Four people sitting on a bench are looking at a laptop computer one of them is holding.

Humber College has developed an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) toolkit for professors and instructors to help them cultivate a sense of belonging in their classrooms that will benefit students.

Shara Stone is the author of the EDI Toolkit and a professor in Humber’s Community and Justice Services program. Stone said the toolkit provides a framework for instruction that fosters belonging in the classroom and is a practical resource for Humber educators who want to ensure EDI is woven through their curriculum and classroom.

A picture of Humber College professor Shara Stone, who is smiling.

Stone said research shows that students who experience a sense of belonging in the classroom and in the curriculum have higher grade point averages, lower attrition rates and better graduation rates.

“When a student comes into a classroom and feels as though they are excluded from the content, they’re less likely to invest themselves in learning in that classroom,” said Stone. “When a student sees what they’re learning has something to do with who they are and their community, it piques their interest. And, when their interest is piqued, their investment in the course increases.”

Stone said, as an example, if a racialized student sees negative images of their communities presented in the classroom, it impacts their desire to return to class.  

“When we don’t think about the identities of our students and the impact of what and how we teach on student identities, the impact of the power we have, we aren’t setting them up to perform well,” said Stone.

The toolkit is anchored in five key components: establishing new and more inclusive norms for teaching; grounding teaching and learning in responsiveness to student’s identities; acknowledging Indigenous forms of learning and research as beneficial to all students; shifting away from assumptions that reinforce a narrow and homogenous education; and fostering a conscientious sense of community that facilitates student goal setting.

The first part of the toolkit provides a theoretical framework that’s grounded in research and pedagogy. The second part of the toolkit is set up as a guide.

Included in the toolkit are scenarios that Stone said have occurred in real world classrooms with examples of how an instructor could respond.  

When crafting the toolkit, Stone said she used language that was accessible so that any professor or instructor could pick it up and use it. The toolkit is available to any post-secondary educator and is not exclusive to those at Humber.

EDI is one of the three key mindsets in the Humber Learning Outcomes. The others are Sustainability and Systems Thinking.

In 2019, Humber established its EDI Taskforce to establish an institutional framework and strategy for equity, diversity and inclusion. In 2022, the college released an Institutional EDI Framework and Strategy to address EDI issues in all facets of the college. The toolkit came from that process.

The toolkit notes that equity work requires self-reflection and ongoing education. Mistakes will be made, said Stone, and how educators respond to and learn from them is important.  

Stone added that developing a sense of belonging for students in the classroom will be a learning process for educators. Stone said she learned of new strategies and ideas while creating the toolkit.

The toolkit says to encourage that sense of belonging, instructors should acknowledge the privilege in their identities and actively work to mitigate its impact on the learning environment; recognize their power as an educator and examine personal biases around the behaviours and attitudes they expect of a “good” student; and acknowledge the limitations of their knowledge and develop a plan to increase it.

“It’s important to think about how our identity impacts what we teach and how we teach,” said Stone.  

It also says educators should critically question their learning materials, teaching and assessment strategies to determine ways to break down colonialism, racism, heteropatriarchy, ableism and other forms of marginalization; encourage student participation in the co-creation of knowledge; and use empathy to explore the lived realities and experiences of students and their potential impacts on learning.