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5 Strategies to Create a Positive Classroom Environment

February 21, 2024 | 1 comment

5 Strategies to Create a Positive Classroom Environment

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Do you want to create a more positive classroom environment?  Here are five strategies you can use to help you and your students alike. 

Modeling a Positive Attitude

As with almost everything to do with your classroom, you must start with yourself. You attract what you project. If you want your students to have a positive attitude and make positive comments, you must do it first and you must do it consistently. Think of yourself as the thermometer of your classroom. When you are hot, so are your students. If you are enthusiastic, so are they. If you are having a bad day, they will, too. If you want a positive classroom climate, it begins with your positive attitude.

Stating Positive Comments

The most visible shift you can make in your classroom is to increase the amount of praise you use with students. However, this doesn’t mean to make random affirmative comments. I was in one classroom where the teacher said, “Good job!” every three seconds. Her students rolled their eyes and made faces each time. Saying good things just to say them is like doing 50 practice problems just so you can say you did them. The kids see right through you. There’s a huge difference between mere catch phrases and true praise.

PRAISE

P Personally meaningful
R Respectful of the individual
A Authentic
I Immediate
S Specific
E Encouraging

If you think you can’t find anything positive to say about Javier, you’re not looking hard enough. Suzanne Okey, a former special education teacher, notes, “Take a correct thought, and validate that, then restate it, so he/she hears it correctly. That’s what we do with students all the time; find the kernel that we can validate, then extend it; students find that very encouraging; and it creates risk-takers.”

Providing Positive Feedback

It’s also important to integrate a focus on the positive in the feedback you provide, whether it occurs informally, on a report card or in a parent conference. I always started parent conferences by sharing the good things their child had done in class before I described areas that needed improvement. Think of it as starting off on the right foot; begin with the positive. Susan Lear, a teacher at Hartsville Middle School, in South Carolina, involves her students in celebrating classmates’ successes: “Each of my students created a short victory dance. Whenever they met a test goal or had some other accomplishment to celebrate, they were able to boogie out their excitement. This was a fun way to tap into some great talents and to keep up with the latest dance moves!”

Using Symbols

Praise should not be limited to verbal comments. Sometimes the nonverbal reinforcers, such as a smile or a look, are much more effective. Additionally, students react positively to a symbol. Karl Kosko, a math teacher at Sullivan Middle School, in South Carolina, found that his students responded to a new “member” of his classroom: He introduced Pythagoras the Goose [a stuffed animal] who loves math. He likes to watch people who are really working hard on math. So, if a group of students is working hard, he might land and watch them awhile. However, if they stop working hard, then he might get bored and fly off somewhere else. A number of students decided they wanted the goose to come over to their table. Also, the table that ended up with the goose had some of the members encouraging others to keep working so the goose wouldn’t “get bored.”

Displaying Student Work

A final way to provide positive recognition is to display student work. However, it’s important to do this in such a way that students don’t view it as a competition in which only the best students get their work posted. Everyone needs a fair chance to have their work on display. At Frank Buck’s school in South Carolina, each student has his or her own “spot” in the hallway outside the classroom (in the lower grades). “That spot is labeled with the student’s name and often even a photograph of the student. Throughout the year, that student’s work will appear in that same spot. Parents can walk through the hallways and know exactly where to find the work their children have produced. Our hallways are lined with cork strips, which makes the process of posting and changing out work easy.”

However, students should also have a choice. If they truly don’t want to post their work, they shouldn’t be forced to display a product. Okey explains: “I have them select their work or have input; if they choose not to have anything displayed, that’s OK, but I want to figure out another way to highlight some success for that child. Some are uncomfortable about handwriting or artwork, and I don’t want to force them to put out in front of the world something too personal to share. Some are such perfectionists; they are never satisfied with their work. And what you don’t want is for something that is intended to be positive to turn negative and engender bad feelings (such as, ‘mine looks so much worse than everyone else’s’). That’s when I turn to something that is a team effort; maybe display group work. That way, the members of the group are all listed, but if a child is uncomfortable with written work, his [or her] ideas are included but not in the form of writing.”

A Final Note

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter whether you use words, nonverbal cues, pictures or symbols, as long as you provide positive reinforcement to your students. And don’t get caught up in counting your comments every day. I talked to one teacher who said she was a failure because she only had a 5-1 ratio of positive to negative comments, and some researchers recommend a higher rate. If you are making an effort to increase your positive comments, you are not a failure; it gets easier to make progress with time and practice. And, as retired teacher John Dewey points out, what you do will prompt a response from your students. It’s a snowball effect; your positive comments prompt their positive comments, and before long, that putdown-free zone will be a reality.

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Barbara Blackburn

As a teacher, a leader and a university professor responsible for graduate training for educators, Barbara Blackburn has used her knowledge and experiences to write over 30 best-selling books.

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aaron_3675335
aaron_3675335 February 26, 2024, 1:02 pm

Appreciate that our schools have moved from negative reinforcement to positive. It's progress for sure. AND we have to recognize that positive reinforcement can have negative impacts too. Extrinsic motivation (always looking to others for approval), inequitable power dynamics (adult has all the power), and a competitive perfectionist culture (mistakes aren't seen as learning opportunities, but as failures to live up to the "praise" expectations. Consider giving feedback without judgement! Our society focuses on Performance & Product OVER People. Let's flip that to center PEOPLE over product/performance!!!