Setting a Positive Classroom Culture

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” — Maya Angelou

How do you want your students to feel when they enter your classroom? Is your classroom a place where they feel supported to meet their goals and want to support their peers?

In K-214, We Share

It was near the end of the first day of school a few years ago when I heard crying coming from the rug area.

“What’s wrong Emmanuel?” I asked.

“I’m playing with the trains and he wants to play with them. They’re mine!”

“Emmanuel, in K-214 we share. Why don’t you share the trains so both of you can play?”

“I don’t like to share!” Emmanuel said, refusing to let go of the red train and pouting.

“But when you share, doesn’t it make you feel happy?” I asked.

“Sharing doesn’t make me feel happy!” Emmanuel cried.

Luckily, it was almost time to clean up and Emmanuel’s mom was able to help us convince him to put the train down. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling like I had failed him. Hadn’t we spoken about sharing earlier that morning? Hadn’t we discussed the rules with our class? Wasn’t that enough?

Planning Beyond Routines

As teachers we spend so much time getting our classrooms ready — planning the routines and procedures, units and lesson plans. Yet, it can be easy to forget how important it is to plan for and continually nurture a positive climate and culture in our classrooms. For the transformative change we hope to make happen in our schools and classrooms, students have to feel part of a community and safe to take risks, stretch and grow.

With that in mind, here are a few tips and resources to support you in developing a positive classroom culture and climate this school year. Remember, classroom culture and climate develop over time and can be worked on at any point during the school year. So if you have just returned from Winter Break and are noticing your community needs strengthening, don’t be discouraged! Try out some ideas of the ideas below!

Please note that this is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list! Think of these ideas as starting points.


1. Build Community

Incorporate activities that give students an opportunity to build relationships and a sense of belonging daily. One way to do this is by having a Morning Meeting each day that includes specific activities to help students get to know each other and build trust and understanding. In my classroom, our morning meeting consisted of a greeting, team-building activity, share and schedule of the day. The Morning Meeting Book, by Roxann Kreite, is one great resource for starting or revamping morning meeting in your classroom.

Programs like Seesaw not only honor students individuality, they are also fun to use!

Digital Community-Building Ideas and Resources:

  • Share self-portraits using Seesaw: students take pictures of self-portraits, record audio about them and share them with their classmates on the class feed (they can also share work and get comments from classmates!)
  • Create digital collages and cards for to acknowledge each other on Pic Collage (free on Android, paid on ios)
  • Engage your class in scheduled or spontaneous brain breaks by dancing to one of the songs or taking time to meditate on Go Noodle

Community-Themed Read Alouds:

  • Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
  • Be a Friend by Salina Yoon
  • Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes

2. Cultivate a sense of Shared Ownership

Give students an opportunity to take an active role within the classroom by soliciting their input whenever possible. Easy ways to do this include asking for their opinion on classroom jobs and giving them an opportunity to help develop the classroom norms and rules.

The students in this Kindergarten classroom are responsible for putting away their Chromebooks independently of the teacher.

These small steps can help create a shared space where students feel (and are!) integral to the classroom community. Here is an editable community helpers document that can be used with students to brainstorm classroom jobs.


3. Foster a Growth Mindset

Plan activities that help students understand that learning is a process and that making mistakes and failing is okay. Be sure to model this mindset in your teaching as well! One way to support development of a growth mindset is by helping students set goals, tracking (very important!) progress towards them, and celebrating successes.

Growth Mindset Ideas and Digital Resources:

  • Sing about The Power of Yet with younger students! Then discuss and write about goals in a digital space using padlet or the question feature in google classroom.
  • Celebrate when students meet their goals by taking pictures and loading them to the class stream on Seesaw or class story in Class Dojo.
  • Have students reflect on how they overcame a challenge by setting up a ‘perseverance’ grid in FlipGrid.
  • Share class-wide successes with families and the wider school community by creating a classroom twitter account.

Growth Mindset Read Alouds:

  • Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
  • The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
  • The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
  • Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by Joann Deak, Ph. D

Not surprisingly, studies have shown that a positive school culture and climate help boost student achievement. So don’t wait, work on building that positive classroom culture and climate today — and let us know how it goes! Have a question? Visit our online community, the Innovative Teaching Co-op.

Written by Marie Medina, @EdTechMarie


Originally published at educatellc.com on October 6, 2018.