How to Develop the Ideal Classroom Culture
At many stages of your education, you probably looked around and thought about what your ideal classroom would look and sound like, and all the awesome lessons and activities in which you would want your own students to engage. This vision, that you have likely been developing for years, is a powerful and inspiring aspect of your overall classroom culture. Here are a few ways to develop a classroom culture that reaches the ideal.
Begin by Leveraging the Beginning
In their 2015 book, School Culture Rewired, Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker noted that the beginning of the school year is a critical leverage point in transforming classroom culture: "At the beginning of the year, the culture of each classroom is like a ball of clay waiting to be formed." Be not afraid to place your hands in the wet cement of your classroom culture each year with renewed vigor and commitment.
Begin with the End in Mind
What is your vision of classroom culture nirvana? Better yet, what is the shared vision you develop in concert with your students and their families? If culture is "the way we do things around here," how do you want to do things around here? See that vision. Flesh it out. Write it down. Have your students add their two cents. Simply asking your students how they want their classroom to be yields an immediate and compelling window into a vision of a potential classroom culture. Ask them!
Teaching Tolerance phrased it nicely: A positive learning environment is all about "honoring student experience." In collaborating with families to develop a shared vision of classroom culture, take into consideration everything from honoring their stories to the initial setup of the furniture and your vision will be all the more powerful. It doesn't have to be revolutionary. Even something as simple as playing music - and welcoming student contributions to the daily selections - between periods will honor student experiences and create a welcoming culture for all.
Collect Data and Adjust Course As Necessary
So now you have a great plan for the beginning of the year to build your perfect classroom culture. As Dwight Eisenhower once said, "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." Once the school year begins, your perfect plan might be shattered by new information or circumstances, but all your planning will still pay off because you will have the ability to adjust your plan thanks to all the hard work.
Successful, "rock star" teachers know that you must continuously collect both formal and informal data with regard to the state of your classroom culture, and be empathetic and willing to make changes on the fly to make things better for students. For example, you could formally ask students to write a list of practices to continue (e.g. while conducting discussions, class homework policies, and more) and items for improvement on a quarterly basis and discuss any relevant adjustments to the classroom compact. Informally, you might ask students how they feel the class is living up to the ideals established at the beginning of the year.
Classroom Culture Involves Every Student, Every Day
To build the healthiest classroom culture possible, you must hear from and include everyone. Just like when your students work in groups, if one person is doing all the heavy lifting or only one or two students are doing all the talking, the activity dies a quick death. So it goes with classroom culture. Silent or ignored students can't or won't contribute, and the classroom quickly becomes "stale and boring."
When developing a classroom contract or constitution, for example, every hand might not eagerly go up when sharing ideas. Tally responses on a seating chart and ensure that every student has a chance to add their voice to the conversation. Those who are still reluctant might be willing to share ideas with you before or after class. Keep those lines of communication open throughout the year.
Classroom Culture and Your LMS
Your learning management system (LMS) presents an invaluable opportunity to extend your classroom culture to students and their families in a 24/7 environment, as well as to both formally and informally teach a very important part of 21st century classroom culture: digital citizenship.
The online classroom environment is just one more way to model organization, respectful communication, and provide multiple pathways for students to demonstrate mastery of learning objectives, among many other critical components of classroom culture. For example, you can follow best practices when setting up guidelines for online discussions on your LMS, such as clear directions and expectations, compelling prompts, use of assessment rubrics, courteous but rigorous communication, and appropriate levels of instructor involvement.
Your learning management system should also give you the tools you need to establish, track, and celebrate positive behaviors, not just missing homework assignments or classroom consequences.
Just Keep Swimming
Classroom culture is something you swim in with every student, every day. It envelopes and informs everything in your classroom. Classroom culture can give Mondays permission to be miserable or joyful depending on the decisions you make now. Just keep swimming, always striving for a collaborative vision of a positive, productive classroom culture that represents the very best of what is possible in our field.
What do you do to ensure a positive classroom culture? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology