8 Steps to a Positive Class Culture

It’s only a few short weeks until the first day of school. Right now I’m buckling down and getting ready for the year. The first thing that I think about is what do I want my classroom to feel like emotionally every day.

The classroom environment sets the stage for everything that happens inside the classroom. It is just as important to plan for the classroom culture as to prepare lesson plans and study the content.Here are a few principles that have worked for me and are easily transferable to all grades.

1. Develop a relationship – One of the biggest motivators for a student is their relationship with a teacher. How does a teacher develop a relationship with a student? My mantra borrowed from Rabbi Noach Orlowek is  “If it is important to you, it is important to me” By truly caring about the student’s interests, the teacher shows that she wants a relationship. For example, I make a point of noticing the kind of baseball caps my students wear. Are they Mets fans or Yankees fans? The night after a game, I can show interest in what my students are thinking about. They know I don’t care about baseball. But they know that I know that they care about baseball. I try to make a connection with at least 2 students a day about something that is important to them. As a teacher, I also make sure to inquire when students are absent or have a changed mood.

2. Who are you? Students want to know that a teacher sees them as individuals. During the first few days, I try to do ice breakers and have the students tell me about themselves.

3. Fix myself first – I can’t teach respect if I don’t practice respect. I try to improve my character every day. i’m still not perfect, but I know I’m trying to improve. One day, a colleague commented how calm I was when some students were acting erratically. I was surprised at his assessment but also proud. I have a tendency to get emotional. I had been working on my own emotions so that I could deal with classroom interruptions calmly. It was gratifying to hear that a colleague perceived me differently than my inherent nature. The other benefit for self-improvement is that it sets an example for the class that learning and growth is a life-long process. Students don’t feel threatened when they realize they are not perfect because they have seen an example of how to deal with that very situation.

4. Plan routines – Things go smoother when the transitions and common tasks are on auto-pilot. Getting students into routines at the beginning of the year means that I don’t constantly have to be involved in negative interactions by constantly correcting and being critical. I can focus on the positivie and the learning instead. Routines don’t just happen though. They require time, planning and reinforcement. At the end of the summer, I go through a list of classroom events that come up regularly. How will my students hand in papers? How will they line up for recess. How will I get their attention? What happens if a student bullies? It takes a lot of time to  to practice the routines but it is  well worth the pay off after a few short weeks

5. Plan well – I try to stuff my classes with as much learning and engagement as possible from bell to bell (and beyond if possible). Human beings want to improve. It’s part of what improves the universe. I have confidence that if I give opportunities to learn, my students will try to grow.  I try to make these learning opportunities active, student-centered with multiple learning modalities so every student has a way to access the learning if they want.

6. Humor and positivity – Nothing in life needs to be that serious. You can do serious work even if the mood is not serious. Students are more engaged when they are relaxed. They are more relaxed when they are comfortable and there is a light atmosphere of good cheer rather than pressure and stress. I force a smile on my face even if I am tired. No one wants to look at a sour face all day. I try to be a positive person to be around and to remember that humor will often diffuse many situations.

7. Teach positive thinking– on the top of my tests, I write “The best you can do is to do your best!” I encourage my class to recognize that they are special, that nothing is ever the end of the world (except perhaps the end of the world) and to believe in themselves. Some of our students grow up in critical homes and need to learn how to view the world more optimistically. They need help retraining their thinking from highly critical to self-nurturing. When students are more forgiving of themselves and celebrate their successes, they don’t need to engage in negative conflicts for attention.

8. Realize no one is perfect, not me and not them – sometimes I have a bad day. Sometimes, they do. Rather than letting that set the tone for the rest of the year, I let the day go and start over the next day.

With these few tips, I hope that my classroom will be one of joy, learning and cooperation. I hope to enjoy myself this year and I hope that my students do as well.