Creating more inclusive classrooms, one workshop at a time

November 05, 2020

By Natalie Lim

Although I-Chant Chiang’s days as a student are behind her, she still recalls experiencing moments of isolation and discomfort in the classroom.

“As a person of colour, I’ve been that student in the classroom where I didn’t feel like I belonged, because of my race or my gender,” she says. “And while that’s a personal experience, I also know it’s a common one.”

Now, as the director of curriculum and instruction division at SFU’s Centre for Educational Excellence (CEE), Chiang works to inspire and support innovative, inclusive and reflective teaching approaches in the SFU community. Over the last month she’s been spearheading a new initiative along with her teammates at the CEE: Inclusion in the Classroom Week.

Running from Nov. 9-13, Inclusion in the Classroom Week features a series of workshops that help instructors incorporate different aspects of inclusion into their teaching.

“We partnered with IT services to carry out a faculty survey in August and saw that instructors wanted to know more about Indigenization, decolonization and accessibility in a remote teaching environment. Plus, we’ve gotten many requests for workshops around anti-racism and addressing difficult topics when they come up in class,” says Chiang.

“Inclusion is a core principle for many of our existing courses, and we’ve facilitated workshops on these topics for individual units in the past. But we wanted to put them on for everyone and really highlight these themes, especially when inclusion is a topic on so many instructors’ minds.”

While the CEE created Inclusion in the Classroom week in response to faculty requests, the ultimate goal of these workshops is creating a classroom environment where students from all backgrounds can thrive.

“One of our sessions is called ‘Supporting Multilingual Students in the Remote Environment’. As someone who arrived in the U.S. as an international ESL student many years ago, this topic is close to my heart,” says Nanda Dimitrov, CEE’s senior director.

“Research shows that creative ways of engaging students in the classroom across dimensions of difference—whether that’s language, race, gender, ability or sexual orientation—actually helps engage all students. Creating inclusive classrooms isn’t about giving one group of students special treatment, but about building a better learning experience for everyone.” 

Going forward, Dimitrov and Chiang hope Inclusion in the Classroom Week will become an annual event, alongside the equity, diversity and inclusion work woven into the CEE’s regular programming. For now, they encourage instructors from across the university to get involved and join the conversation.

“We know there are many faculty already doing great work in these areas, and many faculty who want to learn more,” says Dimitrov. “This is a chance for them to connect, share ideas and grow together.”

Adds Chiang, “This work isn’t easy or intuitive, but it’s so important. We want to equip instructors to create inclusive spaces so that all students feel welcome in their classrooms. And we’re excited to see how Inclusion in the Classroom Week can move us towards those goals as a community.”

Inclusion in the Classroom Week runs from Nov. 9-13, 2020. Visit the website for registration information and a list of all the available sessions.