There is a lot of research available about attributes that positively affect student achievement. Most of the research is centered on educational practices and what works best with our students. But I dare say, students will thrive in an environment that’s positive and uplifting where they feel safe to take risks and voice their opinion. Over my career, I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms as a peer teacher, administrator, and now educational consultant. And while numbers or extensive research does not validate my theory, I can tell you anecdotally I see students blossoming in positive learning environments. When I walk into a classroom within just a few minutes, I can usually accurately assess the temperature of the surroundings. And most of the time, I can tell you if students are achieving and performing, simply by noting the atmosphere in the classroom. Here are four characteristics I’ve observed that you can use to create a positive and productive atmosphere in your classroom.
1. Frame your words in a positive manner.
Recently I was in a classroom in Arizona and witnessed this first hand. The classroom teacher needed to redirect a few students who were off task. Rather than saying, “Stop doing that,” for example, she said, “I’ll wait for you.” See the difference? One statement is framed in the negative voice and the latter in a positive. In the same classroom, the teacher repeatedly praised the students who were doing the right thing, and the students doing the wrong thing immediately redirected their actions. I praised her afterwards for the amazing rapport I could instantly feel with her students. Her positive tone and words made an absolute difference in the climate of her classroom.
2. Respect student opinions and allow them to expound upon and express their thoughts.
In positive, productive learning environments, student opinions are welcomed and teachers eagerly allow them to defend their thoughts (as long as it’s done respectfully). Creativity flows freely and students aren’t afraid of being ridiculed for an opinion or if they make a mistake. This also promotes healthy conversation, builds oral language development, and helps students acquire key skills needed for effective negotiation.
3. Make frequent positive phone calls home to parents/guardians.
This definitely is not a new concept, but one that is worth mentioning, again. This was one of my favorite strategies when I was in the classroom. Almost every day during my plan time, lunch, or after school, I chose to spend a few minutes making positive phone calls home. “Mrs. Smith, I just have to share what amazing thing I saw Brent do today. He helped Asia to the office after she fell down on the playground. He was extra kind and considerate and I thought you should know.” Now if Brent is typically not an ideal student, this will thrill Mrs. Smith to no end. She will praise him, likely increasing his confidence and his desire to display appropriate behavior. And as I make similar phone calls to Mrs. Smith with positive accolades, it’s likely that she will be much more receptive if I ever have to call with undesirable news. It takes an investment of time to do this, but it absolutely works and builds the partnership with the parents that you need to support your students.
4. Celebrate positive behavior in your classroom.
This can take a variety of forms and should feel natural and manageable for how you run your classroom. For me, celebration looked like this: a “Let Me Catch Ya Being Good” jar. I kept rolls of tickets on hand and every time I “caught a student being good,” they received a ticket. They wrote their name on the back, held onto it until the end of the day, and then placed it in the jar. Then every Friday afternoon we celebrated by choosing a few tickets from the jar to win a prize. Prizes were anything from tangible items (pencils, erasers, folders, etc.) to free water or bathroom passes, or even lunch with the teacher. Like the example from tip #1, I purposefully chose to highlight and celebrate positive actions, rather than call attention to or redirect students in a negative way. I won’t tell you this works 100% of the time, but for me it worked to keep my classroom orderly and positive.
There are many other ways to create positive and productive learning environments. These four are easy to implement and can be initiated today! We would love to hear ways you are incorporating positive strategies into your instruction and classroom. Please share in the comments below approaches that have been successful for you. We can’t wait to hear from you!
About The Author
Sara McDaniel M. Ed., currently an award-winning senior educational consultant with Teacher Created Materials, is a seasoned elementary classroom teacher and has served as both a building- and district-level school administrator. Serving in schools and districts in both Louisiana and Arkansas, Sara’s students thrived in her positive, upbeat learning environment. Connect with Sara on Twitter @mcdanielsara.