Back to School: Classroom Culture

As the summer vacation comes to an end, both teachers and students are gearing up for a fresh start to the school year.  That means students will enter new classrooms and teachers get new students – all pointing to the need for the creation of a learning environment that fosters student engagement, academic growth, and overall well-being.  The beginning of the academic year sets the tone for the months ahead, so it is critical for you, as a teacher, to establish a positive classroom culture from day one!

Let’s be honest – transitioning from summer to the start of school can be an emotional roller coaster for teachers and students alike. That first day, week, and month are foundational components of a strong, classroom culture.  In this blog, we will offer ten essential classroom culture tips that transform your back-to-school experience into a thriving one.

Set Clear Expectations: The foundation of a positive classroom culture lies in clear and consistent expectations. Establish rules and guidelines for behavior, participation, and academic performance. Involve students in the process to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility. The key is clarity in terminology and procedures, so that means you must teach them what you mean and when they should do things.  Ask questions to ensure understanding and then practice the procedures early and often.  When students understand what is expected of them, they feel more secure and confident in their learning environment.

Cultivate Relationships: Building positive relationships is the heart of an inclusive classroom culture. Take the time to get to know your students individually. Show genuine interest in their lives, passions, and struggles. A warm and caring teacher-student relationship creates a safe space where students feel valued and respected.  Do not overlook the fact that you will need to sustain those relationships as well as “rocky times” will come.  When those occur, lean more into the relationship and the knowledge you have about the student.  If they pull away, give them some space but always make sure you re-engage. 

Foster Communication: Create conditions that promote open communication in your classroom but focus more on connection.  As John C. Maxwell says, “Everyone communicates but few connect.”  Strive to ensure your communication is not one-way but is a dialogue that focus on connecting with others. Let your students know that their thoughts and ideas are essential and that they can express themselves freely without judgment. Promote class discussions, debates, and active listening to enhance student engagement and critical thinking.  Be sure to keep parents informed of the successes their students are having in class.  If the only time you talk to parents is when the student has made a mistake, then you are not connecting as you are only communicating.

Celebrate Diversity: Every classroom is a tapestry of diverse cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives. Embrace this diversity and celebrate it by incorporating multicultural resources and perspectives into your lessons. Create a sense of belonging for every student, ensuring they feel welcomed and accepted.  As the year progresses, a simple step you can do before school is to sit in one child’s seat each morning.  Think through that student and their learning styles by asking one question – “what can I do today to make this day the best for this child?”

Instill Growth Mindset: Encourage a growth mindset among your students, and to do that, you need to model it while you speak about it. If you tell them one thing but do another, then it completely diminishes your message.  Teach them that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort and perseverance – the power of “yet” or “not quite.” Emphasize the value of learning from mistakes and using challenges as opportunities for growth.  Then, when a “oops” happens in the classroom, leverage that for them to see how mistakes are part of the learning process.

Build a Team: At the beginning of the school year, start with icebreakers and team-building activities. These activities help students get to know one another, break down barriers, and build a supportive community within the class.  Here is a word of caution for you – be sure to think of things that all students (e.g., your introverts) would benefit from. Also, consider the duration of these activities.  What I mean by that is simple – don’t just do these on the first day or week of school.  Instead, incorporate them throughout the year to maintain that teammate focus.  

Promote Collaboration: This skill is vital in today’s interconnected world. Encourage group work and collaborative projects to foster teamwork, communication, and problem-solving abilities. Students will learn to appreciate diverse viewpoints and work together towards a common goal.  As mentioned above, keep bringing in team-building activities during the year and adopt one that specifically require collaboration to complete the task. 

Recognize Achievements: Acknowledging both academic and personal achievements is crucial for boosting student confidence and motivation. Celebrate successes, both big and small, and make it a habit to praise their efforts and progress.  In our previous blog, we talked about creating a “Celebration Board” where you recognize individual accomplishments during the year.  Not only do you write them down and share with the class, but you have the student place that celebration on the board.  Remember, what gets appreciated is what gets replicated.

Create Safety: A safe classroom environment extends beyond physical safety. Students should feel emotionally and intellectually secure to express themselves and take risks in their learning journey. Address any bullying or negative behavior promptly and make it clear that everyone is valued and respected.  Remember that you get what you permit, so deal with disrespect early.  If you ignore something expecting it to go away, then the opposite will occur – instead of getting less, you will get more.

Engage Parents: Parental involvement is a significant factor in a student’s academic success, and we briefly mentioned this earlier. Maintain open communication with parents and guardians, keeping them informed about classroom activities and progress. Involve parents in the learning process, seeking their support and collaboration.  You can record short videos during the year about how parents can help their students with everyday math or read to them in the evening.  Teaching parents how to become involved in their child’s education is a powerful tool because some parents did not have good school experiences.  

As the back-to-school season commences, implementing these ten essential classroom culture tips can make a world of difference in shaping a positive and inclusive learning environment. By prioritizing these values, teachers can ensure that students feel motivated, engaged, and excited about their educational journey throughout the school year. Together, let’s create a classroom culture that empowers students to reach their full potential and fosters a love for lifelong learning.

Next week, we continue our Back to School series with a focus on how to support your school’s new teachers – and by new teachers, we mean right out of college about to begin the 1st year of what we hope will be a long and successful career.

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