Create an Intentionally Inviting Course Culture

We teach who we are. – John W. Gardner

As humans we learn best in community with each other. Each of our courses is an invitation to community, which flourishes when we create an intentionally inviting (Purkey, 1987) course culture.

Without fail these culture-building intentional efforts come back manyfold by increased student interest, motivation, enthusiasm, unexpected learning (beyond the intended outcomes of the course), sense of belonging and even better, attendance. Learning to know each other in order to build a functioning learning culture leads to better student outcomes due to increased positivity and absence of perceived social-emotional threat.

Thoughtful and compassionate teachers model learner dispositions such as initiative, resilience, intellectual curiosity, flexibility, self-confidence, courage to confront complexity and uncertainty, building stronger understandings through mistakes, perseverance, wonderment and a sense of humor. We teach not only what we do and how we do it but who we are.

Every course experience is a meta-level experience, where our students are learning to learn while building their own repertoire as learners–and the same is true for us as instructors in learning more about the effects of our teaching–and their beliefs about who they are and can yet grow to become.

Creating a culture of learning can come in many forms, using our creativity and our own learning experiences. Some ideas worth trying:

  • Have students create a short 1–2 minute video to submit on Canvas about who they are and why they are in your course. You can be brief: name, major, one interesting fact about you. Have students give written feedback to 1–2 colleagues/peers in the course to their initial video. This builds an expectation that interactions are a normal part throughout the course.
  • Designate an area (a ‘playground’ of sorts) in Canvas where students can work on their metalearning awareness: Have students share a funny/worst/best learning memory from their journey as a learner. Share short snippets what you are learning from everyone in class.
  • Have students create a playlist of music that relates to the concepts taught and processes experienced during the course.
  • Invite students to bring artifacts representing their experiences, background or future dreams and show (or write a paragraph) how that artifact is related to the major topic in the course.
  • Have students create a team motto for the course and revisit them during the course. Here is something students created in a recent classroom visit: Try your best, Love yourself, Smile often, Keep on going, Be brave.
  • Trust your own instincts on how to create a supportive culture: sharing something about yourself that is interesting, and encouraging to your students. Or have them ask you a question.
  • Successful learner attitudes include many ideas that build capacity for adult living and citizenship such as vulnerability (Brene Brown), self-compassion (Sue Neff), grit (Duckworth), growth-mindset (Zweck), how to understand the brain and earning better (Doyle, T. & Zakrajsek, T.), importance of sleep hygiene and self-care ideas. Have students create ungraded mini-presentations for course colleagues and have periodic discussions about how these have helped in understanding class material better. You could also offer as a service project to have students visit a Pre-K–12 class about learning in college.
  • There is a great list of 101 things to do in the first weeks of class created by Joyce Povlacs Lunde ideas are sorted into the following: helping students make transitions, directing students’ attention, challenging students, providing support, encouraging active learning, building community and soliciting feedback for your teaching.–3-weeks

References and additional resources:


Heljä Antola Crowe
Bradley University