7 Tips for Creating Positive Classroom Culture

This week's blog post was guest written by Marlena Hebern, educator and author of The EduProtocols Field Guide.

Illustration by Kate Moore

Illustration by Kate Moore

I used to envy one particular sixth-grade class because that teacher always got “the good kids”. Her class was amazing: they walked into the room quietly, knew what to do, and were polite and helpful. Even other teachers noticed that her class was different. I think we all strive to be like that, but I could not, for the life of me, figure out how she got them to be that way! Somehow, that sixth-grade teacher was able to bring a group of strange children together into a family, but how she did it remained a mystery for much of my young career.

One day, I built up the nerve to ask how she got her students to behave like that. It turns out, it was the result of spending the first month of school building community and setting the stage for the whole year. 

I began to think about starting the school year by focusing on cultural expectations instead of just rules. I created purposeful projects to front-load students with the cooperative skills that they would need to work with others—while also having fun, meeting others, and jump-starting standards for the year. 

Slowly, I began to see changes in my class: students connected to one another! Since then, I've learned that culture is like that. It grows slowly, and you don't always notice it in the beginning. You keep working on it, wondering if it’s really going to be worth the time. Sometimes you get discouraged when kids have conflicts, but then, when you least expect it, something miraculous happens and you see the evidence of culture. 

When I met Jon Corippo, he shared with me his version of culture building that he soon called Smart Start. His culture building focuses on destratifying groups to break up cliques so students can get to know each other. As I returned to the classroom to teach sixth grade, I blended my prior practice with Smart Start to begin building a culture that would redefine my class. 

Then one day, a new teacher asked me, "How do you get your class to behave like that?" 

And I said: “I have this EduProtocol Theory that I use…”

Seven tips for creating a positive culture in your classroom 

  1. Make it exciting: To build culture, we will need to get our students engaged in the activity. Make it sound, look, and feel fun! If kids are having fun, participation is up, and kids are engaged in building the culture you desire. 

  2. De-stratify classes to avoid a segregated culture: Cliques are the enemy of the classroom. Break them down by building a new classroom-wide clique where everyone is accepted, honored, and listened to as a valuable addition to the classroom. To do this, make and remix groups over the first three weeks, so kids get to know everyone. Help them find commonalities and to see how others share their interests. 

  3. Build expectations for behavior: Guide students into the behavior patterns that make a classroom functional by establishing routines early, including transitions. Always introduce new methods and procedures as a whole class, where you can be present to support students, and then move routines into independent practice after about a week or two. 

  4. Build routines for learning: Introduce EduProtocols and Pear Deck on day one with exciting, routine-building activities that you will use over and over through the course of the year. Remember to thoroughly establish learning routines as a whole class before moving into independent work time. Pear Deck blends beautifully with many of the EduProtocols and will help you to establish consistency and routine with your students. 

  5. Calibrate creativity: It is very likely that students are not used to thinking creatively, but creativity is precisely what you want! Provide positive affirmation for answers that are 'out of the box' and encourage more. It will take time to develop this new sense of confidence in your students, so be sure to start on day one!

  6. Make kids feel good: Everybody wants to be loved and appreciated—including kids. Why have Girl and Boy Scouting thrived for so long? Because kids want to belong to a group where they can feel a sense of accomplishment. Let's give them a similarly positive experience in our classroom. 

  7. Be patient: Culture takes time. It won't happen in a day or even a week. Spend the first week with culture building as a theme; gently taper off in week two. Then cycle around once a week for the first month and once a month or more as needed to continue building culture through the year. It will happen—be patient. You can find an EduProtocol sample Smart Start Schedule at eduprotocols.com

Caroline Scott