Strategies for Promoting Positive Learning Environments

Strategies for Promoting Positive Learning Environments


Promoting positive learning environments is everyone’s responsibility. This resource offers six strategies for promoting positive learning environments and examples of how to apply these strategies in course design, delivery, and formative feedback. These strategies can be adapted for use in face-to-face, hybrid/blended, and online learning environments.  

Authors: Alysia C. Wright, and Dr. Sreyasi Biswas, PhD

Commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

UCalgary is committed to establishing an equitable, diverse, inclusive and accessible campus that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination. It is important to acknowledge that discriminatory behaviours towards members of our community may be present when perceptions of non-compliance are addressed.  We encourage members of the University community to remove barriers for equity-deserving groups, including women, Indigenous peoples, visible/racialized minorities, persons with disabilities and LGBTQ2S+, and to reinforce actions that reflect our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.   

For further information, visit: 

Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion 

Office of Indigenous Engagement 

Protected Disclosure and Research Integrity Office 

Our learning spaces are diverse and present unique opportunities for cultivating equity, diversity, and inclusion.  

  1. Course design

    • Incorporate multiple perspectives and diverse voices in your course content.
    • Revisit existing course content and identify opportunities to update readings, videos, or other multi-media content from new or different perspectives in the field.
  2. Delivery

    • Invite guest speakers to present course content and create new opportunities for students to engage with course content. As you introduce content in your course, constantly ask yourself: “Why should a student care about this?” Consider your own material and the diversity of students in the class.
    • Practice meaningful territory acknowledgements based on where you are teaching from or invite students to share the acknowledgement for the land they live on.
  3. Formative feedback

    • Not all participation and engagement in your course needs to be spoken. A no-tech approach: Offer a prompt and ask students to write an anonymous response on a notecard. Ask them to swap cards, and then swap again. Start a class discussion with a few students reading aloud the card in front of them.
    • Create an anonymous survey or discussion topic where students can share their experiences. You can use this information to adapt the course delivery and engagement expectations throughout the term.
  4. Additional resources

    Office of Indigenous Engagement. (2021). Cultural protocol. 

    Whose Land. (2021). Territories by land. 

Establishing a sense of community and presence in your course can help increase students’ sense of belonging, and subsequently make them more confident in their roles and responsibilities in the course, with one another, and with the teaching team. 

  1. Course design

    • More structure works for most undergraduates, without harming those who don’t need it. Incorporate more structure to your course design by establishing clear course objectives, setting clear expectations from students and providing clear instructions for assignments. 
    • Design learning activities and assessments that provide opportunities for students to engage with their peers, receive formative feedback, and practice skills-based activities.
  2. Delivery

    • Create a list of shared values or guidelines during the first class and post the list somewhere that students will see regularly, such as on the front door where they enter or on the home page of D2L.
    • Small group activities provide a low-pressure way for students to form a community. Provide some structure for group activities and teach students how to participate in small groups. Assign and rotate roles within groups.
    • Provide weekly updates or summaries via email and the News tool in D2L. 
  3. Formative feedback

    • Periodically return to the shared values or community guidelines that the class created to ensure that they still align with the needs of the group. Refine these guidelines as needed.  
  4. Additional resources

    C. Harris, M. Mullally, and R.M. Thomson, Science is for Everyone: Integrating Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Teaching, version 1.0 (beta). [] Carleton University (2021)

    Cornell University. (n.d.). Getting Started with Establishing Ground Rules. Center for Teaching Innovation.

    UC Berkeley. (n.d.). Establishing your virtual culture. Division of Equity & Inclusion.

    University of Alberta. (n.d.). Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (EDI) Toolkit. Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science, and Technology.

Designing accessible course content provides students with multiple ways of engaging with course materials and ensures that all students, regardless of ability or need, can access course content. 

  1. Course design

    • Incorporate multimedia materials into your course outline, such as podcasts, audio files, videos, social media content, and readable PDFs.
    • Use D2L Accessible Templates to develop your course shell, which has been designed to meet accessibility standards.
  2. Delivery

    • Conduct regular “technology audits” in which you check accessibility to digital content, such as broken links, restricted access to content, or other barriers to materials.
    • Interact with course content with students during class-time, modelling the use of tools or application of skills that students are learning.
  3. Formative feedback

    • Create a shared discussion topic or other collaborative space where students can post questions/answers about accessing course content and materials. This will help students engage with each other, encourage problem-solving and self-directed learning skills, and increase visibility of issues related to accessing content.
  4. Additional resources

    University of Minnesota. (2021). Promote digital accessibility. Accessible U. 

    University of Minnesota. (n.d.). Start with the 7 core skills. Accessible U. 

Modelling compassion and communication provides students with a clear understanding of how to navigate your course, what they can expect from you, and what you can expect from them.

  1. Course design

    • Establish clear communication pathways between you and your students, such as office hours, email, or phone preferences, and contact information for the teaching team.
    • Map out assessment deadlines to ensure that students have enough time to process and incorporate feedback between assignments.
  2. Delivery

    • Be available 15 minutes before and/or after class to connect with students and answer questions.
    • Provide extensions on a per-student basis or for the entire class, depending on the context and emerging need.
    • Communicate changes to deadlines or assessment details via multiple channels, such as the News tool in D2L and class-wide emails.
  3. Formative feedback

    • Maintain multiple points of contact with students using D2L communication tools and regular check-ins throughout the term.
    • Check in with students a few days before the deadline or assessment to see where students are at and if they anticipate any barriers to completing the requirements.
    • Connect with students personally. Use their names. Model sharing pronouns. Send a note congratulating students who were successful on an early exam or paper or who substantially improved. Reach out to those who didn’t do so well and express your willingness to help them. Check in with students who have missed a class or two.

Academic staff, teaching assistants, and teaching support staff play an important role in setting expectations and maintaining a positive, inclusive learning environment. At times, this may include addressing challenging behaviors that arise during a class, lab or tutorial. Planning ahead is key to prevention and de-escalation of situations. As with any other classroom management issue, if challenging circumstances arise that substantially disrupt the learning environment, or pose health and safety concerns, you may request assistance from Campus Security.

  1. Course design

    • Include a statement about your commitment to inclusive and equitable learning environments in your course outline.
    • Design peer-support and collaborative learning activities where students can meaningfully engage with one another throughout the course.
    • Develop strategies for addressing disruptive or harmful behaviors in advance, designed for your specific course context.
  2. Delivery

    • Ensure all members of the teaching team understand safety regulations and protocols, and have strategies for addressing safety concerns.
    • Engage students as partners in preventing and addressing harmful behaviors by engaging students in conversations about expectations for conduct and behaviors.
    • Ensure students understand classroom and lab safety requirements and understand how safety concerns or disruptive behaviors will be addressed.
    • Provide regular reminders of the need follow safety procedures.
    • Let students know that if any member of the teaching team (course instructors, GATs, support staff) believes that the health and safety of the class is at risk for any reason, they may choose to pause or cancel the class, tutorial, or lab.
    • If a disruptive situation emerges during a class, tutorial or lab including, disrespectful or confrontational behavior or non-compliance with health and safety measures we advise:
      • Take a moment to collect yourself so you can respond to the situation thoughtfully and use strategies planned out ahead of time.
      • Invite the disruptive student(s) to speak with you privately to discuss the situation. This might require pausing the learning activity or stepping outside of the room with the student(s).
      • Start a conversation from a place of wanting to learn more about cause of disruptive or confrontational behavior and how it can be resolved.
      • Avoid calling out an individual student or group of students in front of the class.
      • Avoid making judgements and assumptions about the cause of the behavior. Beginning with this premise can help de-escalate situations in the moment.
      • If the situation is disruptive to other students’ learning you may ask the student to leave the learning environment.
      • If the situation is immediately threatening to the safety of others, you may pause or cancel the learning activity, and call Campus Security (403-220-5333) if needed. Please note that this should be a last resort measure.
  3. Formative feedback

    • Regularly check-in with the teaching team to learn about any potential issues or challenges that are emerging in the course.
    • Invite students to speak with you privately when situations arise.
    • If there is a disruptive or confrontational situation, please reach out afterward to the course instructor (GATs, instructional support staff) or academic leaders for support.
  4. Additional resources

    Recognize signs of student distress and learn more about responding with care and concern to help resolve issues.

    Learn more about bystander intervention and direct students to resources on managing conflict:


Promoting wellbeing and health in your classroom can improve student learning experiences, quality of communication, and overall attainment of course learning outcomes. Academic staff, teaching assistants and teaching support staff are not responsible for enforcing compliance of the mask requirements and/or procedures related to COVID-19 rapid testing or vaccines. If a situation of concern arises, contact the course instructor (for GAT and support staff) or academic leader (program director, department head, associate dean, dean). 

  1. Course design

    • Apply Universal Design Principles in your learning activities and assessments.
    • Balance workload by considering course level, co-requisite or co-curricular course requirements, and disciplinary context.
    • Use positive and flexible language in your course outline, such as including a statement about a process for requesting extensions or support for students who cannot attend class due to illness or unforeseen circumstances.
  2. Delivery

    • Ensure all members of the teaching team understand safety regulations and protocols and have strategies for addressing safety concerns.
    • Ensure students understand classroom and lab safety requirements including mask requirements and understand how safety concerns or disruptive behaviors will be addressed.
    • Let students know that if any member of the teaching team (course instructors, GATs, support staff) believes that the health and safety of the class is at risk for any reason, they may choose to pause or cancel the class, tutorial or lab.
  3. Formative feedback

    • Increase your awareness of mental health and wellness among students by learning how to recognize warning signs of distress, compromised mental health, and poor wellbeing.
    • Refer students to the appropriate resources as needed, such as Student Mental Health Services or the Student Conduct Office.
    • Provide regular reminders of the need to follow safety procedures and maintain a respectful learning environment. Also remind students that some individuals may be exempt and will need to maintain physical distancing at all times.
  4. Additional resources

    Ohio State University. (2017). Carmen common sense: Best practices. Teaching and Learning Resource Center.  

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