Create a Sense of Belonging at the Start of the Semester

Instructors spend a great deal of time constructing a syllabus and include a variety of information to support student success, so it can be frustrating if an instructor feels that students have not utilized that resource. One way to promote student use of the syllabus is to create a more student-centered document. Here are some of the major strategies I have been trying to incorporate:

  • Use warm instead of cold language.
  • Incorporate a diversity and inclusivity statement that details how all students are welcomed. I also use this section as another opportunity to reiterate how students can reach out if they are encountering any issues that are impacting their learning.
  • Include a personal introduction to the students. Tell them why you are excited to be teaching the course, and how it will help them in their careers / future learning.
  • Organize the syllabus into sections with a table of contents that is hyperlinked at the beginning.
  • Include accessible graphical representations such as for grading (such as a pie chart). A recent addition that students have had positive responses to was a table of suggested workflow for a typically week.
  • Include a section called "How to Succeed in This Course," in which you provide study tips and encourage students to ask for additional help.

I have received positive feedback and while I have been working on this for almost two years, I am continually finding elements to adjust, change, and update!


  • Fornaciari, C. J. & Lund Dean, K. (2014). The 21st-century syllabus: Tips for putting andragogy into practice. Journal of Management Education, 38(5), 724-732.
  • Fuentes, M. A., Zelaya, D. G., & Madsen, J. W. (2021). Rethinking the course syllabus: Considerations for promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion. Teaching of Psychology, 48(1), 69-79.
  • Gurung, R. A., & Galardi, N. R. (2022). Syllabus tone, more than mental health statements, influence intentions to seek help. Teaching of Psychology, 49(3), 218-223.
  • Harnish, R. J., & Bridges, K. R. (2011). Effect of syllabus tone: Students’ perceptions of instructor and course. Social Psychology of Education, 14(3), 319-330.
  • Harrington, C. M., & Gabert-Quillen, C. A. (2015, August 31). Syllabus length and use of images: An empirical investigation of student perceptions. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. Advance online publication.
  • Kerrigan, J., & Bifulco, C. (2023). Syllabus 2.0: Using Videos to Make the Syllabus Active. College Teaching, 1-10.

This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University.

Christina Bifulco, Ed.D.
Associate Director for Teaching & Learning Analytics
Office of Teaching Evaluation & Assessment Research
Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey