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This activity requires 30-45 minutes.


Participants share their experiences as students, exploring different ways people are made to feel "included" in and "excluded" from the learning process. Topics emerging from this activity include (1) the range of learning styles and needs in any group of people, (2) the importance of reflective practice and understanding one's own socialization, and (3) the power teachers have through both implicit and explicit actions.


Divide participants into small groups of four or five.


  1. Ask participants to do a five-minute free write based on two prompts: (1) Recall a time from your own schooling when you felt especially included, engaged, appreciated, and validated in the learning process; and (2) Recall a situation when you felt especially excluded, alienated, and invalidated from the learning process. Without being too directive, let students know that the reasons for their feelings of inclusion and exclusion could vary broadly, from the way a certain teacher taught to a lack of feelings of support to social reasons.

  2. In their small groups, ask participants to share the parts of their stories they feel comfortable sharing. Once everybody has shared both stores, ask them to reflect upon the similarities and differences in their stories.
  3. Return students to the big group and ask a few people to share their stories with the whole class.

  4. Request a volunteer to record brief notes about both categories of stories. (What makes students feel included? What makes them feel excluded?)

  5. Facilitate a discussion about the notes, examining consistencies and differences in individuals' stories and learning needs. Often I ask participants how many of them found it easy to recall both an inclusion and an exclusion story. Most participants respond that it was easy. This allows me to make the point that we, as teachers, have tremendous power--that even when we don't intend to do something wrong, we might do something that has a lifelong impact on one of our students. This is why developing reflective practice skills is critical to anybody committed to educational equity. Other sample questions to guide the conversation:

    • What similarities do you observe among the situations in which people felt especially included in a learning process?
    • What consistencies do you notice in the situations in which people felt excluded?
    • Knowing that we have students with various needs and learning styles, what can we do to ensure we are including, engaging, and validating all learners?

Facilitator Notes:

It is always important when activities call for participants to share their own stories and make themselves vulnerable to remind the group about active listening. Consider starting the activity by sharing your own set of stories to ease the tension.

This activity provides a perfect opportunity to challenge teachers to reexamine their own teaching practices. Challenge them to think about their own teaching as they engage in this activity and hear each other's stories. You might even reframe this activity to have teachers consider ways in which they unintentionally realized they were alienating or excluding one or more students.

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