Teaching & Learning


Inclusive dialogue in education: a tutor's guide to facilitating constructive discourse

This guide equips educators to foster environments where meaningful discussions can flourish. It prepares them for these conversations, enabling students to emerge as compassionate global citizens.

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1 November 2023

In the dynamic landscape of modern education, classrooms often serve as microcosms of the broader societal discourse.  

As educators, we face the imperative to competently navigate these complex conversations (Kantor V.Z & Proekt Y.L., 2021). We need to be prepared to guide dialogues around these critical subjects, as it enables us to empower our students to comprehend, dissect, and engage with these topics thoughtfully (Webb, N.M, 2010).  

Nonetheless, the significance of discussion-based education transcends the confines of trending topics or current affairs. 

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Approaches for fostering a kind and tolerant learning environment

Create an inclusive environment

By establishing an environment that warmly welcomes all viewpoints, educators can communicate their expectations for respectful engagement. Students should be encouraged to express their concerns, assured that their contributions will be received with empathy and understanding. 

  • Encourage open dialogue through open-ended questions.  
  • Establish agreements for respectful discourse. See Sample Agreement
  • Empathetically respond to student concerns.  
  • Fostering a supportive learning community through group activities.  
  • Continuous feedback and reflection helps to maintain inclusivity. 
  • Resource sharing encourages independent exploration. 
  • Consider incorporating content warnings when the material may affect wellbeing. For instance, use a content warning for content related to suicide and ensure you know where to guide individuals for suicide prevention support

Be prepared and informed

Educators have the responsibility to be well-prepared for discussions that may arise from a broad spectrum of viewpoints.  

Acknowledge your position of authority in the classroom and do not allow your perspective to take precedence or dominate the conversation, as this can risk promoting assimilation rather than fostering inclusivity. 

  • Become familiar with inclusive content and how to respond to potential questions. Note: You are not expected to possess expert knowledge in every facet of inclusion. Instead, be ready to recognise your boundaries and embrace the chance to acquire knowledge. 
  • Do your own research. For example, if you were interested in understanding the Deaf Community as a linguistic minority, you could delve into research on sign languages, watch documentaries, read blogs, visit a Deaf Community social club, participate in events covering deaf history in the UK, and even start learning British Sign Language (BSL). 
  • Stay current with ongoing social and cultural issues. For instance, to stay current on issues related to Islam, you might follow Islamic news outlets, participate in events that bring different faiths together and connect with Islamic scholars on social media for insight.  

Listen actively

Active listening is the cornerstone of meaningful dialogue. By affording students their full attention, educators demonstrate their commitment to understanding the nuances of each concern. Provide the necessary space for students to articulate their viewpoints to allow for a rich exchange of ideas. 

Validate and acknowledge students’ concerns

  • Foster a climate of trust by acknowledging that starting a dialogue or raising a concern requires courage.  
  • Recognise your feelings of defensiveness. Step back, and give yourself time to manage it. This might be by saying you need time to consider the concern raised. See ‘Strategies for inclusive discourse’. 
  • Consider the importance of creating a space that accommodates everyone. It may be advisable to temporarily pause the discussion, in case maintaining control over both your emotions and the classroom environment becomes challenging. See ‘Strategies for inclusive discourse’. 
  • Ensure that responses are respectful and open-minded, regardless of the nature of the concerns. See ‘Using inclusive language in education’ toolkit. 

Empathise and reflect 

  • As the tutor, you are the authority figure, so concerns are likely to be raised with you. Recognise that it can be counterproductive to take these concerns personally. 
  • Reflect on the concerns through summarising the points raised. This ensures that all parties are on the same page. 
  • Consider the emotional context behind the concerns raised, especially if they are expressed very strongly. It is essential to understand that marginalised individuals frequently experience microaggressions. What may seem like a minor issue could trigger a strong emotional response due to the cumulative impact of these harms. 
  • It can be helpful to reflect that intense emotions, particularly negative ones, often stem from fear and or harmful experiences. 

Provide context and explanation

Inclusive content can sometimes appear unfamiliar or unsettling to students. It falls upon educators to provide context and rationale for its inclusion.  

  • Link the content to the learning objectives to illustrate the educational significance. 
  • Address misconceptions to help dissipate potential misunderstandings. 

Encourage dialogue

  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage students to elaborate on their concerns, invite a more profound exploration of their viewpoints.  
  • Promote critical thinking, by guiding students to consider alternative perspectives. This fosters a more holistic understanding of the topic.  
  • Encourage peer engagement to add depth to the conversation, providing a platform for diverse voices to contribute. 

Suggestion: The classroom serves as a learning environment for all, with students as your learning partners. It is essential to be open and transparent; if you are not an expert on a particular matter, acknowledge it, and take the necessary time for thoughtful consideration when addressing raised concerns. 

Share additional resources

  • Offer a range of resources, such as readings, videos, and research, to facilitate a comprehensive understanding.  
  • Invite students to share resources too. 
  • Encourage independent exploration to foster curiosity and independent thought. 

Respectfully share your perspective

  • Offer insight into the rationale behind content inclusion. 
  • Explain curriculum considerations to provide students with a broader perspective. 
  • Remain open to adjustment, as this will signal your willingness to consider valid concerns. 

Find common ground and build communities

Identify shared values to bridge divides between differing perspectives. Build solidarity by helping students see themselves in relation to others, peers and staff. For instance, share stories of successes to help everyone understand that inclusion is mutually beneficial and not just a question of compliance. 

Finding common ground can be influenced by semantics. For instance, consider the word "freedom." One person may use it to mean the absence of restrictions, while another person might define it as the presence of opportunities. Disagreements frequently occur because these differing interpretations are rooted in distinct meanings. This highlights the importance of clear communication, providing detailed explanations, and establishing boundaries. 

  • Demonstrate a commitment to addressing concerns by seeking compromise.  
  • Emphasise the broader educational objectives to underscore the purpose of inclusive education beyond individual viewpoints.

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Strategies for inclusive discourse 

These strategies can help manage classroom discussions sensitively, constructively and with kindness. 

Reflective dialogue

Restate what you heard to ensure accuracy, such as "It sounds like you mean… Is that what you intended? Could you elaborate on the meaning behind your statement?" Continue reflecting and, when suitable, pose questions similar to those listed below. 

Shifting focus

Transform a student's specific concern into a broader topic for open discussion. For instance, "Many people share similar perspectives. What might be the reasons behind these viewpoints?" "What alternative viewpoints exist, and what drives them?" You could gauge consensus or dissent through a show of hands, encouraging further discussion among differing viewpoints either later in class or in a separate session. Note: Be mindful to stay focussed on the concern raised. 

Reflective pause

Request everyone to jot down their thoughts and emotions following the conversation. After a few minutes, invite a few participants to share insights from their notes. Summarise the key takeaways and propose future steps, like scheduling an in-class discussion or an extracurricular session to address the issue using the activities below to facilitate understanding of differing views. 

Cultivating understanding

If conflicting opinions arise between students, prompt them to actively listen and summarise each other's viewpoints before contributing. Encourage inquiry through curiosity-based questions, differentiating between agenda-driven queries (e.g., "Are you aware of the flaws in…?" "Have you considered…?") and exploratory questions (e.g., "Why does this matter to you?" "What shaped your perspective?"). The latter allows space for personal exploration rather than imposing beliefs.

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Activities to engage different views

These activities can be facilitated by staff but can also be shared with students to use during student-led sessions. 

The five-minute principle

A method to briefly explore a marginalised and/or opposing perspective with respect. It can also serve a wider purpose in enhancing listening and comprehension skills. 

Rule: Anyone sensing the neglect of a viewpoint can call for this exercise. 

Procedure: Allocate five minutes to thoughtfully consider the merits of the overlooked perspective. Participants supportive of it express their thoughts using provided prompts. Critics remain silent. 

Prompts include: 

  • What's intriguing or beneficial about this viewpoint? 
  • What unnoticed facets make this perspective unique? 
  • How would adopting this viewpoint impact perceptions if accepted as true? 

Reflection questions for the entire class:

  • What insights have you gained?
  • What areas spark your curiosity for further exploration? 
Fishbowl exercise

Participants sharing similar stances converse without interruption, allowing for discovery of both internal variation and commonality. Ground rules include speaking from personal experience, avoiding debates, and taking turns. 

  • Begin by asking students to align with a particular side of a contentious matter. 
  • Form inner and outer circles; inner circle discusses their convictions while outer circle listens attentively. 
  • After inner circle speaks, outer circle paraphrases and inner circle clarifies. 
  • Switch positions, allowing all students to express their views.

The goal is to foster empathy, active listening, and connections among diverse viewpoints.  

This guide reinforces the vital role of respectful discourse in cultivating inclusive education. By encouraging open engagement, educators pave the way for personal growth and a broader understanding of the world's diversity. With ongoing efforts to embrace diverse perspectives, education becomes a transformative force that shapes compassionate and informed global citizens. 

Next steps… 

Use this toolkit

Implement the strategies provided in your educational activities and/or adapt them to work in your classroom. 


The methods by which we approach discussions are influenced by culture. It is important to address and accommodate the various cultural approaches to dialogue from the outset. 

Continuous learning

Keep educating yourself about topical equity and inclusion challenges and remain open to new knowledge – see ‘The culturally competent and humble educator’. There is no expectation to be an expert about every issue raised in the classroom, just have strategies to manage situations. Students are our learning partners, embrace the opportunity to learn from their rich experience. 

Seek feedback

Invite input on learning materials from students, use opportunities for discussion and co-creation. You may want to engage with students via Continuous Module Dialogue and /or Student Curriculum Partners

Key takeaways 

  1. Create an inclusive environment: establish a welcoming classroom that encourages diverse perspectives, open dialogue, and respectful engagement. 
  2. Stay prepared and informed: be well-prepared and informed about various viewpoints and stay current with social issues. 
  3. Active listening and validation: actively listen to students, validate their courage in sharing, and respond calmly with respect and open-mindedness. 
  4. Empathy and reflection: empathise with students, consider emotional context, and reflect on concerns through summarisation for deeper exploration. 
  5. Encourage dialogue and share resources: promote open dialogue, critical thinking, and peer engagement. Share supplementary resources for comprehensive understanding and independent exploration. 

Resources, references and further reading

Sample agreement (tailor to suit your needs and priorities)
Listen actively – be respectful when others are talking. 
Speak from your own experience instead of generalising ("I" instead of "they," "we" and "you"). 
Participate to the fullest of your ability – inclusion values individual voices. 
Assume good intentions but acknowledge the impact of saying something hurtful, even inadvertently.
Maintain confidentiality. All stories shared stay in this space unless explicit permission is given by the person sharing the story. 
Use a language everyone in the group can access. 
The goal is not to agree – it is to gain a deeper understanding. 
Try to hear the truth in what is said instead of looking for exceptions to the case. 
    The culturally competent and humble educator 

    A culturally competent and humble practitioner is an individual who possesses a deep understanding and respect for the diversity of cultures, identities, and experiences that exist within their professional and personal spheres.

    This educator is committed to building solidarity by fostering inclusivity, understanding, and effective communication across cultural boundaries. Here are some key characteristics that define such an educator: 

    • Cultural awareness: They recognise and acknowledge the differences and similarities between various cultures, including customs, beliefs, traditions, values, and historical contexts. They understand that cultural norms and perspectives can influence interactions and perceptions. 
    • Open-mindedness: They approach situations with an open mind, free from preconceived biases or judgments. They are willing to learn about and from different cultural backgrounds, and they seek opportunities to broaden their perspectives. 
    • Continuous learning: They are dedicated to ongoing education about different cultures, staying informed about evolving terminology, sensitivities, and social issues. They understand that cultural competence is a journey that requires constant self-reflection and growth. 
    • Active listening: They engage in active listening when interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds. They genuinely seek to understand others' viewpoints and experiences, demonstrating empathy and respect for their unique perspectives. 
    • Humble attitude: They approach interactions with humility, recognising that they may not always have all the answers and that their own cultural lens can influence their perceptions. They are open to correction and willing to learn from their mistakes. 
    • Respect for diversity: They value and celebrate the differences among individuals, refraining from making assumptions based on appearance, background, or identity. They treat everyone with dignity and fairness, irrespective of their cultural background. 
    • Cultural sensitivity: They consider the potential impact of their words and actions on individuals from different backgrounds. They avoid using language or engaging in behaviours that might be offensive or exclusionary. 
    • Adaptability: They are flexible in their approaches, recognising that different cultural contexts may require different communication styles, problem-solving methods, or decision-making processes. 
    • Advocacy: They stand up for cultural diversity and equity, advocating for inclusive practices within their professional and personal spheres. They recognise that being culturally competent involves actively challenging systems of discrimination and inequality. 
    • Collaboration: They actively seek out opportunities to collaborate with individuals from various cultural backgrounds. They understand that diverse perspectives can lead to more well-rounded and effective solutions. 
    • Self-reflection: They regularly engage in self-reflection, examining their own biases and assumptions. They strive to overcome their limitations and actively work towards personal growth in cultural competence. 
    • Appreciation for cultural assets: They see the strengths and assets that different cultures bring to the table, recognising that diversity can lead to innovation, creativity, and enriching experiences. 

    In essence, a culturally competent and humble educator strives to build a community where everyone feels valued, heard, and respected regardless of their cultural background. They are committed to fostering positive relationships through productive discourse, promoting social justice, and contributing to a more inclusive and equitable society. 

    SMART Goal Framework for Inclusive Dialogue in the Classroom

    SMART objectives should be tailored to individual needs and circumstances. These examples can serve as a starting point, and you can further refine them to align with your specific discipline, goals and timeframes. 

     Example 1Example 2 – Using the climate change as an example of a topical issue
    SpecificCreate an inclusive learning environment by establishing clear agreement for respectful discourse and encouraging open dialogue through open-ended questions. Increase my knowledge of diverse perspectives related to climate change by conducting research on different cultural attitudes towards environmental issues. 
    MeasurableConduct a pre-course survey to assess students' perceptions of the classroom environment, and then administer a post-course survey to measure improvements in students' perceived inclusivity. This could be incorporated in Continuous Module Dialogue.Read five research papers or articles from diverse cultural perspectives on climate change and its impacts. 
    AchievableAttend two workshops on inclusive teaching practices to gain additional strategies and techniques for fostering inclusivity in the classroom. Allocate 2 hours per week for focused research and reading on climate change perspectives. 
    RelevantThe goal aligns with the toolkit's emphasis on creating a welcoming classroom atmosphere. This goal aligns with the toolkit's recommendation to stay informed of various viewpoints on important topics like climate change. 
    TimeboundImplement the ground rules and open-ended questions at the beginning of the next academic year and measure improvements in student perceptions by the end of that year. Complete my reading and research within the next three months, and then incorporate this newfound knowledge into classroom discussions on climate change in the upcoming term. 
    Examples Goal Statements

    By the end of the current semester, I will strive to: 

    Example 1: create a more inclusive classroom by attending two inclusive teaching workshops, implementing clear ground rules for respectful discourse, and encouraging open-ended questions. I'll measure progress with pre-course and post-course surveys, starting next term. 

    Example 2: broaden my understanding of diverse climate change perspectives by reading five research papers from different cultural viewpoints within the next three months. I'll use this knowledge to enrich classroom discussions on climate change in the upcoming term. 

    References and further reading 

    This guide has been produced by Manjula Patrick, Associate Professor, Arena Lead on Inclusive Education Practice. 

    Reviewers, with thanks for their insightful contributions: 

    • Elise Crayton, Disability Equity Lead, Faculty of Brain Sciences. 
    • Helen Knowler, Associate Professor, Lead on ELEP Project, Arena. 
    • Alana Loewenberger, Joint Academic Director (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology), Dept of Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology. 
    • Michael Sulu, UCL Race Envoy and Lecturer (Teaching), Department of Biochemical Engineering. 

    You are welcome to use this toolkit if you are from another educational facility, but you must credit the UCL Arena Centre.  

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