Know Yourself

Enhancing Online Education

This KB document is part of a larger collection of documents on enhancing online education. More Enhancing Online Education resources.

Home Social
Your Students
Sense of

How our social identities influence our lives and can influence teaching and interactions with students.

Educators need to be aware of our social identities and assumptions and help students do the same. Why? Social identities impact the quality of our courses' social and emotional dynamics, which also impacts learning and retention. A critical consideration of equity- and inclusive-minded teaching is acknowledging that our students come to us with vastly different experiences, and those experiences are often tied to their social identities (i.e., race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, first-generation status, etc.). Therefore, equity and inclusion should be considered in every aspect of teaching. Building equitable, inclusive classrooms requires ongoing work and reflection.

Sathy and Hogan (2022, p. 11) describe a teaching inclusive mindset by explaining that every pedagogical decision should be countered with two questions:

  1. Who might be left behind as a result of my practice?
  2. How can I invite those students in?
“Our commitment is to create an environment that engages “the whole person” in the service of learning, recognizing that individual differences should be considered foundational to our strength as a community, and at the core of our ability to be an innovative, creative, and adaptable institution preparing leaders for the 21st century. As such, this framework acknowledges areas of individual differences in personality; learning styles; life experiences; and group or social differences that may manifest through personality, learning styles, life experiences, and group or social differences. Our definition of diversity also incorporates differences of race and ethnicity; sex; gender, and gender identity or expression; age, sexual orientation; country of origin; language; disability; emotional health; socio-economic status; and affiliations that are based on cultural, political, religious, or other identities.” — Forward Together, 2015 (from Diversity Inventory)

Our social identities influence our lives and our teaching, as well as our interactions with our students. An important aspect of developing a critically reflective teaching practice (Brookfield 1998) is awareness of how one’s identity impacts how we teach and how our students learn. Our identities inform how we understand the world, interact with it, and how others perceive us — including our students.


Personal reflection questions

So you may ask, how might a greater understanding of social identities help support student learning? Knowing about multiple kinds of social identities can help understand one's own and students’ (and colleagues’) perspectives and behaviors. Also, it can be a factor when selecting instructional strategies that foster dialogue, support reflection for increased self-awareness and development, and provide opportunities for learning across differences.

The process of self-examination should be consistent and completed over time with intentionality. Small changes begin with our engaging in the self-work that we need to develop empathy and understanding of our students' lived experiences. So, teaching a more inclusive course begins with you. We all benefit from opportunities to reflect on what bringing our whole selves into our courses means.

Awareness is the first step in being an inclusive teacher. We invite you to take the following steps to self-reflect on your identities and consider how dominant or subordinated can influence your beliefs and actions.

  1. Click on and examine the information in the Social Identities and Membership document. Notice which of your social identities are dominant, subordinated, and may be less privileged.
  2. Review the Personal reflection questions.

Personal reflection questions

  • Which aspects of your identity are particularly meaningful to you now? Why?
  • Which aspects of identity hadn’t you thought of before? Why do you think that is?
  • Which of your identities do you think students are most aware of? Why? Does this affect your experience as an instructor? How so?
  • Which of your identities do you think students are less aware of? Why? Does this affect your experience as an instructor? How so?
  • How might the self-awareness of your social identities and memberships influence your teaching?
  • How might your social identities influence how you interact with your students?
  • What does this make you want to learn more about? How might you continue to do so?
  • Do you have the support or network you need at UW to discuss social identities as they relate to instruction?  Below are some opportunities to consider.

UW-Madison opportunities

The following are other ways to continue learning more at UW-Madison. We are fortunate to have many opportunities to continue our growth and collaborate with others across campus.

  • UW-Madison DDEEA: Faculty and Staff Diversity and Inclusion Resources compile sources, programming, professional development opportunities, and school and college-level initiatives focused on equity and inclusivity in teaching practices and workplace interactions.
  • The DDEEA Diversity Inventory allows you to search a broader array of diversity and inclusion programs, events, research, support services, and assessments on campus and in the Madison community.
  • Campus affinity groups provide faculty and staff with underrepresented and/or marginalized identities a space to connect, share resources, etc.
  • DDEEA inclusion resources provide a variety of professional development opportunities.


Our identities help us understand the idea of positionality or the way our social locations and positions are assigned and negotiated based on social factors like race, class, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. They also inform the perspectives we take when we teach.


  • Brookfield, S. (1998). Critically reflective practice. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 18(4), 197-205.
  • Sathy, V., & Hogan, K. A. (2022). Inclusive teaching: Strategies for promoting equity in the college classroom.

Keywordsonline, teaching, social identities, diversity, inclusionDoc ID122421
OwnerKaren S.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2022-11-09 21:47:15Updated2024-05-02 15:09:21
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Feedback  0   0