Create Inclusive Learning & Teaching Environments
This guide is aligned to Baseline Standard 1 and the Professional Standards Framework A4. It provides general advice on how you can create inclusive learning and teaching environments.
- Understand that there is no such thing as an “average student”. Assume that your students will come from a variety of socioeconomic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and you will likely teach disabled students and neurodivergent students. If you have a student with a disability, be aware they may not have disclosed that to the University.1 Be careful not to make assumptions about gender, sexuality, beliefs and values.
- Take responsibility for anticipating the needs of disabled students at the design stage of all activities. This will prevent potentially time-consuming adjustments at a later date.
- Planning your teaching for a diverse group will also ensure that the majority of your students will benefit from your teaching methods. The number of students who may feel left behind or confused will also be reduced. As a result, you will need to make fewer one-off adjustments for students with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.
- To learn about inclusive digital environments, please refer to our Delivery in Online Learning Environments guide and our Digital Accessibility website.
Be reflective and check facts and assumptions
- Acknowledge any biases and prejudices you may have and make a conscious effort not to let them affect your teaching practice.2 Life experiences may lead us to make generalisations and assumptions about minority groups which may not necessarily reflect the truth. Be careful not to make assumptions about your students’ based on their personal characteristics including gender, sexuality, race, disability, age, background, beliefs and values. Students will have a variety of prior educational backgrounds and may not all be at the same starting point.
- Teaching staff in HE often teach in the way that worked best for them as students3 and this may not suit all learners. There is value in refreshing the way you teach, to incorporate different learning needs, styles, technologies and new approaches. Further advice about teaching practices can be found on the OD&PL Student Education Development site.
- Don’t assume prior knowledge of what you think your students should know, unless it’s something you have covered previously. Consider whether things are tacit or implicit within your subject, and whether additional explanations or context may be required.
- Use Plain English (website) to avoid ambiguity, and practice this in your everyday communications with all of your students. Your students will be less likely to misinterpret essay briefs and exam questions, as well as everyday communication, if it is easy to decipher the meaning.
- Think about your verbal and non-verbal communication style. Consider slowing down your delivery, always face your students and don’t cover your mouth when you’re speaking. This will make it easier for deaf/ hearing impaired students or speakers of English as an additional language, to understand you better.
- Provide glossaries of new terms. Students with dyslexia and those who speak English as an additional language may have difficulty guessing the spellings of new terms if they don’t see them written down.4
- Acknowledge that some students will find it harder to adapt to a new level of study.
- It may be hard for some of your students to settle in to new environments and ways of doing things. They may quickly fall behind or start to feel isolated if they are not supported through change and properly inducted into new systems. Ensure that you are aware of the support available to students at the University and how to signpost effectively.
- Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other and work together. See the guide about small group teaching.
- Some of your students may be naturally inclined to speak to those who are similar to themselves and they may be apprehensive about mixing with others, without encouragement. They may also worry about communicating with disabled students where there is a sensory or physical disability, but these fears are likely to be dispelled once they have been given opportunities to ‘break the ice’ and get to know each other.
- Encourage your students to reflect on diversity. This will enable them to recognise any prejudices they have and how interacting with a diverse group enriches their learning.
Create a friendly atmosphere
- Acknowledge your students outside of the classroom by greeting them in corridors and using their name.
- A welcoming atmosphere is more conducive to effective learning and engagement. With levels of anxiety among students increasing, it is important to create an environment where students feel they can approach staff for support.
Help students to feel that they belong
- Ensure the curriculum is diverse by providing examples in teaching materials which reflect the diversity of the student body. This should also be the case for all publicity and marketing materials.
- Providing examples that students can relate to will help to make the curriculum more relevant and meaningful for them and is likely to inspire and engage them more fully.
- Make sure information about university support and advice services is visible and widely available for your students. Students are more likely to seek support if needed and will recognise that it is okay and normal within the institution if you raise awareness of these services and signpost your students to them.
- For more advice about developing students’ sense of belonging, visit Belonging at Leeds.
Consider the physical and virtual environment
- Think about the accessibility of the rooms you teach in. Flat floors are preferable for group tasks with plenty of space to move furniture. This will ensure that students with mobility difficulties and wheelchair users can fully participate.
- Consider the acoustics of the room for group work and whether there are quieter break-out spaces available for groups. Students with hearing impairments, attention difficulties and those who speak English as an additional language, may struggle to fully engage if there is too much background noise.
- To learn about inclusive virtual environments, please refer to our Delivery in Online Learning Environments guide.
Keep up to date with technology
- Stay up to date with learning technologies which enable you to deliver teaching and engage your students in different ways. Advice and guidance about the tools and systems the University supports can be found on the Digital Education Systems Help
- This will lead to more flexible delivery where students can be more actively involved, rather than being passive recipients of knowledge. Including audio, visual and interactive formats as well as tools to support collaboration, will enhance the learning for a large number of your students.5
Written by Jenny Brady | Updated August 2022 by Jenny Brady
© University of Leeds 2022 | Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)
- Matthews, N. (2009) ‘Teaching the “invisible” disabled students in the classroom: Disclosure, inclusion and the social model of disability’, Teaching in Higher Education, 14(3), pp. 229–239 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13562510902898809
- Grace, S and Gravestock, P (2009) Inclusion and Diversity- meeting the needs of all students. Routledge
- Fry, H.K., Marshall, S. and Fry, K. (2008) A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education: Enhancing academic practice. Edited by Steve Ketteridge. 3rd edn. New York: Taylor & Francis
- Scudmore, R (2013) Engaging Home and International Students- a guide for new lecturers. Higher Education Academy. Available online at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/rachelscudamorereportfeb2013.pdf [Accessed 7 December 2016]
- Montgomery, A.P., Hayward, D.V., Dunn, W., Carbonaro, M. and Amrhein, C.G. (2015) ‘Blending for student engagement: Lessons learned for MOOCs and beyond’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 31(6) http://dx.doi.org/10.14742/ajet.1869
Last updated: 16/09/2022