Fostering a positive classroom culture is vitally important. If students don't have an academic environment where they feel safe, valued as individuals and free to express themselves, they have little chance of reaching their scholastic goals. Education leaders who want to establish a positive culture in their schools need to emphasize clear communication and build honest, trusting relationships with staff and students.
Why Is Classroom Culture Important?
Social scientists have recognized the importance of school cultures since the 1930's, and its role in a school's success cannot be overstated. Strong classroom culture creates an environment where students are confident and teachers are excited about their work.
While it takes strategic planning to create a positive culture, it is often apparent when schools have been successful in doing so. According to the article "School Culture: The Hidden Curriculum," you can "feel it almost immediately — a calm, orderly atmosphere that hums with an exciting, vibrant sense of purposefulness just under the surface." Positive classroom cultures, as suggested by the article, effectively do the following:
- Foster an environment of participation and productivity
- Help both students and teachers feel connected to the school
- Improve problem solving, communication skills and collaboration
- Amplify the enthusiasm or motivation of teachers and students
Key Factors that Affect Classroom Culture
No single individual or factor determines school culture. Instead, administrators set the tone for their schools, and teachers try to establish cultures within their respective classrooms that reflect the values and philosophy of leadership.
Students also play a massive role in this process. Their enthusiasm for learning, or the challenges they face outside of class, all affect classroom culture. In an excerpt from Joan Young's Encouragement in the Classroom, found on ASCD.org, the following elements are cited as contributors to school culture:
- The relationships, and level of trust, between students and teachers
- The level of support students receive from teachers and administrators
- The environment or circumstances of a student's home life
- The students' attitude toward learning
Future Classroom Dynamics
One hurdle to establishing a strong school culture, both in the present and the future, is managing how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected administrators, teachers and students. A recent article in Education Week stated that the "well-being, mental health, stress, and anxiety of our educators and school leaders have been an unsettling but growing trend." If administrators struggle with their working conditions or personal challenges, they cannot support teachers and students adequately. Maintaining a strong classroom culture moving forward "will require an increased focus on trauma, mental health, and well-being across the entire school and its community."
3 Ways School Leaders Can Create a Positive Learning Environment
School culture is often discussed in a manner that suggests it is beyond the control of teachers or administrators. This is certainly not the case. There are specific steps school personnel can take to improve their culture. Three of the most common strategies — according to the AMLE blog, A Positive School Culture is a Way of Being — are as follows:
- Utilize social media: This allows schools to improve communication with parents while also celebrating the achievements of students or classes. Students feel better about school when they are recognized for their success.
- Let students lead: Empowering students to take ownership of their academic space increases their sense of pride. Whether it's making the morning announcements or giving school tours to new students, giving students leadership duties is an absolute game changer.
- Build relationships based on honesty: Administrators and teachers should speak clearly and frankly about expectations for school culture. Additionally, they should model the behavior they hope to instill in their student body. These discussions should involve parents as well as students.
Schools will require strong leadership in order to sustain a positive classroom culture despite the challenges that continue to linger in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working teachers who want to take the next step in their careers while fully supporting the staff and students at their school should consider a Master of Science in Education (MSEd.) in Educational Leadership program.
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