How to Create a Positive Classroom Atmosphere
Positive Classroom Atmosphere
As a young female teacher in my first year of teaching, I had a lot of difficulty trying to balance classroom management and control with developing student rapport. I wanted to maintain that I was not a person to be walked over, yet try to build positive and trusting relationships with my students. While I did well coming up with innovative lesson plans and teaching techniques, my no-BS attitude tended to put up walls between me and my students. It was a criticism I heard over and over from my principal, yet I knew I didn't want to give up having a classroom that had high expectations.
My principal tended to push me towards being friendly with students, but I knew that the line needs to be drawn somewhere. I went through my first year connecting with a few students, but still having a difficult time reaching everyone.
I realized that I could plan the best lessons, have the best materials, and do a ton of fun activities, but without a positive rapport that positive atmosphere I so desired for my students, there was always something missing and my students weren't getting everything they could from my class.
Building Student Rapport
After some reflection, I realized that my lessons were all student-centered but my classroom wasn't at all that way. It was my room and they were all living in it. For me to find the balance I was looking for, I had to give the students some power, yet still maintain control. Ultimately, I implemented a few techniques that worked to build that positive atmosphere I was looking for.
1. Social Contract - This is a technique loosely based around the ideas of students creating their own rules, but instead of rules, developing a list of words that outline our expectations for one another in the classroom. By asking students to answer questions about how they expect to be treated and how to treat others in certain situations, the class can develop a list of word to follow when they are in the classroom. Since it is student generated, they take complete ownership and when behavior is an issue, as the teacher you can always throw it back to them and ask if it follows the social contract. After the list has been written and each word discussed, I sign the contract and ask the class to. We then put it on the wall for the entire year. I do this for each and every class period that I have.
2. Greeting at the Door - It's a super simple way to make sure students feel comfortable coming into the classroom. I stand in the hallway at the door and greet every student as they walk in and ask them how they are doing. Every student that walks in gets a "Hello" or a "Good Afternoon" or some kind of greeting that let's them know I am happy that they are in English class for the day. Some teachers will do this and shake each student's hand as they walk in, but for me, I find the hand shake not to be as genuine coming from me. Regardless, having the teacher greet and talk to each student helps them feel welcome from the moment they come into the classroom.
3. Good News - One of my favorite parts of each period is the time I take for students to share good news. At the beginning of the period, I always ask for good news. I usually say something like "Alright, what's going on today? Anything new?" and believe it or not, students love to raise their hands and share. I only spend about 2-3 minutes on the good news segment of the period and try to take a variety of students throughout the year. When I have good news, I always share it with them too. It's a nice time to connect without it being all business and a fun way to get to know the student's more personally. Some of what the kids tell me are things I would never imagine sharing with teachers, but these few moments in class are so warm and fun that kids just open up!
4. Applause - When I first started doing this, I felt really corny and I know most of my kids did too, but now it's a part of class. Whenever a student takes time to share their writing or does a presentation or something that I think takes guts to do, we always do a round of applause. It helps students feel proud. It creates a welcoming atmosphere where the kids are willing to take risks knowing that their classmates are behind them 100%.
While these are small adjustments to make, it really helped me to find that balance with my students that I was looking for. They felt comfortable in the classroom, and by making those personal connections with the kids, they could see that I cared about them. I noticed that by creating this atmosphere, kids were more willing to respect my high expectations and meet them.