Creating an Inspirational Classroom Culture
By Janis Effner, Former Educator and Professional Services Director at McGraw Hill
Since working for McGraw Hill and with educators across the United States, I hear stories of struggles and triumphs that are a daily occurrence in the life of a teacher. As a former Reading Specialist and classroom teacher, I enjoy being a part of what is happening on campuses today and thinking back to what life in a classroom taught me and how it has inspired me throughout my career.
When teaching, I found students were consistently focused on making sure they kept me distracted with daily drama and disruptions. There wasn’t much they wouldn’t do to prevent actual learning; telling me about a fight during lunch, talking about other teachers, throwing pencils into the ceiling tiles, drawing on their desk; it was endless.
Each class period I was prepared for their latest attempt and felt like a recording as I’d say, “If you took all the effort you put into not working into your schoolwork, imagine where’d you be.” Not too surprisingly, this declaration didn’t open my students’ minds to the importance of learning. They needed to want to learn, so together we created an inspirational classroom culture.
See Their Purpose
One of the fastest ways to shift into inspiration mode is to quit focusing on student behavior. Instead, value the purpose each student brings to your class. Ensure every student has a purpose-driven vision of themselves so they begin to see their individual personality as a strength. Once they see themselves as valuable, discipline issues will fade and accomplishments will begin.
The student who talks non-stop might be the class spokesperson, the quiet student who is an amazing writer can take class notes, and the socialites can oversee leading groups and encourage others to share. It is important to cultivate these practices daily and have students recognize and admire each other’s purpose in their school community. Students will begin to inspire each other and grow in their appreciation of differences.
I can’t promise that every day will be easy, but seeing beyond behavior and shifting into purpose is the first step to having an inspirational classroom.
How can you cultivate purpose in your classroom?
Have High expectations
Years ago, during the first few weeks of teaching an eighth-grade Reading class, I began to discuss growth goals. As I was talking, one of my students raised his hand, and said, “Miss we can’t do this, we aren’t smart enough.” The entire class nodded in agreement.
Have you ever had a friend say, “I look ugly”? In response, have you ever told them they were right? Hopefully not. We go out of our way to encourage others to look beyond their insecurities and thrive. The same should be done in the classroom.
So, how do you inspire students who don’t believe in themselves? Have high expectations.
Behind every successful teacher is the belief that every student can learn and grow, and in every inspirational classroom, this belief is also a part of each student’s thinking. We must show students how to believe in themselves and their abilities.
Model how to work through difficult content, show best thinking practices, discuss failures and fears, and then repeatedly put gritty work in front of students. It is easy to say we believe every student can grow, but what do our actions say? Your actions determine whether your classroom is inspirational.
Do your expectations inspire students?
As you work to have an inspirational community in your classroom, don’t be discouraged by difficult days. In fact, it is important to realize that your struggles and successes are part of the unintentional modeling of life every teacher does on a regular basis.
Today's most successful motivational speakers haven’t written a book called “My Life has been Perfect”. Right? We are inspired by those who have faced adversity and have overcome it.
You are the inspirational leader in your classroom. Inspire by being human and persevering despite your flaws. Your students will learn more from these moments than you realize.
In your quest to have an inspirational culture, don’t forget how valuable you are in the lives of so many. Your influence on the lives of students will still be present when your teaching days are over.
Make these moments impactful for those who will continue to inspire because of your influence. Our students deserve our best, so let’s make sure they receive it.
Janis Effner is the professional services director at McGraw Hill. She was a Secondary classroom teacher and reading specialist for over 10 years. Janis is a powerful media and communication professional with a Principal Certification focused on Secondary School Administration/Principalship from Schreiner University. She lives in the beautiful state of Alaska.