allow for student agency and investment

    • Whenever possible, leave room for student choice in topic selection and class activities

    • Student autonomy and authentic engagement support better learning outcomes

  • Shift the focus away from lecture, or direct instruction, toward student contributions.

    • Employ active learning strategies that foreground student engagement and participation. It can feel uncomfortable at first ceding over space and control of the classroom, but students who are doing something are more likely to gain and retain new knowledge (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel, 2014)

Reconsider Notions of Expertise

  • Acknowledge that while you have expertise in some areas and their instructor has expertise in others, so do they - and there are areas in which none of you will have expertise!

    • This is a normal fact of life that they might not have ever had a teacher explicitly come out and say, and the elevation of their personal background and experiences is validating. It can help mitigate uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the research process, and help boost confidence and motivation. 

    • If you run into a question that you can't answer, let them know and be up front about that fact. Instead, model best practices for handling uncertainty and exploration in the research process. How would you use your skills, strategies, and resources to find the answer? 

  • If something goes wrong during the session, embrace it as a learning opportunity.
    • Students will see you handling the situation, realize that they're not alone when they struggle or feel overwhelmed, and may not be so quick to judge themselves when they, in turn, encounter issues of their own.

Welcome Questions & Contributions (and really mean it)

  • Check the language that you use when soliciting feedback and engagement

    • Instead of asking "Are there any questions?," ask "What questions do we still have?."

    • Pause for at least 10-15 seconds to wait for a response (consider waiting longer if you're teaching virtually, where lag time and delays can make syncing up more difficult).

    • If you're concerned about comprehension (which we all should be!), instead of asking things like "Did that make sense?," be more specific. "Which parts of what we just covered made the most/lease sense?."

    • Students may also be more likely to contribute if the perceived "fault" isn't on them. Redirect "responsibility" for understanding using simple changes in the language of check-ins, like "Which parts could I have done a better job explaining/clarifying?"

  • Reconsider how you assess comprehension entirely​

    • Better yet, build in comprehension checks during lesson planning using active learning strategies, which give students the opportunity to show you what they've learned, rather than putting the onus on them to identify and tell you what's not clear (which they may not be aware of yet, in the moment). 

    • By building in low-stakes, formative checks, you'll have a better ongoing sense of how students are moving through the lesson, which will give you the opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive in addressing stuck points in the lesson (for more, see Assessment)

For more on learner-centered pedagogy, see:

  1. Klipfel, K. M., & Cook, D. B. (2017). Learner-centered pedagogy: Principles and practice. Chicago: ALA Editions, an imprint of the American Library Association.

    1. For a brief snapshot of learner-centered strategies from these authors, see: 10 Ideas for Making Your Teaching More Learner-Centered



Develop Self-Awareness through Reflective Practices

Take time for critical self-reflection

  • Not everyone has had the opportunity to sit and reflect on their personal and professional identities and the power structures that come into play surrounding those identities. Issues of privilege, power, oppression, marginalization, and vulnerability can be difficult to process and come to terms with. Some may be further along in this process than others. ​

Challenge assumptions about yourself and your students

  • All of us hold certain unexamined beliefs about the world from our backgrounds that we don't think twice about. However, when we move through life taking those beliefs for granted and allowing them to influence the way that we interact with others, we are responsible for the impact that they may have, especially when they can harm (regardless of intention). In order to be proactive in examining, questioning, and re-assessing these beliefs, or biases, we must first become aware of them.

  • Implicit Bias Awareness: One place to start is taking the implicit social attitudes test. Put together by researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition ("thoughts and feelings outside of our conscious awareness and control"), the goal is to educate the public about hidden biases. Without awareness and intervention, implicit bias has the power to shape classroom interactions in a way that can lead to serious negative outcomes for students.

Familiarize yourself with the ways in which bias can manifest

  • Microaggressions are "the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership." (Sue, 2010). While they're often shrugged off as minor, or considered harmless when they're unintentional, their impact is what matters, and they're reflective of larger patterns of bias in society. They're hostile, invalidating, perpetuate stereotype threat (see below), negatively effect productivity and problem-solving abilities, decrease sense of belonging (Strayhorn, 2012), and even create very real physical health problems for people of color (and other targeted persons). (Sue, 2009, p. 183). In addition to the self-reflective strategies already covered, additional strategies instructors can use include:

    • Resist the myth of color blindness​

    • Believe the stories of people from marginalized groups

    • Assume groups you are talking about are represented in the classroom

    • Remain open to learning about microaggressions and yourself (Saunders & Wong, 2020)

  • Stereotype threat is "the notion that members of any group about whom a negative stereotype exists can fear being reduced to that stereotype." (Tran & Higgins, 2020, p.10) It's important to avoid reinforcing the very real phenomena of reducing individuals to stereotypes.

    • Do not ask students to speak for their entire racial or cultural group​

    • Do not make assumptions about students based on their membership in a particular community or identity group 

    • Take care that the examples that you use in class don't reinforce stereotypes

  • Othering is "treating the history and experiences of white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied people as universal or the norm, while presenting the history and experiences of other groups as unusual, exceptional, or only of interest to members of those communities." (Saunders & Wong, 2020)

    • Examine the examples that you use in class, particularly visual representations in presentation materials - for example, stock photos are often predominately white. Are you representing only a narrow idea of what a student looks like? ​

    • The language we use without thinking often implicates this kind of bias - when we use male as the default gender, like saying scientist vs. female scientist, or getting the class' attention by saying "hey guys" (try "hey folks" or some other variation instead), address audiences as "ladies and gentleman" (presenting gender as a binary and erasing individuals of other gender identities), using ableist language like "crazy" or "insane" to describe unusual experiences, etc.

    • Another example is the difference between referring to racial "minorities" (which centers whiteness as the default or norm), and more accurately referring to "minoritized" people, which focuses on systems and institutions as the actors that enact oppressive policies and processes that lead to minoritization. 

    • Language is subject to change, so keeping an open mindset and staying on top of 

  • Deficit-based thinking is "rooted in a blame the victim orientation that suggests that people are responsible for their predicament and fails to acknowledge that they live within coercive systems that cause harm with no accountability." (Davis & Museus, 2019)

    • Transitioning to an asset-based model moves away from viewing people as problems, and instead focuses on improving systems and institutions that currently fail certain groups. 

    • Examples of deficit-based thinking and attitudes include the ways that first-generation college students are seen as having character flaws or inherent shortcomings, rather than celebrating the unique strengths of these students. (Whitley, Benson & Wesaw, 2018)​

Consider the broader context of teaching and librarianship

  • How do your personal identities fit within the larger field of librarianship? What is the educational context of your university, your academic library, the departments that you work with frequently, or the classes that you teach? You'll find more on this in the Planning section where we'll discuss environmental scans and community analyses, but for now, take a look at some of the following resources to become more familiar with librarianship as a field:

Develop cultural competency & humility

  • Cultural competency is the ability to work effectively with people from varied cultural backgrounds. (Saunders & Wong, 2020)

  • Use culturally relevant course material

    • Include materials written and created by people of different backgrounds and perspectives

    • Use materials that represent and depict a variety of people, especially those who are typically underrepresented in course materials

    • Include multiple perspective on a given topic​

    • At the same time, be aware of stereotypical and harmful representations of certain groups

  • However, cultural competence should not be misunderstood as suggesting that there is an endpoint to be attained in "reaching" a state of cultural competence, which could lead to over-confidence, stereotyping and bias in interpersonal interactions.

  • Cultural humility "describes a set of principles that guide the thinking, behavior and actions of individuals and institutions to positively affect interpersonal relationships as well as systems change."(Chavez, 2012)

    • Principles include: lifelong learning and critical self-reflection; recognizing and changing power imbalances; developing institutional accountability.

    • Cultural competence and humility ultimately need not be in opposition to one another, so long as the foundational principles of self-reflection, personal critique, and acknowledgment of lifelong learning are present.

Additional Inclusive Teaching Resources
  1. Creating Inclusive College Classrooms (Saunders & Kardia, 1997) - Cultivating inclusiveness in the classroom through culturally responsive interactions

  2. Western Washington University – Inclusive Teaching Toolkit

  3. Inclusive Pedagogy for Library Instruction Project (IP4LI) - The Inclusive Pedagogy for Library Instruction project (IP4LI) is a collaboration of librarians from several small, liberal arts colleges to discover resources and best practices for applying inclusive pedagogy in library instruction settings, particularly one-shot sessions. It is supported by a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South.

  4. University of Michigan – Inclusive Teaching Toolkit

  5. Brown University – Sheridan Center for Teaching & Learning – Inclusive Teaching Resources

  6. Monash University – Inclusive Teaching Toolkit (note that cultural context may differ as this university is based in Australia)

  7. Dewsbury B, Brame CJ. (2019) Evidence Based Teaching Guide: Inclusive Teaching. CBE Life Science Education. Retrieved from

  8. Teaching While White Resources: Where to Start and The Role of White Teachers in Antiracism

  9. Saunders, L., & Wong, M. A. (2020). Critical Pedagogy: Challenging bias and creating inclusive classrooms. In Instruction in libraries and information centers. Windsor & Downs Press. 


Extend Your LearningEquity in Teaching Institute – 2-Day Course at UNC

  • About: “During those two days, we will reflect on who our students are, how our courses can equitably meet our students’ needs, and what equity in teaching means to us. We will center the needs of students marginalized because of their race, sexual and gender identities, disability, religion, language, and/or immigration status and re-envision our courses so that we are prepared to meet the learning needs of all our students.”

  • "Along with time for individual work and reflection in small groups, we will offer practical tips for implementing more equitable course design, with an emphasis on remote teaching."

  • "Along with space for reflection and discussion, we will offer practical tips and ways to start implementing a more equitable course design, touching on areas such as:"

    • Syllabus design

    • Culturally responsive course content

    • Content delivery, explanation, and lecturing

    • Active learning

    • Student group formation

    • Assessment and feedback on student work

    • Creating an inclusive classroom community

*Author Note – This master’s project was influenced significantly by the author’s participation in the very first, beta-launch of the EqTI at UNC-CH in Dec. 2019 and the exercise of applying the institute’s principles to the one-shot library instruction context, followed by participating as an Equity in Teaching Fellow during the Spring 2020 semester. The course concepts and materials were invaluable as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we made the transition to remote teaching, and as a research & instruction assistant at the R.B. House Undergraduate Library one of our most important institutional priorities was supporting faculty and students during that transition. Throughout Summer 2020 I was tasked with investigating and creating inclusive online teaching resources, including the following guide, and in Fall 2020 I co-presented a virtual webinar for NCLive, also shown below.


"Although we are not responsible for the culture-specific beliefs we grew up with, we are surely responsible for examining and questioning them as adults and as educators."
-Marchesani & Adams

"Expressing a sincere, non-judgmental interest in the inner world of another person is a long-standing and pedagogically effective learner-centered practice."

-Kevin Michael Klipfel

*Author Note – As this guide was being assembled, UNC-Chapel Hill's University Libraries was undergoing a system-wide professional development activity organized by the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Council under the directive of the Vice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian, Elaine Westbrooks, regarding the University Libraries' role in reckoning with systemic racism and oppression. The 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge encouraged all of us to recognize, contemplate, and dismantle how systemic racism operates in our lives and our work, and each day there were readings, videos, activities, questions and reflections to guide participation in the challenge. While all of these materials are housed on the University Libraries' intranet, I would like to credit and acknowledge the incredible time and effort that went into curating and making those resources and activities available, as well as the impact that they have had on my personal anti-racist journey. 

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