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Leading your Classroom Culture & Climate

Here it is, back to school time already. The bright and cheerful faces of our kids come to school on that first day hoping, some overtly and some only in the back of their mind, that this will be the BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER!! How you begin the year, and for that matter maintain the year, will determine if their hopes are fulfilled or if they think, ‘well maybe NEXT year will be the year’. So, to assist you in setting the classroom culture and climate you are hoping for I have a few tips to keep in mind.

Every student wants to be heard, seen, and loved: my good friend Dr. Phillip Campbell (@PCRocks) recently wrote a book with this exact focus. ( ) In our current educational environment it can be very easy to focus so much on your content, meeting all those standards, and ensuring ‘coverage’ of material that you forget something so very fundamental…you TEACH KIDS. Don’t forget to stop, listen, and get down on the level of a kid. When you are willing to extend your heart to a child, they will extend so much more back into your classroom. You’ve undoubtedly heard that often school is the only place a student feels safe. It might also be true that many of our students get their primary (or only) meals at school. Be the person they can count on to help them feel welcome, safe, and loved.

There is nothing wrong with having fun: years from now, your students most likely will not remember the content you taught them, but they will remember how you made them feel. If you develop an environment in your classroom where students are comfortable laughing at themselves and laughing with others, what a joyful place your classroom would be. Imagine your students leaving your classroom so fired up to return the next day. When you create an environment where students know they are going to enjoy their time you will see great benefits back in student learning. Now, I’m not advocating for you to play games and not meet any educational goals, I am simply saying you can hold a focus on learning that can be fun and engaging.

Make learning authentic in context and application: in my current district we are working to develop project-based learning units of study. The key ingredient in this work, which is not easy, is to find authentic applications and audiences for student work to be applied. The belief here is students will engage much deeper through driving questions which cause them to ‘need’ to learn in order to accomplish their outcome. As well, this is going to give our students the chance to have ownership in how they demonstrate what they have learned. When you bring authentic context into the classroom, students see relevance in what they are learning and take a great deal of pride in showing what they have learned.

Brag it up: every one of us perform better when we know our efforts are appreciated and reinforced. The primary tenets of Jostens Renaissance, the gold standard of culture and climate, are 5 R’s. Essentially, getting results (R) requires knowing what you respect (R) and recognizing (R), rewarding (R), and reinforcing (R) those behaviors, attitudes, achievements, and the like. One great way to accomplish this is to brag like crazy about your kids! Use social media to publish their work and their efforts in the classroom. Send positive reinforcement or make positive phone calls home. Talk about a paradigm shift…call a parent to tell them something AWESOME!

Climate and culture are my passion, along with leadership. I certainly could, and will, share more ideas to help build and maintain the culture for the classroom, school, or district you wish to have. For now, remember to ensure EVERY kid is seen, heard, and loved; have fun in your classroom and let your kids have fun as well; make learning authentic whenever possible; and brag it up when your kids make strides, show growth, or have awesome outcomes!


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