Creating a Positive Classroom Culture: 3 Practices for Creating a Place of Learning and Growth



I envision my classroom being a positive and safe place to grow, learn, and make mistakes.  In order to work toward this, I have been building routines and lesson plans that reflect this ideal right into my daily practice, the design of the classroom, and structure of the day.

Creating for my students a safe place to learn, grow and make mistakes is one of the 4 elements of a positive classroom culture that I am focusing on this year.

Here are some of the daily practices, and routines I have been doing this year to create a place that is safe for students to take risks, make mistakes, learn, and grow:

  • Ask “Did Anyone Get a Different Answer?” 

When a student volunteers an answer during a class lesson or when working with a small group, my go-to follow up question has moved from, “how did you get that?”, or, “how do you know?” to, “did anyone get anything different?”.

There are lots of reasons that make this a good question to ask, but one compelling thing about asking this question is that it invites other students to take a risk and share what they got, building in risk-taking into the lesson.

It also helps to ensure that the mistake or misconception drives the lesson.  Students begin to realize that mistakes are where learning lives, also helping to make taking risks and making mistakes become part of the classroom culture.

  • Establish Routines for Lessons.

Routines can include procedural things like what to do when they enter the class at the start of the day, transitioning for lunch, packing up at the end of the day, and getting ready for gym or recess, but it there can also be a routine for the structure of your lesson.

I used to try to be creative with my lessons, but what really ended up happening was that every day was different.  It was a planning nightmare for me, and the risk students ended up taking was just showing up and figuring out what they were supposed to be doing that day.

So far this year, my students have been working on doing some of the routines I will be using in my lessons, such as think/pair/shares, find the mistake, and math journaling.  These routines are general enough that we will be practicing them throughout the year no matter what the unit of study.

Getting students comfortable and confident with these lesson routines means they can be taking risks in their thinking rather than the risk lying in actually trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.

  • Reward the Learning.

At the end of class, I have started to make a point of sharing some of the best thinking.  It’s so easy to post work that represents the most complete or correct answer, or praise students for the work that got the highest score.  I try very hard to praise and post work that shows creatively thinking about something, persevering, and that reflects the actual learning that took place.

When I am choosing work to display and I am drawn to the work that best meets a standard, I ask myself if it shows evidence of the learning that took place.   I remind myself that the student, whose work got the highest score, may have experienced very little growth will working on it.

If I display work and praise students based on the learning that took place, I am helping to create a culture where learning and growth is the goal.

Next time I will share some of the practices I have been implementing to help create a culture where students know they are an important part of the classroom community and that they belong.

Until then, happy learning.

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