As a teacher, you are the leader of your class, and all leaders create their own class (or company or family) culture, whether consciously or unconsciously. Class culture refers to the fundamental values and attitudes of the class. Through deciding to establish your class culture, you can build a successful, enjoyable atmosphere, setting a tone of mutual respect and maintain clear expectations. Your class culture also sets students up to hold each other accountable for maintaining a positive learning environment. A vibrant class culture will establish a “growth mindset”, which sets the expectation that “we are all in this together” and that we all intend to succeed through communication, collaboration and support.
That may seem like a lot, a lot of responsibility on you — because it is!
And it may seem impossible — but it’s not!
All teaching situations present us with what seem to be “impossible circumstances.” I remember my first teaching assignment as a raw 21 year old high school teacher in the Peace Corps in Lomé, Togo, West Africa. I was assigned 5 classes a day, with groups of 80 to 100 students in open-air classrooms. We had no textbooks, and certainly no technology, not even electricity.
Of course, at first glance, it was “impossible” But with inspiration and guidance from my trainers about how to establish a “positive class culture” (though we didn’t call it that back then), I was able to create a positive teaching environment. The students were responsive! Most of them bought in, they collaborated, they learned together. Of course, I needed to remind myself daily of my “mantra” for staying positive, staying focused on positive outcomes, trying out new ideas with the students. (There were days I could have succumbed to just being a caretaker, just going through the motions, taking attendance, enforcing rules, doing drills, writing stuff on the blackboard for the students to memorize, giving tests, and recording grades.)
Without a class culture, we just drifting…
So my advice here is: Focus on creating a positive class culture, with a growth mindset. Work on building this class culture every day, in small incremental steps. Keep your students oriented toward expanding their communication.
Amazing things are possible!
A few things I’ve tried in this area:
- Greet each student at the start of class – especially in online classes. Say their name, make eye contact, ask how they are doing.
- Play some relaxing music for the first few minutes as everyone gets ready to start.
- Begin each class with something positive — maybe an inspiring YouTube video, an uplifting Instagram post, a clip of heartening news, maybe a short lesson on giving compliments – and then have each student compliment one other person in the room.
- Use constant “participation gambits” during the class. You can have students write short answers in the chat box in your discussion room, for example. (Do you prefer vanilla or strawberry ice cream? – write your answer in the chat box.)
- Remind students of the goals of the class – especially at the end of each session.
- Use the 80-20 Rule: 80% of your feedback should be positive – rewarding positive effort and attitude shift.