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Inclusive Teaching Guide: Inclusive Teaching in Library Instruction

Effective teaching is a dynamic, not static, process. Whether you have years of experience or are just beginning to teach, there is always room to expand your repertoire, explore a new approach, or reflect on an aspect of your practice.

Principle 1: Establish and support an instructional climate that fosters belonging for all students

With teaching faculty:

  • Set the tone and expectations with your faculty during the planning and scheduling process. Ask the faculty member if there is anything they'd like to share about their classroom/students that would help you establish an inclusive classroom environment.

With students:

  • Share your pronouns, if you are comfortable doing so, and let students know how you'd like to be addressed. Ask students to share their names and pronouns (if comfortable) when they speak in class, and then use their names whenever possible. 
  • Use inclusive language in class. Instead of ladies, gentlemen, ma'am, sir, girls, guys, etc., try friends, folks, everyone, you, or other gender-neutral colloquialisms like y'all.
  • When introducing yourself, explain what your job is, what you like about it and how you use the skills you are teaching in your own life. Consider also sharing a story about your own learning struggles, how you overcame them or what you learned from them. 
  • Ask students to share what works best for them in a learning environment. Because library sessions are limited in time, you could do this in a pre-survey before the session day and share the results at the beginning of class or ask students to share at the beginning of class in a poll, or using a tool like Padlet or Google Jamboards. When using survey or other tools, plan enough time for a couple of students to share aloud. These fill in the blank questions are useful  - "I learn best when... or "I don't learn well in classes where..." By sharing the responses and taking what is shared into consideration in your teaching practice, you are establishing an environment where students know their success is taken seriously.
  • Incorporate think/pair/share or group work into your session to encourage peer-to-peer learning and connection. Remember that working in groups or even pairs can be difficult for some students for many reasons, so make individual work an option as well. Let students self-select.
  • Ask for feedback in an exit survey or post-session survey to gauge the climate of the session. If you see the class again, you can share the feedback and what you're changing. If not, use the results for your own development. Some questions, which should be used with a Likert scale, include "If I need research help, I will reach out to (course librarian name)" or "The librarian is interested in my learning." 

Physical Environment:

  • If it is possible to arrange the furniture, avoid rows which sets up a hierarchy and separation in the classroom. Instead, set it up in a circle, half circle, seminar style or tables for group work depending on the activities you have planned. These configurations create less separation between peers and between the instructor and students.
  • If students are seated and the instructor is standing, move around the room so there is no "front" of the room. During activities, visit each group to check in.
  • If possible, let students select where they sit. 

Principle 2: Set explicit student expectations

  • Students are more comfortable and able to learn if they know what to expect.
  • Welcome students to participate in the session and encourage them to ask questions and share their thoughts along the way.
  • Explore the syllabus and/or Brightspace course, if possible.

Principle 3: Select instructional content that recognizes diversity and acknowledges barriers to inclusion

  • Choose topics that represent a range of identities and works written by scholars from underrepresented communities. Select topics to model keyword brainstorming and searches.
  • Consider incorporating critical information literacy into your session. This 2016 article from In the Library with a Lead Pipe is a great overview and has ideas for what this might look like in a one-shot.
  • Think about the metaphors you use to explain concepts and whether you are assuming something about your students' experiences that might not really be universal, but more a manifestation of your own culture. This article by Mark A. Chesler, although older, has good examples of ways instructors can unintentionally bring their cultural biases into the classroom through examples and metaphors they use in the session.

Principle 4: Design all instructional elements for accessibility

  • Present materials in multiple ways, including verbally, in writing, and visually (screen shots or video).
  • Follow best practices for accessibllity when designing online learning objects, whether a LibGuide or a tutorial.
  • Provide multiple ways for students to engage in the work. For example, when doing active learning, some may prefer group or pair work and others may prefer to work alone. Some may prefer to speak in class and others may prefer to submit their work through a form or on a Padlet.
  • When  possible, let students participate in session or activity design. For example, you may ask students to search for something and evaluate it, letting them decide how/what to search rather than assigning pre-selected sources. You may present students with two options for an activity and go with the option they prefer.
  • For more about Universal Design for Learning, see the UDL Guidelines from CAST.

Principle 5: Reflect on one’s beliefs about teaching to maximize self-awareness and commitment to inclusion

Set aside time to reflect on your teaching after sessions. Consider the questions suggested on the Evaluation and Reflecton page of this guide as they relate to inclusive strategies you tried.


The five principles of inclusive teaching on this page were developed by the Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning. The recommended practices are adapted from their Guide for Inclusive Teaching.