Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Setting the tone

Setting the tone (5:47)
In the previous video, Paul discussed some basic ideas about motivation. You can have an influence on your students motivation as a teacher in front of a classroom. But a proper tone and a constructive classroom atmosphere must be present. If you focus too much on authority, there might be a risk that your students will respect you less, or that they will start to dislike the course. On the other hand, if you treat your students too much like they’re your friends, you might be at risk that the students will not accept your position as the teacher in front of the classroom as much as you would like. So how to find a balance between being too strict and being too friendly.
In this video, I will talk about how to set the right tone from the very beginning. In the introduction part of the very first session, you will have to introduce yourself. Start getting to know your students. Establish some ground rules. And, of course, mention what you set out to do. The structure of your first session. First, let’s talk about a proper way to introduce yourself. You could share something about your background, your interests, or your motivation to teach. What exactly is up to you. The most important thing to keep in mind is to act authentically. Be yourself. Do not think you have to be someone you aren’t with your students.
Remember what we discussed in week one about professional behaviour, authentic leadership, and clear communication? You could be yourself and be professional at the same time. Ultimately, you’d want to show that you’re in charge in the classroom. But at the same time, want them to know that you care about, respect, and support them. It is therefore vital to be able to create a safe learning environment for your students, since it will enhance the learning process of your students. Dana will tell you more about that later this week.
Secondly, depending on the size of the group, it is a good idea to learn their names and find out a little bit about them. Doing an ice breaker activity with your students can help you with that, and it has the additional advantage that exercise can help the students to feel more comfortable and to get to know each other in another way than they typically would in a classroom setting. Googling ice breaker will give you a lot of options. A good example for groups of 10 to 15 students is to play bingo with them. You can make up a bingo sheet with different characteristics they may have.
Characteristics could be, for example, being a student assistant in the support function at the University, or being involved in a sport association. Let the students mingle with each other and find peers who have those characteristics. Determine how many characteristics have to be found– for example, four– in order to have a bingo. You can choose to participate in the ice breaker exercise, or to be an observer. It’s up to you. Thirdly, after the introductions, you could start with establishing group norms about conduct in class. What will happen when someone comes in late? And in international groups, what language will be spoken in the classroom? And what about rules for using mobile phones?
Establishing rules on classroom policies at the start of the course can help prevent discipline issues later on. Having the group write their own rules, to the extent that this as possible, will help them feel like they’re part of the group, as opposed to you having strong control over the students. This is a great way to balance control with warmth. Instead of imposing rules on them, which would be quite authoritarian, the group takes responsibility, which in turn shows them that you respect them. What I do with my groups is to present some sample situations for them.
I will tell them that class starts at one o’clock, for example, and say that I expect them to be in their seats ready to go at one. Then, I will ask them what the class policy should be when someone comes in late. I will either write everything on the board myself or ask for a volunteer from the group to write down the rules. After class, I will email the students with the list of rules they generated. That way, they all know what they are and understand that they are responsible for sticking to them. By establishing some ground rules and the corresponding consequences, you let the students know what they can expect.
Another way to manage expectations is to be clear about what the structure of each session will look like. In the introduction part of each session, you can briefly address this by mentioning the agenda of the session, which learning activities there will be, and how they relate to the intended learning outcomes of the course, and at what time you expect to have a break. In the next step, we want to hear from you what kind of situations you might find challenging to manage as an instructor. Since everyone has different strengths, not everyone might find the same situation hard to deal with. I’m curious to hear what kind of situations you might find challenging.

Explaining to the students what they can expect goes a long way toward preventing issues later on in the course.

In this video, Stacey will provide some practical tips on how to set the right tone with your students. Introducing yourself, learning your students’ names and setting some ground rules are some of the topics that will be tackled.


  • Lucas, S.G., & Bernstein, D.A. (2014). Teaching psychology: A step-by-step guide (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Psychology Press Taylor & Francis Group.

  • Wilson, J.H., & Hackney, A.A. (2006). Problematic college students: preparing and repairing. In: Buskist, W. and Davis, S.F. (eds.), Handbook of the teaching of psychology (pp.233-237). Oxford, England: Blackwell.

This article is from the free online

Becoming a Student Assistant: Teaching and Mentoring

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education