Setting the tone activities

Authentic Open Letter/Video Addressing Students

Setting a human-centred tone to your class from the beginning of the semester.
Authentic Open Letter/Video Addressing Students
Educator prep: None
Student prep: None
Shared online space
Duration: < 5 mins

Activity purpose

Setting a human-centered tone to your class from the beginning of the semester.

Useful for

Setting the tone and helping students realize you see them as whole human beings, by being open about your own humanity. Especially useful if you don’t have freedom to do this kind of thing in your syllabus.


Time to write the letter or prepare the video.


There are no rules. Just write a letter or film a video where you start with “Dear Students” and talk to them as if they were in front of you.


This is asynchronous and will take as much time as it takes you to create it 🙂

Adaptations and examples

You could do your own, and then invite students to also create their own letter/video addressing you or the class. E.g. students can do “An open letter to my professors in Fall 2020” that encourages them to account for the most stressful elements of their lives this semester, or which tells them how to make learning more enjoyable for them.

Technical requirements

Nothing fancy. You can write it on a blog or as an announcement in your LMS or as a discussion forum. If you do a video, you can record it with any of the recording software available (even on your phone!) and post it to YouTube or on a shared drive or on your LMS/VLE.

Useful resources


If you choose to go the written route, see:

  • This sample from Jessica Lifshitz where she reminds students “I want you to know that I, too, am walking into this school year carrying the weight of a lot of the things the world has thrown at us over these past few months” from and
  • This sample from UCDenver (which they shared on their website but also shared with us as a Google doc you can remix) which includes things like:

“We will privilege care. We will invite your feedback. We will listen to your concerns. We will be flexible with expectations. We will be reflective. With you, we will be creative.”

If you choose to go the video route, you may benefit from:

More 'Setting the tone activities' activities:
Equity Unbound Activity
Alternative Approaches to Grading
Consider different approaches to grading and how they can affect the classroom atmosphere and more!
Maha Bali, Mia Zamora, Jasmina Najjar, Laura Gibbs, Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh, Arley Cruthers
Equity Unbound Activity
Survey students early in the semester: Pre-Course Survey
Use a pre-course survey to get to know your students early on in the semester.
Maha Bali
Equity Unbound Activity
Gratitude Journal
Support students’ wellbeing by suggesting a daily or periodic practice of gratitude, promote radical self-compassion.
Maha Bali, Nadine Aboulmagd, Hoda Mostafa, Azza Awwad

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