Creating and negotiating a principled learning space

This resource was written in collaboration with members of the LSE Academic Mentors Community of Practice. If you would like to join the community of practice please contact Dr Akile Ahmet, Head, Inclusive Education (  

As educators we should ensure the following in our teaching practice:  

  • a non-judgmental environment

  • respect of differences  

  • being open to other people’s ideas 

  • interactive classes 

  • ongoing feedback  

  • thinking outside the box

  • being organised  

  • teamwork  

To achieve the above it is necessary to create principled space. 

Principled spaces

The preference for ‘principled’ space over ‘safe’ space draws on the work of artist and activist Hanalei Ramos who has problematised the notion of the safe space. Ramos suggests that principled spaces are better suited to creating the environments we wish to develop: we can commit to adhering to a set of principles that guide and shape the space, and increase the possibility of safety for all involved.  

To achieve a principled space, we must first establish ground clearing practices

  • check our privileges
  • actively listen
  • actively learn
  • reflect
  • action

Ground clearing practices


It is good practice to ensure that you learn correct pronunciations of your students and they too learn yours. This will enable you to invite all students to contribute in sessions without hesitating. To help you do this, you can consider using pronunciation help websites such as Pronounce NamesNameshoutsForvo.  

You could also ask students to make short audio or video personal introductions (optional) that could be added to the course Moodle site to support community building.  

In online environments like Zoom both staff and students should display their names. In addition, you could display your name phonetically and ask students to do the same. 


The resource Getting pronouns right for students describes ways staff can help ensure they are using the right pronouns for students. It suggests some approaches intended to reduce stress and effort, for both staff and students. 

Active listening 

You may find some of the techniques outlined in this Guide to active listening in education useful in helping you demonstrate active listening.  

Engaged silence 

In her blog post Silence in the classroom is not necessarily a problem our colleague Lee-Ann Sequeira questions some of the assumptions made about silent students.  


Be careful when using humour or sarcasm as it can easily give offence, especially when you cannot see facial expressions.  

Use clear and concise language, and be aware when you are using slang or local expressions as not everyone may understand the meaning. 


Netiquette is a set of practices for good, polite and considerate behaviour in online contexts. If you are using an asynchronous online learning space, such as a Moodle forum, you can post our student-facing guidance on Good academic practice in online discussions and to your Moodle forum. You can adapt this guidance to suit the context in which teach.  

If you are using a synchronous online/hybrid learning spaces, such as Zoom, we recommend some space clearing practices, which would benefit from discussion and negotiation with your students. This will set clear expectations for your students around how you expect them to engage with you and vice versa.  


Ensure students have been provided with guidance on Zoom backgrounds should they wish to not share their personal spaces. Staff should avoid commenting on student’s personal space. 

Camera on/off?   

Students should not be required to have their cameras turned on. This requires discussion and optionality. In her blog post 'Voices first, faces second' Maha Bali (Associate Professor of Practice, American University in Cairo) outlines some of the debates around this issue.  


Microphones should be muted to avoid background noise: Additionally, having cameras and microphones off unless speaking allows students with hearing difficulties to focus on one speaker or interaction at a time. You can also use the active speaker setting on Zoom to help reduce overstimulation.  

Good communication 

Ensure you inform students of how the raising of hands using the participants box and the chat function will be used. Our guidance on Synchronous learning activities using Zoom outlines issues you should consider in relation to these funcions.  

Caring responsibilities 

If you have caring responsibilities at home that may cause interruptions during a session you may like to communicate this to your students.  

Managing interactions 

Explain your role in managing online learning activities, e.g. muting or unmuting students’ microphones, allowing or not allowing file sharing and why.  

Additional resources

Establishing safe learning environments  

Creating social presence in a digital learning environment: a presence of mind  

Addressing whiteness in the classroom  

Freedom of speech and ensuring safety  

Equity Unbound – a series of strategies for creating online communities built on principles of equity and care that produce learning spaces in which all students can flourish

Getting pronouns right for students