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Mindful Inclusion: Introduction

Mindful Inclusion in the Classroom – A Handbook

One of the top priorities of higher education today is to improve student progression, graduation, and success, and to reduce achievement gaps across different groups and categories of students. The ultimate test of student success is what, how and how much students learn in the classroom. Greatest learning in the classroom takes place when students are able to bring as much of their prior learning to the classroom, and then are able to take as much of their new and evolved learning to beyond the classroom. Let’s review what latest research tells us about this.

During the process of learning, new classroom information is captured through sensory inputs. We achieve equilibration in learning process by modifying the interconnections of the stock schemas to accommodate the new information. Stock schemas are interrelated nodes of a network, that is organized into neighborhoods and hubs, and the distance between two seemingly unrelated nodes is short on average. Stock schemas act as threshold concepts around which our sense-making is organized. In order to accommodate the new information, we make use of ‘affordances’ – which are the qualities of the objective information that allows us as actors to perform the action of interrelating. Students need the ability to perform this action of interrelating both for accommodating the new information, as well as for applying the new information to contexts beyond the classroom.

Thus, our challenge as educators is not only to impart relevant knowledge, but also to advance student ability to perform the action of interrelating that with their prior learning and their future learning. The latter is not easy, because each student brings a unique set of prior experiences that are interrelated in a unique manner based on his/her lifelong learning portfolio. Moreover, each student is likely to have a unique set of future experiences that will be interrelated in a unique manner based on his/her unfolding series of life choices.

When we as faculty teach a large number of students, and have only limited interactions with each student often only in the context of a single course, it is generally impossible to have deep insights about each student’s prior and future learning interrelationship needs. However, effective inclusive teaching does not necessarily require faculty to know each student intimately. Extensive research now exists that offers us tools and techniques to help ensure that the students have the affordances to interrelate new information on their own or using the support of their peers, and feel empowered to seek help from the faculty or other mentors and guides to resolve any confusions, difficulties, or impediments.

We may refer this approach to teaching as “Mindful inclusion”. Mindful inclusion makes use of the technique of mindfulness – i.e. awareness of the present and the assets and the resources that are available in the present, to design a classroom space and energy where students are able to safely bring, re-evaluate, and develop their stock schema interrelationships, and to create more discriminating stock schemas and interrelationships, in collaboration with their peers and under guidance of the faculty.

During 2015-16, I had the honor to be the American Council of Education Fellow. During my fellowship year, I was encouraged by the program design to grapple with the higher education challenges around student graduation and success using a new lens – the lens of

inclusion and student engagement. The lens of inclusion and student engagement has allowed me to discover how to effectively manage the diversity of student abilities and backgrounds in the classroom, as an opportunity. This handbook “assembles” research on inclusive classroom techniques from some of the premier teaching research and resource centers in the nation and beyond, that I learnt about and from during my fellowship year. The handbook is organized around five sets of tools and techniques to help achieve Mindful Inclusion, and to leverage the diversity of student body as an opportunity:

  1. Inclusive content – making sure that the materials we use for teaching are inclusive, and/or sensitizing students where the materials are not inclusive either by design or availability
  2. Inclusive beliefs – having an awareness of our own beliefs as faculty, and making sure that we do not subconsciously make the classroom less inclusive for some students
  3. Inclusive design – designing the syllabus and establishing course expectations, assessments, and learning groups in ways that promote affordances for all students
  4. Inclusive climate – ensuring a classroom environment where all groups of students feel safe, empowered, and energized to learn and to open up their stock schema interrelationships
  5. Inclusive facilitation – the art of using the present moments in the classroom, to put to learning any situations that threaten or compromise inclusion, and to do so sensibly in ways that positively engage the catalysts of those situations as well

I am grateful to Kim Costino, Davida Fischman, and Mary Boland, for their help and support of our faculty’s classroom inclusion efforts over the past year. I hope this “Mindful Inclusion” handbook would be a valuable resource for our faculty. I thank my graduate assistant, Tatyana Dmitiyeva, MBA’17 of our college, for her help in putting together a great PowerPoint for this handbook.

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Materials Created By:

Vipin Gupta

Jack H. Brown College

Business & Public Administration

Associate Dean & Co-director, Center for Global Management