The First Day of Class

The first day of any course is a new opportunity to set the tone for the semester. First impressions are lasting and there are many easy steps that you can take to create a welcoming environment. How involved will students be? Will their voices be heard? Will you learn their names? Will students have an opportunity to tell you about their learning preferences, barriers, and disabilities? How will you connect their intererests to the learning outcomes? What supports will be available? All of these questions matter to students – what you do on the first day can help answer them!

Research shows that students perform better, feel happier, and learn more when they feel that they are part of an inclusive learning community (Elmi, 2020; Immodino-Yang, M. H., 2016). In multiple surveys asking what makes a good instructor, students pointed to instructors that fostered a sense of belonging.  Building community can feel overwhelming with large class sizes and not having enough time. However, adding small changes can have very large impacts on student learning. 

Ice breakers, group games, or fun routines to your classes should take up less than 5 minutes of class time, and in doing so, you will have happier students who attend class more frequently.

A simple way to hear from you students and learn about their needs is to ask them. A fantastic method is to use the “Who’s in Class?” form.  This tool allows students to anonymously disclose their needs and provide information that will help you design an inclusive classroom environment. Use this template for your own class!

Finally, learn your students’ names and encourage students to learn the names of their classmates. An easy way to do this is to have each student make name tents (see below). Have them at the door as students walk in each day and ask them to drop them back there as they leave. Simple!

Week 1 Day 1 - Name Tents with Feedback - Sara VanDerWerf

Designing an succint and informative syllabus can drastically improve transparency and aid learner executive functioning. A good syllabus provides a clear outline of expectations, learning outcomes, and assessments. It also provides resources, sets out a calendar, and provides a message of welcome and inclusion. A syllabus is not just for repeating what is on Module Manager – it is a resource that students should use. Feel free to make a copy of this Syllabus Template.

Here are some further resources and examples to help build the ideal syllabus:

– Syllabus advice from the founders of UDL: Explains UDL connections and includes examples

– Examples, resources, and examplars

– An accessible syllabus guide

– Yale inclusive syllabus survey

Another tip is to consider adding an inclusivity statement to your syllabus. This can be something as simple as, “I am committed to creating a welcoming, inclusive, and accessible course. I am here to help you learn, so please feel free to contact me [here] with any questions or concerns.” Also, include links to student services offices such as counselling and health services on your moodle page. These small gestures will demonstrate that student voices are valuable.


“At ATU, we are committed to diversity, equality, and inclusion at every level. An integral part of this School’s mission is to be an inclusive environment. We respect and value student diversity in all of the modules we offer. As part of our inclusive learning environment, we attempt to remove all barriers to access. Students are provided with equal opportunities to access, participate and succeed, regardless of background, personal circumstances, age, disability, or pace of study. It is encouraged for students to consult staff about their learning needs. It is our policy to treat all information disclosed with the utmost confidentiality and respect.” – Mary Malone, Engineering Lecturer, ATU

Another way to build community is about sharing about yourself, adding democratic decision making to class, and developing group norms collaboratively with students. Also, ask students what they want to get out of the class – what are their learning objectives? See how you can bridge what is required within the course to what student preferences are. Even small instances of taking student voice into account can go a long way at improving student buy-in and engagement. It shows that you value their perspectives and care about their needs.

Your moodle page is a vital resource for students and will be one of your main points of contact and interaction. Take some time to make sure your page is updated and laid out in a way that will promote executive functioning skills. You can learn some tips by taking this short course through AHEAD. Here, you will learn about the importance of embedding student supports into your page, accessibility tips, and layout. SOme things to keep in mind:

– Is your page consistent and are materials easy to find? Consider breaking down you course by weeks or units. Make a landing page with tiles for ease of navigation. 

– Do you have links to resources such as the library, academic writing center, student council, and other student supports?

– Make use of Blackboard ALLY and make sure your students know how to use it as well.

– Is there an accessible and easy to read calendar with all key dates? 

– Are you using functions such as forums, quizes, and