Building a Positive Classroom Culture
High school can be tough on many students. Not only are students confronted with challenging learning material, but they may also be facing social struggles or even struggles at home. One of my goals in becoming a teacher was to bring kindness and encouragement to my students each day. I want my classroom to be a place that students view as a haven from the harsh realities of high school. I am quickly learning that this is a challenging task that requires introspection and clear planning strategies that address my personal approach to interacting with my students and also building a positive and supportive community atmosphere in the classroom.
In thinking about building a positive classroom culture, as an English teacher, I turned to literature. I created a house system, inspired by house system in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling in which all of my classes were named after literary figures we will be studying in class this year. The house system will allow students in each of the houses to work together to try to achieve the most house points. Students can earn house points by working well together, being prepared, supporting their classmates, and so on. The house with the most points at the end of each nine week period will win the competition and earn a reward.
I introduced the house system idea to my classes by beginning with a brainstorming activity in which students articulated their thoughts about topics such as: what a positive classroom is like, what are the best teachers like, what kinds of people make the best classmates, what do I need to understand a challenging text, what do I need to create my best writing, and what are my goals in this class for the year. After the brainstorming session, we did a group author research activity in which each group researched and presented on one of the six authors we will be studying this year. At that point, each of the classes were randomly assigned one of the authors to be the name of that class house. Finally, each student created a House Coat of Arms which illustrated two positive ideals the house should abide by, an image representing one personal goal, and an image of how the namesake author made an impact in the world. The students enjoyed this activity and seem to be motivated by the notion of earning points together as a class.
I am really excited to see how the house system can be useful in building a positive classroom culture, but I also know that my personal approach towards students will have a big impact on how students approach learning in my classroom. The obvious challenge is the fact that there are often 30 or more students in my classroom and it is difficult for me to even remember some of their names at this point. There are also other challenges such as students with strong personalities and students that bring personal baggage into the classroom. My question to you, Lisa, is what steps do you recommend taking to build personal connections with students? How do you overcome the barrier of students who are reluctant to be in your class? And what other steps can I take to build a positive learning community in my classroom?
Show a newbie some love and connect with Amanda on Twitter; her handle is @ateacherstory.