You will never hear a teacher say, “I don’t want a positive, loving classroom culture.” But the reality is that every classroom does not have a positive, loving classroom culture. Why is that? Well, it is definitely not because teachers do not care deeply about their students.
We must understand that our classroom cultures do not develop naturally or easily. Our classroom cultures will constantly be threatened by factors out of our control. So how do we dig deep and build a family whenever standards are rising, parent support is limited, teachers are up to their eyeballs with tasks, and behaviorally, let’s just say that there is a lot to manage? To keep our classroom cultures intact, we have to consistently (as in every day), stay true to our values, focus on the kids, and allow them to contribute to our ever-evolving class families.
Stay True, Teacher
Hands down, the teacher is the most important factor in regards to a classroom culture. The teacher sets the tone and gives the students a model in which to behave. Respect is a two-way street, am I right?
As teachers… (honestly, as humans), there will always be circumstances that threaten our peace and joy. Life is certainly not easy, and sometimes we can’t help but bring our baggage into our classrooms. Every day we have the choice to let our circumstances, in and out of the classroom, cause us to lash out and respond in anger towards our students, or we can remain consistent in positivity and love no matter what the school day holds.
To keep a positive, loving classroom culture, we must stay true to our values regardless of our circumstances. We must treat the kids with respect, even when we are at our wits’ end. Kids will not thrive in a classroom culture in which they feel rejected, fearful, insecure, or unsure regarding the teacher’s feelings towards them. We have to make the mental effort, through the strength of God, to keep the overall welfare of our students as our top priority every day.
Yup. Easier said than done. We have certainly all had “bad-teacher moments,” but even our “bad-teacher moments” can be used to positively affect our classroom cultures. In our failings and weaknesses, we get to model how to ask for forgiveness and how to get back up after a mistake.
Personally, I find myself needing to pray daily (sometimes hourly) and ask for God’s strength to love the students that he has entrusted to me. I have to wake up and remind myself every morning, that Jesus died for every student in my class; therefore, they are worth my sacrifices, consistent and unconditional love, and worth the grueling process of character building. Growth is a process–sometimes a very messy process, yet we have all committed to help every student grow.
We must stay true to what we believe about students and the way in which they should be treated. We must.
Focus on the Kids
To build a productive, uplifting classroom culture, we must stop putting so much mental energy into all the barriers and “things” that make our jobs difficult, and focus on the lives that God hand picks to be in our classrooms. It’s easy to get caught up in the negative and forget why we showed up to work in the first place. It is all about the kids.
We must learn how to let go – not in an irresponsible way, but in a way that helps you make sure your priorities are in order. Yes, we balance 16,000 things all at once, but our classes will not have the classroom culture we desire if we allow ourselves to be driven by stress, anxiety, and pressure. Let what drives us mentally be the students that are depending upon us– their academic success, their emotional and social development, their character. It seems that when we look at all of our situations through the lens of “kids first,” instead of “tasks first,” our classroom cultures seem to fall into place.
Let them Contribute
Kids crave responsibility and seek to contribute. They enjoy a sense of belonging. Those are all truly beautiful attributes that are the building blocks of an incredible classroom culture. The two ways that I have found most effective in helping students feel as though they contribute are inviting students to assist in the rule/procedure-making process, and assigning classroom jobs.
The Rule Making Process
Students respond better to rules that they help create. Of course, it’s up to the teacher to facilitate the rule-making process. Throughout the first week of school, realize that academics takes the back seat. The first priority is building character and clear classroom expectations. Carve time out of your schedule to watch videos and read books that explain the important of rules, treating others with respect, etc. Have the students act out appropriate and inappropriate behavior and discuss the consequences of each. Encourage students to think deeply about the consequences for both positive and negative behavior. Then, guide the class into making the class’ rules. Ya know, build a classroom contract in which all the students contribute.
I’ve always taught little ones; therefore, we made up cheers and hand-motions to accompany our rules. They think the motions are awesome, so whenever the class needs a little reminder regarding our class’ rules, we review them… motions and all. The motions also serve as a non-verbal reminder of appropriate behavior throughout the day.
Classroom jobs add to a classroom’s culture in that they reinforce the idea that everyone contributes; therefore, everyone belongs and makes a difference. Jobs give responsibility, yes, but more importantly they invite the students to take ownership — the classroom becomes “theirs.”
I introduce the classroom jobs that are “must haves,” but I like to give the kiddos the chance to think of ways in which they can better the classroom. For example, an amazing little girl suggested a job saying, “Mrs. Ackley, I’ll untangle the headphones every day.” And by golly, she was hired! I like to rotate jobs weekly, but that is optional. I encourage my students to earn their weekly jobs, and though it is rare, students have been known to lose their jobs due to sad choices in the classroom. Though the classroom jobs build the classroom culture, they also act as a form of positive reinforcement.
We can do an incredible job implementing rules and procedures and bringing the kids in on the rule making process… and we can have the best classroom jobs… and we can create and carry out the most incredible lessons, but at the end of the day, our classroom cultures come down to our attitudes day in and day out. How do we handle stressful (okay, impossible) situations? We as teachers have to dig deep every day and build positive, loving classroom cultures. No. Matter. What.