How to Start Teaching and Creating a Positive Class Culture

As teachers, we all know that the start of every school year normally kicks off with people doing class rules and expectations. There’s no real surprises there.

I don’t know about you, but I am always amazed at the difference that occurs with the class culture and behaviours within my class when we spend that little bit of extra time exploring why we have these expectations and how they look, sound and feel in our learning communities.

So, if you’re interested in creating an incredibly positive class culture, focused on building independence and student ownership of behaviours, this post is for you.

It won’t tell you everything, but what it will do is give you a couple of things to start building that positive class culture. Our next post will add onto this week’s, after you’ve had time to try these out, and get you set for the next wave of building those positive relationships and culture.

Kid Smiling

Cue cute, smiley face of a kid to tug on your heart strings.

These starting weeks are perfect opportunities to set us and our class up for incredible learning over the whole year, where the kids sit in front of you each and every day ready to go further than they ever thought possible (and will surprise you with what they say, think and do!).
So, how can we kickstart the relationships and culture in our classrooms? I’m glad you asked.

Paint a Hope-filled Picture of Belief in Them and The Year Ahead

At the start of every year I take some time to make it clear to the newest batch of students/legends that not only am I excited to be learning and teaching with them (remember: it’s not just teaching), I think they are incredible and can’t believe how lucky I am to have this class.

Bell Ringing

Did you hear that? That’s the Bell of Luck ringing for us all right now.

The next part normally moves into a spiel along the lines of:

No matter what you may or may have not done last year, no matter what you think you can’t do, the minute you walk through that doorway you have been given a fresh start.

You are incredible.

And do you know what is even better? Right now, as learners in here, you have the power to try, to be or to do anything in this classroom”.

It’s at that point that I shut up.

I wait and let a slightly longer than normal silence fall across the room.

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Play it cool, Dan. Keep the poker face up and smile. Don’t do the slightly awkward grimace.

It’s during that silence that I am trying to not only give them a moment or two to consider what they really are hoping for, but to also emphasise my serious belief in this.

After this I move to point out that within our class we know no one is perfect, and that’s awesome. Being a part of our class family means that we know we are all learners. We all make mistakes and we know they are the secret to keep discovering amazing things about ourselves and the world around us.

I finish up the spiel with a final challenge (and some wild gesticulating with my hands):

“I am here for you every single day. I won’t give up…which means I won’t stop supporting or challenging you.”

Then, cue a mic drop as you swagger out the room.

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Until you remember you have to continue to teaching the class.

Every Lesson Isn’t Just About Reading, Writing or ‘Rithmetic

I don’t know about you, but after the first few days of the school year pass, it can become easy for me to fall into the trap of jumping head first into “covering” and ticking off the learning our team planned together.

The problem with this pressure is we often forget that every lesson at this time of year is a great learning opportunity to build up independent and interpersonal skills and culture in our class.

The key is to keep telling ourselves this during planning and teaching times. Right now we’re setting ourselves up for an amazing end of year. (Ridiculous to say I know, but it’s true).

Not Giving Up

During this time of the school year, we will all probably be teaching some maths lessons focused on place value. These lessons will probably involve kids exploring skills and concepts through games, problem solving and a worksheet or two. So what else is actually happening in those sessions?

What about learning how to give or receive feedback? Or building up our ability to stay on task? Or understanding what a positive and proactive group member is? Or even discovering the power of actively listening?

Yes, it is a maths lesson, but there’s also a huge amount of personal and social learning going on right under our noses. Right now, it could actually be said it’s a teamwork and personal learning lesson with some maths thrown in.

Weighing Up

Is it a maths lesson? A personal learning lesson? A ‘Personal Maths’ lesson?

Here’s the thing I am always trying to remember: whenever I’m planning and thinking about the week ahead, stop and consider the kids you have and what you want them to be like at the end of the year as people.

What personal and interpersonal skills would they need to achieve that? How can you start to set them up to be like that right now?

Then include that as one of the clear measures of success in the lesson.

Here’s an example from a writing session we had earlier this week. You’ll see three success criteria focused on writing as well as personal learning.

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It’s important to say here, I don’t just type the success criteria up and leave them on the board. Before moving off into our independent or group times we go over some simple questions as a whole class, pairs or individuals. Before they can achieve these success criteria, they need to know what they are looking for or how they can do it.

Our Questions

What does actively listening look like?

How do you know someone is actively listening to you?

Why is it important to actively listen?

What does it sound like?

How do you know when someone isn’t listening?

With a few simple questions we’ve not only set clear, shared expectations that are owned by the class, but also provided them with the purpose for doing it. They not only get the “what we do”, they also get the “why we do it”.

The secret is it doesn’t have to be huge, life changing things every single session.

Start small, and make it explicit. Then, enjoy seeing that amazing difference you’ve helped create in your class in your class!

Interested in a resource to help you set up these successes?

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Ready for some more? You might like these…

Why We Need to Watch Our Students Walk Into Our Classrooms

Things You Actually Need When Setting Up Your Classroom – Part One

Teacher Tip #76: Act Like An Idiot (Sometimes)

How to Win Kids Over: Names and a Similarity

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