Personalizing your Syllabus

A well-constructed syllabus is much more than a document that simply outlines rules, regulations, or even expected outcomes of learning.

While we should be concerned with the accuracy and clarity of what we write in our syllabus, we should also be cognizant of its tone and how this tone reflects who we are, what we think, what we value.

Include a welcome to your students on the first page of the syllabus.

These introductory comments could include information on why you are excited about teaching this particular course, why students should be excited to learn the subject matter, or the unique opportunities in your course, including experiential learning, group work or other pedagogical innovations.

You could share information on relevant professional experiences including research or teaching, or anything else you would like your students to know about the course or yourself in general. Students are often more open and expressive in the classroom when their instructor has already demonstrated some willingness to do the same.

Share your teaching philosophy, approach, or style with students.

Regardless of whether we consciously include a statement about our teaching style or approach, the syllabus has something to say about our expectations and how we intend to interact with students inside and outside the classroom.

Take a moment to review your syllabus. What did you choose to include in your syllabus and why? What information did you exclude and why? How did you approach the tasks of organizing and presenting information in the syllabus? Does the tone and content of your syllabus predominantly reflect what you value? Why or why not?

Express your enthusiasm for your subject matter, teaching, and for the success of your students

Most instructors express their enthusiasm for their course by sharing their experiences, interests, and research related to the subject matter. To go beyond this,

  • Use a quote or image on the first page of my syllabus to persuade students that the course is relevant to their lives.
  • Discuss your teaching approach and the types of knowledge, skills and abilities emphasized in the course and why.
  • Share information your teaching approach and rationale behind the approach, including the teaching strategies students might expect to see in the classroom.
  • Discuss how you have planned and/ or organized the course to best suit their learning needs and why and how this may have evolved based on your experiences as well as feedback from previous students.
Some instructors use the first day of class, rather than the syllabus itself, to discuss and/or follow up on this type of information. Ultimately, whether the information is included in the syllabus or discussed in class, the message to students is that you genuinely care about their success in the learning process.