I once worked at a startup where the developers were regularly ignored. Try as we might to bring in new perspectives and experts, everything was dismissed. It eventually fell apart with the entire team leaving.

This is an example of climate, and a highly toxic one.

An environment open to considering different, even opposing, ideas is powerful for learning. It makes failure safe and encourages students to explore their ideas. On the flip side, marginalizing environments stifle ideas and increase churn.

There are four categories on the spectrum of inclusion

  • Explicitly Marginalizing – Overtly hostile, discriminatory, or unwelcoming

  • Implicitly Marginalizing – Exclude certain groups in indirect ways. Not necessarily intentional. Can result from good intentions.

  • Implicitly Centralizing – Characterized by unplanned responses that validate alternate perspectives.

  • Explicitly Centralizing – Intentionally and overtly considered alternative perspectives

Surprisingly, explicit and implicit marginalization have about the same affect. Even more, a person doesn’t need to believe in a stereotype for it to affect their performance. This is known as stereotype threat. One study showed that simply prompting for race before an exam made a significant impact on performance.

Stereotype Threat: the implication of a stereotype alters performance, independent of the subject’s belief in the stereotype

The key tool for creating a welcoming environment is intentionality. Explicitly highlight and encourage different views. Encouraging tones are also demonstrated to be more effective than punishing ones.

However, this does not mean that all views need be deemed equal. As students master a subject, there are four stages of sophistication.

  • Dualism – Information is right or wrong

  • Multiplicity – All information is an opinion and all opinions are valid

  • Relativism – Not all opinions are equal. Each has pros and cons that can be evaluated with disciplined process

  • Commitment – Every theory has pros and cons, but there is value in choosing a limited basis to refine and build on

Essentially, these are stages of realizing we don’t know everything, there are holes in everything, but evidence and internal consistency are valuable.

Signs of failure

  • Defensiveness, hopelessness, defiance, dismissal

  • Unwillingness to speak up

  • Imbalance in participation and drop out rates

  • Stagnant ideas and improvements


  • Clarity: Use syllabi, class rules, or other methods to make sure students know what to expect from you and how they are expected to interact with each other

  • Explicit Inclusion: Intentionally and overtly explore alternate perspectives

  • Encouragement-focus

  • Explore Student Ideas: Validate students when they propose ideas and ask questions to explore it further. Even if it is wrong, help them explore it rather than shoot it down

  • Grades: Reserve a portion of a student’s grade for how they participate and interact with other students