Facilitating Inclusive Dialogues
By Horane Diatta-Holgate
What do we mean by inclusive dialogues?
Inclusive dialogues refer to intentionally structured classroom engagement using principles and strategies that promote deeper learning, personal reflection, and professional growth. The primary goal is to provide opportunities for meaningful engagement and inquiry. This involves: listening for understanding instead of waiting for a rebuttal, applying and interrogating disciplinary norms related to course content, viewing students’ experiences and prior knowledge as assets in the teaching and learning process, and more.
Why inclusive dialogues?
Viewing in class engagement or even out of class activities where students work in teams as spaces for inclusive dialogue provides both instructors and students opportunities to:
- meaningfully listen to and engage with diverse perspectives, even those that run counter to their beliefs and values;
- practice applying disciplinary norms and ways of thinking,
- interrogate disciplinary practices and norms to promote critical thinking;
- grapple with assumptions about people, places, and things;
- create a space where all students are heard and feel included.
Inclusive dialogues move us away from inducing negative affect about important topics or limiting conversations about identities to changing classroom demographics (Grant, 2020).
How to structure and facilitate inclusive dialogues:
Cultivate your classroom environment for and with your students as a brave space and not just a “safe” space (Arao & Clemons, 2013). Instructors, in collaboration with students, set the tone and expectations for active engagement and agency of all participants in order to support learning (Cook-Sather, 2016).
- Use strategies to get to know your students, for them to know you and know about each other. Pre-surveys, personality or communication styles assessments are a great way to do this.
- Develop community guidelines together and revisit them throughout the semester—not only at the beginning or when something happens, but as a regular practice to keep the community guidelines salient in the classroom.
- Gather students’ thoughts and reflections anonymously or for credit before class using Canvas (or other discussion post platform) posts submitted to the instructor. Review posts beforehand and attend class prepared to address misconceptions or assumptions before the dialogue starts.
- Facilitate teams or groups in developing contracts before starting major projects. Contracts can also include ways to keep each other accountable to the guidelines and terms of the contract.
- Create an intervention plan in case of controversial moments. Having a plan for “I will say this if/when…” helps you to respond effectively and appropriately instead of freezing or simply reacting.
- Pause to facilitate a check for understanding, reflection, and reconciliation as needed.
- If a particularly controversial moment occurs, acknowledge it and state you will return to it (and actually follow up!). Have a “parking lot” for ideas/comments/topics/conversation threads that warrant further discussion or would deviate from learning goals.
- Consider when and how you Call in and/or Call out.
- Email the entire class to affirm their participation and commitment to inclusive dialogue redirecting to community guidelines as needed.
- Incorporate activity or assignment related to the topic of discussion. Use disciplinary norms and practices to interrogate and reflect, with the goal of deepening understanding and growing.
- If there were some tensions during the dialogue, check in with specific students who may have been affected and provide additional resources.
- Practice self care. If there were moments of tension or controversy, disengage briefly from the issue to calm yourself before going back to address it.