It’s natural to be both excited and nervous at the start of a new school year. Children greet new friends and teachers.  Even when students attend the same school as last year, the setting and expectations feel novel. As a teacher, you can improve student behavior, reduce student anxiety and lower your own stress levels by creating a clear culture in which your students know what is expected of them. Creating this culture is more foundational than simply posting classroom rules. Culture is the soil in which your students will flourish and grow.

By clarifying the “Culture” of your classroom, you begin the year with purpose, intent and prosocial motivation. This leads to a happier classroom where children feel emotionally safe and ready to learn. 

When you collaborate with your students to define the culture of your classroom, they are empowered by the social engagement and feel greater ownership over their own behavior with peers and with you. 

What Kind of Culture Do You Create?

  1. Culture is the set of beliefs, values, arts, norms, and way of being of any social group.
  2. You likely know that your class has a culture and that culture is defined by you. From year to year, your culture might shift a bit depending on what grade you teach, what subject you teach, what students make up your class, how much administrative support you have, how involved the parents are, what’s going on in your personal life, your own health, your own mindset etc… Yet, ultimately your classroom culture is up to you and the students you teach.

How Will I Create A Culture of Kindness, Respect, and Mutual Caring? 

We all view the cultures we create in our classrooms differently. If you were to answer this question:

What kind of teacher am I?  I am a teacher who ____________________________________________.

You would know a lot about the kind of culture you will create.  Yet, the classroom culture is not yours, alone. Research shows that the more students contribute to the conversation about how they will interact with one another, the more likely they are to prosocially engage.

Therefore, the how… is to have the “Cognitive Conversation” about what kind of classroom your students wish to learn in, it begins with what kindness and respect look and sound like.

Talk with your students using some of these verbal prompts:

  • What does kindness look like?
  • How do you know kindness when you see it?
  • What does kindness sound like?
  • What do you hear when someone is being kind?
  • What does a respectful tone of voice sound like?
  • How do you know when someone is using a respectful tone with you?
  • How do you know when someone is using a disrespectful tone with you?
  • Tell us about a time when someone was kind to you.
  • How did that make you feel?
  • Tell us about a time when you were kind to someone else.
  • How did that make you feel?
  • Tell us about a time when someone was respectful toward you.
  • How did that make you feel?
  • Tell us about a time when you were disrespectful to someone.
  • How did that make you feel?

“Knowing what we have shared, what does that tell us about how we wish to interact with each other in our classroom?” 

“Let’s write what we have learned down, so we can all see our thoughts together.”

This conversation will lead to a classroom agreement like the one sent to me by a 4th-grade teacher in Los Angeles.

“We are a like a Family in this class. We will treat each other with kindness, caring, and respect. That will help us all feel safe to learn.” 

Knowing that the students will learn in a Culture of Kindness reminds them that this class is a social environment where communication, collaboration, respect and personal accountability are valued, supported, taught and lived.  

  • In a Culture of Kindness students and teachers work together to create a safe learning environment where self-respect and respect for others are supported, taught and encouraged. 
  • In a Culture of Kindness students and teachers speak politely to one another, being mindful of and accountable for how their words, thoughts, and actions impact themselves and others. 
  • In a Culture of Kindness students and teachers can count on one another to be reliable, trustworthy, supportive, respectful, kind, calm and caring. 
  • In a Culture of Kindness students and teachers collaborate to live within the values of the classroom, encouraging conversation, exploration and the thoughtful “working through” of difficult moments, as a community. 
  • In a Culture of Kindness students and teachers resist blame, sarcasm, and contempt in favor of communication, collaboration, and respect. 

Click here to read PART II – How to write your classroom mission statement

Take the 50-minute professional development webinar with 10 SEL Activities to help you improve your classroom culture today.

With interactive classroom activities and delightful visual aides, educators will find easy-to-follow strategies, tips, and tools that enhance social-emotional learning, inspiring children (ages 4-10) to experience kindness and empathy in their relationships with friends, peers, teachers and school personnel. 

Created by pediatric psychologist, Dr. Lynne Kenney, and illustrated by artist Meg Garcia, Bloom Your Room has the vital information you need as an elementary school teacher to improve your classroom’s social learning environment for the benefit of all. Create a space where children feel safe to learn, grow…and bloom. Find the NEW book Bloom Your Room here.