Wednesday / April 24

Skills for Building Positive Classroom Culture

The positive classroom culture is built with positive relationships, clear procedures, high expectations for appropriate behavior, and successful learning. Some teachers use a morning meeting strategy each day to build connection, while other teachers use song and movement.  Based on a teacher’s personal style and personality, great classrooms may take on different characteristics.  But in the finest classrooms, teachers have developed skills in each of the following:

Based on a teacher’s personal style and personality, great classrooms may take on different characteristics.

“Based on a teacher’s personal style and personality, great classrooms may take on different characteristics.”

  • Build Connections Daily. Greet students at the door. Use eye contact, smile, and call students by name. Show them you care enough to ask about their lives. Tell them your own story. Build the personal connection.
  • Use Consistent Procedures and Routines. Developing and consistently using classroom procedures helps students feel secure, teaches them which behaviors are appropriate for the classroom, and supports a shared purpose in the classroom.
  • Respond Quickly to Misbehavior. Nip misbehavior in the bud, not with anger and intimidation, but with a carefully honed set of responses that keep your classroom calm and safe. Children will not learn optimally in an unsafe environment. As teachers, it is our job to model calm, emotionally appropriate behaviors and to ensure that no child is afraid of physical or emotional harm in the school.
  • Notice Specific Positive Behaviors. Spend six times more energy noticing good behavior than criticizing inappropriate behavior. Emphasize the use of specifically positive compliments rather than general praise. Use phrases like, “I noticed you were really concentrating today, and that you were one of the first students to get your work done. How did you learn to stay so focused?”
  • Use Instructional Design for Success. Be aware of the instructional levels and needs of your students, and make adjustments in your instructional design so students are working at their level of readiness as much as possible. Students learn optimally, stay motivated, and behave better when they are working with a high expectation of success.
  • Neutralize Arguments. Avoid getting sucked into difficult arguments with students. Learn the skills of responding with empathy rather than anger when students try to argue.
  • Sometimes Delay Consequences. When you are unsure how to respond, too angry, too think straight, or working with a child who is emotionally distraught, recognize that you do not have to solve every problem right that minute. Take a breath, calm yourself and the student, and in some cases give yourself some time to consider options before dealing with a problem.
  • Develop an Empathetic Classroom Culture. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand somebody else’s feelings. It may be the most important skill in your repertoire of behavioral management skills. Build a classroom in which students feel empathy for each other and from their teacher.
  • Send Home Good News. Be the teacher who sends home good news instead of only criticism and punishment. Reach out to parents and build connections that will help your students know that school and home are on the same team.
  • Use Enforceable Statements. Avoid using threats. Learn to use words carefully, describing the things you are willing to do or allow in your classroom. For example, “We’ll be going out to recess as soon as all the tables are clean and the students are quiet.”
  • Offer Choices. Sometimes share control, especially over the little things. Ask students questions such as, “Would you like to do the odd-numbered questions or the even-numbered questions today?”
  • Teach Problem-Solving Skills. As much as is reasonable, avoid telling students what they ought to do when they are capable of solving their own problems. Guide students to believe they have the capacity to think, learn, and solve problems on their own. Help students develop self-efficacy.

Written by

Bob Sornson is an award-winning author and presenter, calling for programs and practices which support competency based learning and early learning success. He works internationally with school districts, universities, and parent organizations. His many books include Over-Tested and Under-Prepared: Using Competency-Based Learning to Transform Our Schools (Routledge), Fanatically Formative (Corwin Press), and Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning about Empathy (Love and Logic Press). Contact

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