Skip to main content

About the Principles

Learn about how Northwestern's Principles of Inclusive Teaching was developed and also how to use this resource.


Institutions of higher education are often lauded as bastions of liberal thoughts and ideas, as welcoming to people from all backgrounds, and as open to the diverse perspectives, experiences, and worldviews those people bring to the educational context. However, an observation of the national current higher education landscape—ranging from course curriculum to the demographics of the faculty and administration—shows a different reality. Colleges and universities in the United States are grappling with issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at all levels. For example, although the number of students from traditionally underrepresented groups in US colleges and universities increased over the last few decades, many students report not feeling a sense of belonging to, or inclusion in, the cultural milieu of their universities. Reasons for feeling a lack of connectedness to the university context include but are not limited to not seeing members of students’ own identity groups well represented on the faculty and stigmatizing events and experiences in the classroom. Northwestern University has responded to these concerns by investing in the development of DEI initiatives that affect the student experience; central among these is assisting faculty in developing inclusive teaching practices.

Inclusive teaching refers to pedagogy that strives to serve the needs of all students, regardless of their backgrounds or identities, and to support their engagement with subject material. This may include strategies such as using course material and pedagogies that consider and acknowledge the various pre-college backgrounds and contexts of students as well as requiring instructors to think about their own identities with respect to the content they teach. In addition, inclusive teaching means creating a space where all voices are included in a discussion of the readings. In a classroom setting, the instructor can create an inclusive environment by being open to novel ideas as well as receptive and responsive to student feedback. Inclusive teaching also requires attention to how students influence the learning environment as the instructor considers, for instance, opportunities for collaboration and how students form study groups.

Decades of research have provided evidence on the positive impact that inclusive teaching has on student achievement. For example, Keller and Lyndgaard reported that what happens with and between professors and students in the classroom (i.e., interpersonal communication and relationships) remains a critical element of year-to-year persistence and degree completion. Additionally, Gannon contended that students are more likely to be successful through activities that support their learning abilities and backgrounds. Zumbrunn and colleagues noted that students’ perception of the climate of the learning environment is positively correlated with learning outcomes. In other words, the more positive the classroom climate is perceived by students, the better they perform on a number of academic achievement metrics.

The sociodemographic backgrounds of students entering colleges and universities is shifting, and institutions of higher education must be prepared for this change. Ensuring that students feel included in the classroom and have equitable learning experiences are priorities at Northwestern University, and in fact part of its mission. Although creating an inclusive learning environment is important to most instructors, many find it to be challenging and often grapple with how to adapt and adjust their practices to meet this goal. As such, Northwestern Principles of Inclusive Teaching was developed to assist instructors at all levels—those from all cultural backgrounds and social identity groups, those who are new to the professoriate as well as those more senior—in their teaching and in fostering inclusive learning environments.


Gannon, K. (2018, Feb. 27). The case for inclusive teaching.

Keller, J. and Lyndgaard, K. (2017). A brief taxonomy of inclusive pedagogies: What faculty can do differently to teach more inclusively. Headwaters, 30, 64-82.

Zumbrunn S., McKim C., Buhs E., Hawley L. R. (2014). Support, belonging, motivation, and engagement in the college classroom: A mixed method study. Instructional Science, 661–684.