I believe that creating an environment classroom style that promotes positive and engaged students should be the number one focus for teachers. It is through this positive classroom environment that deeper learning can occur and true relationships can form. Read more to learn about the characteristics of a positive classroom environment, and how you can achieve it for yourself and your students!
Do you have a soon-to-be kindergartener or know someone who does?
Are you a kindergarten teacher who would love to find a way to honestly share with parents what kindergarten is like these days – so they are best prepared?
If the answer is yes – then you have to download my FREE PDF that will give you a peek behind the curtains so you will be TRULY in the know!
What does classroom environment mean?
The classroom environment encompasses a whole heck of a lot more than just the four walls and all the items inside. Yes, the way you have your classroom set up is important, but in my opinion, when you walk into a good, positive classroom environment – you can feel it.
It's in the way you overhear students talking to one another, the organization that allows almost seamless transitions to flow from one moment to the next, it's participation and eagerness to learn.
It is HARD WORK to set it up – It can take WEEKS to get into the groove.
AND IT IS WORTH IT.
Your classroom environment is a blend of the social, emotional, and instructional elements of your class.Center for Teaching Innovation, Cornell University
How does the classroom environment affect learning?
Think back to when you were a student. Did you have a teacher that changed the way you felt about yourself – good or bad? Was there a subject that you grew to love simply because the teacher drew you in with their own enthusiasm? Did you spend time in a classroom that felt more like an extension of your favorite room at home?
I did. I fell in love with Spanish – because I was in complete awe of my teacher, Señora Debbie Burgess. Her class was HARD. She didn't speak English to us at all. But she challenged and championed and cheered us on.
I was in an algebra class that I struggled in. I remember the dread and heavy feel of that classroom – it wasn't a place for discussion or guidance – it was all business.
When you connect to a teacher, are comfortable asking for help, or feel connected somehow to others – that is when the best learning can occur. It's the kind of learning that sticks.
Characteristics of a Positive Classroom Environment
So, how do you create this type of positive classroom environment? I believe it starts when you are setting up your classroom and meeting your students for the first time. It takes hard and focused work in the first weeks, and then you will have to nurture it throughout the year.
Here are things to think about:
- Be YOU.
- Let your kids get to know who you are – be open and let them in
- Share funny stories and what you love – they get invested in you
- Show them you want to get to know THEM.
- Get to know what makes them tick
- What do they love – what are their concerns – what are their strengths
- Celebrate their uniqueness with curiosity and genuine interest
- Set the TONE.
- Model how to speak to one another
- Monitor and show how to resolve conflicts considerately
- Let them know when you make a mistake – it allows them to do so as well
- Cheer each other on
- Get organized.
- When you have your systems and procedures down – you will avoid unnecessary drama and downtime.
- Let students take responsibility and help run the classroom
- Always start and end the day on a High Note.
- Things happen. If it's been a rough day – meet together before they leave you and regroup. Talk about what will go better tomorrow, smile at them, try to have a laugh, let them know you care
- Pour love into them.
- Yes, I said love. Love is belief in them, concern for them, redirecting and guiding them. I will always let them know WHY I'm doing something.
- Be silly
- Let your guard down
- Let their laughter fuel you
- Allow yourself to remember when you were little – then BE THAT KID
Tips to get the classroom environment you want
So, all of that sounds magical and all…but HOW exactly do you implement these things? Good point. First things first. To get to the classroom environment you want – you need to master some first-day management skills.
I remember my first year in my own classroom. I had my room set up and my best intentions in place.
Then the kids and I were all alone in the room.
I felt like a lion tamer who had just been locked up in a cage with hungry lions. Crying, flailing, havoc-wreaking lion….er…..five-year-olds. DON'T THEY KNOW TO COME TO THE CARPET AND LISTEN?? NO. NO THEY DON'T. Whether you teach kindergarten or not, I encourage you to read this post. It will go into detail about how to start out on the right foot!
Ok, now this one is perfect for kindergarten – and I still have 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders come by and ask if I'm doing this with my kids this year. It's my SECRET WEAPON. I teach steps 1-4 on day one of school. We repeat multiple times throughout the first week – and I tell them I will purposely try to catch them off guard. MAKE IT A GAME. Then…whenever you need them to quickly listen, regroup, or re-focus – you have a magical tool in your back pocket.
We add on steps – usually 1-2 each month. I take their suggestions and they usually pick something from the month that we've had a big laugh over. (ie; 6 “ah-ah-ah-ah stayin' alive, stayin' alive! 7 ahhh luck ‘o the I-rish!) We usually end up with a sequence up to around 15!
How does this contribute to a positive classroom environment? Glad you asked!
- It gets them moving and is a perfect brain break at any moment – just add simple directions like a Simon Says type game
- You don't have to nag, plead, or yell to get their attention
- It promotes teamwork
- It's FUN
- It's something special that only our class does – so it's a community builder too!
Check it out in action. I have plenty of videos of the whole class doing the whole sequence from the last day of each school year, but can't show them here due to privacy. This clip is from those Virtual days…ya know – the ones that we can't believe actually happened but somehow did and scarred us for life but also made us better? Yeah. Watching this made me have a slight panic attack and a round of PTSD. HOW DID WE DO THAT?!?!
NOTE: The link will take you to my IG stories. Since there's not a direct link to a specific story – click through 15 stories to land on this! Or…of course, you can watch them too! 😉 If this link doesn't work for you, leave me a comment or send me a message and I can send you a video for further clarification!
Morning meetings are such a wonderful way to create routines, have a quick spiraling review, and get to know one another – they are quite possibly my favorite part of each day! I'm super lucky to have a teammate who makes the power points for all of us to use. We may come up with an idea to tweak or add to them – but generally, they contain the following:
- Greeting (something fun – we rotate different greetings)
- Question of the day, poll, or conversation starter
- Morning Message (includes date, what special class we have, sight word review)
- Adding a daily count to a 10 frame
- Adding a daily count to a 100s chart
- All About Me slide (we start in September and learn about 1 child each week)
- Joke of the Day (I found these from A Teacher And Her Cat – love everything she does!)
SETTING CLASSROOM GOALS TOGETHER
I am all about setting goals and celebrating individual, table or small group, and classroom accomplishments together. This is a HUGE part of my positive environment – classroom community is a BIG focus for us.
This post may interest you – as it goes into greater detail about two of my favorite classroom management tricks and tools that we use.
TALKING ABOUT THE WHY
One thing that I find helpful is to clarify the “WHY” we do things that we do. It helps eliminate me sounding like I'm bossing them around and being a mean ‘ole teacher. For instance:
- Pick up scraps of paper and mulch from the playground off of our floor when you see it
- WHY: Do you have to clean your room? Can you imagine having to clean EVERY room in your house EVERY day? Well…that's the job our custodians have. Let's make it easier for them and leave them thank you notes every once in a while. Teach them the custodian's names and wave at them and say THANK YOU and HELLO!
- Walk in line order and be sure to look ahead
- WHY: I don't want to lose anybody – especially if we are outside the building! If we have a fire drill or other emergency it helps me to look and see immediately if everyone is with me and safe. Looking ahead will help you from running into someone and bonking heads and teeth!
- Raise your hand when you have something to share
- WHY: I really care what you have to say. I can't hear your special thoughts if you are saying them at the same time as everyone else. (We model this in funny ways – but they get the point better than just hearing a rule)
MUSIC & 30-SECOND DANCE PARTIES
Yes, I am a kindergarten teacher by day. But, it's possible that you might not know I have an alter ego. By afternoons, nights, and weekends I turn into a newer version of my old self – singer/songwriter! But this 2.0 version has traded in country for kids' music – TADAH! So – check out my music and videos here!
But, what if you only have 30 seconds and need a simple press of a button to mix it up? Well…this is the answer: 30 Second Dance Party. Possibly the best invention known to man.
INSIDER SAYINGS AND JOKES
Think about how you and your best friend or family have inside jokes – things that are funny to you and would take some explaining for someone else to find funny. This kind of thing creates closeness, community, and a sense of belonging.
For instance, here are some things that my class is currently saying.
- Homeyyyyy!!! (That's the name of our Gnome. He gets blamed for anythings that goes wrong, like my computer not loading, etc)
- C-C-C-Cool BEANS!
- Kick the TOILET!! (The handle sticks…and they love to be the kicker to get it back up)
They will often all say it together and then break into laughter. Sometimes an administrator or other teacher will be in the room and I'll say something without thinking, and see a brief look of confusion on their face. Quickly someone will fill them in – it's a little – but oh, so meaningful piece to creating that environment you want!
I'm always surprised at how something as simple as taking a folder to the office creates a slew of eager volunteers. Things like turning off and on lights, checking cubbies at the end of the day, making sure the chairs are pushed in…all of these things can be hugely rewarding and helpful. I love to see them work together to clean up, ask me if I need anything done, etc.
These things are all evidence that we've worked super hard those first weeks of school to set the tone, model how we work together and implemented and practiced routines and procedures. Sometimes we need a refresher course – but that's a simple fix.
Creating a positive and engaging environment classroom style is a labor of love
I hope these ideas have given you some inspiration to take to your own classroom and make them unique and special to you and your students. We can get super bogged down with all of the parts of teaching that are, quite frankly, probably NOT why we got into teaching in the first place. Enjoying your kids and forming relationships is a must in my book. The learning? That part comes easy when you work hard to grow that positive environment.
I'd love to know what you think! Leave me a comment and let's connect!