Using Transformative Learning to Build Culturally Inclusive Classrooms

21st century education is increasingly gravitating towards a student centered-approach. Whereas as traditionally, teachers were the source of knowledge which teachers transferred to students through lecturing, nowadays the teacher is taking the role of a collaborator rather than expert who facilitates student acquisition of knowledge and understanding. This approach prepares students to live in a world where information is readily accessible, but applying it to solve problems is of great value.

Within this context, Transformative Learning (TL) is a teaching method that teachers can use to effectively achieve the goals of the student-centered approach. TL takes into consideration each student’s social identity, integrating the whole person (including emotions, spirituality, social identity, personal experiences) in the classroom.

It also requires teachers to transform themselves by immersing themselves in their instruction by allowing their passions, strengths, weaknesses, and personality to be expressed. In the process, learning becomes meaningful, personal, and engaging for students.

TL does have some drawbacks: it is a complex teaching approach that requires a fair amount of time and energy from teachers. Also, some students may not feel comfortable in a TL classroom because they prefer to learn more anonymously (though learning in discomfort can be transformative). But by taking a collaborative approach, teachers can work together to support one another as they transform their teaching.

How to build culturally inclusive classrooms?

  • use Transformative Learning approach because it encourages personal expression
  • learn to pronounce each student’s full name accurately
  • check course materials to make sure they are free from bias
  • allow students to provide anonymous feedback and take their critiques seriously
  • evaluate whether students are struggling in the class due to systems of oppression
  • teach about multicultural issues (racism, sexism, poverty) at the earliest level because students may already be facing these issues
  • use class materials that allows students to gain diverse perspectives
  • use texts that are written by authors from diverse backgrounds
  • explicitly state or write on the course outline that a multicultural approach will be taken because it sets the tone for the class in terms of what kind of language and behavior will be expected
  • as opposed to the traditional seating in rows which tends to isolate students, desks could be set up in clusters so that students can work together
  • assign projects that enable students from diverse groups to work together collaboratively and effectively
  • utilize a variety of teaching strategies to accommodate diverse learning styles
  • allow students to demonstrate knowledge in multiple ways that reflect diverse learning styles (e.g. action oriented projects, portfolios, and other creative assignments)
  • incorporate the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) or Universal Instructional Design (UID)


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