Most teachers can recall points in their formative years when they were students in a classroom with a negative culture. Many remember how damaging it was to their overall desire to learn.
Negative classroom environments are not conducive for learning, whether they’re the result of bullies or teachers who aren’t proactive about classroom management. Teachers and students both contribute to a classroom’s culture, but teachers are ultimately responsible for making it a place where students feel supported, safe and willing to share their ideas.
A positive classroom culture is characterized by a non-threatening atmosphere where students feel that they are able to speak, offer ideas and take risks without fear of reprisal or mockery. Teachers cultivate healthy classroom environments by focusing on students’ critical thinking skills and are consistent in following rules and disciplining students.
Students are aware of the classroom rules, which should be discussed at the beginning of the year. They take part in determining disciplinary action when they violate the standards of behavior. Instead of being punished, students work to understand why their action was harmful and create a remedy to the situation. Teachers use positive reinforcement to promote good behavior rather than rewarding “bad” behaviors with negative attention.
There are a number of ways for teachers to cultivate a positive classroom culture. These strategies involve both classroom set up and instructional methods.
Students must know how they’re expected to behave in class. Classroom rules should be displayed on the wall, a board, or somewhere else students can always access and review them. Teachers must also ensure that rules are enforced consistently for all students. If teachers need to add to the list, they should provide a rationale for the rule so students feel that it’s fair and necessary.
There are always students who dominate conversations or provide all the answers, and a teacher’s job is to ensure that all students, even quiet ones, feel empowered and like their voice matters. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean forcing students to participate if they are introverted or socially anxious.
Instead, teachers can provide other means for students’ voices to be heard. For instance, giving students the opportunity to electronically submit answers welcomes all students’ ideas and allows them to be recognized without having to speak out loud.
Ask for student input and let them know their ideas or concerns are of value. If students are asked to rate their understanding frequently or told that their opinion has value, they feel more invested in the classroom environment as well as their overall learning.
Bridge new concepts to previous learning and indicate what is coming. Students learn better when they understand how new information relates to what they have already learned. This teaches students that lessons have value and build upon each other.
A positive classroom culture promotes student involvement and ensures that they feel valued and supported in their learning. Teachers can do a lot to help structure their classrooms and instruction in a way that cultivates this kind of environment. Carefully considering how to develop and maintain a healthy classroom creates a caring atmosphere where everyone can learn.
Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.