The start of the school year is the perfect time to set the tone and culture of a school and classroom. It's a time for fresh starts and stepping out on the right foot. As we welcome new students into our classrooms for the first time, the “culture” of the room starts to be built.
As a member of a school community, it is time to consider the kind of culture you want to create in your classroom. This could be a classroom culture or building culture. How do you want it to “feel” when students enter the classroom? What types of interactions do you want them to have, and what will the climate and culture of the classroom be?
Finding Your Focus
There are many different directions this can go in. As a teacher, should you focus on learning? New initiatives? Teamwork? Student behavior? The focus determines the tone of the culture and how you want to make it work. It’s also the starting point for determining how the culture will look, so if the teacher isn’t clear on the focus, that is the place to start.
Once the focus has been selected, teachers can think about how to create the ideal culture for their room. As we start to reflect on this, we have different aspects to consider. Here are some of the items to think about:
- Make it unique: What makes a culture defining is the unique nature of it. If the classroom is focused on students becoming voracious readers for the year, think about what could create that unique identity in the classroom. If the key for the year is working as a team, that should stand out. The culture of the classroom or the school should be one-of-a-kind as much as possible—but some great ideas can be found on Pinterest, too.
- Make it as fun as is appropriate: For a culture to work, students have to enjoy it. The connectedness they feel with the classroom will be as strong as the engagement the students have with it. Students in the classroom and school will fall in love with the room if the culture is enjoyable. Keep in mind that this can get out of control, so make sure it is appropriate and safe at all times.
- Involve the students in the details: Students should be able to have input and help to plan the specifics. If the room is decorated or there is a classroom theme song, student input is important to make sure that they enjoy it. Even the way that these decisions are made is part of the culture of the room. Will it be a direct vote? Will it be consensus? Will the teacher have veto power (I would recommend this!).
- Be creative: Creating an amazing culture can be one of the most fun details of planning for the year. Teachers can really have fun with it. Part of a theme can involve the decorations of the room. Another idea would be to have a class chant, slogan, logo, handshake, or song. The content of the learning can connect to the theme and the learning that takes place. The design of the room, the seating, and the desks are also part of the “feel” and the climate of a room.
- Make sure student interaction is clearly defined: This is really the crux of the culture of any situation. How do we treat each other when we are working together? I would recommend always having student input on this, but to guide them through the process. Whatever is decided has to be adhered to, revisited, and enforced throughout the year. Hopefully the culture is one where students can be honest with one another, work together with respect, and value the insight and opinions of each other.
In the end, it’s all about connecting with students. The culture of a classroom or school is a way for teachers to create a situation where students make connections easier, quicker, and in a more long-lasting way. Great classroom culture is achieved when students remember it years later—not just the posters on the wall, but the feel of the room and how much fun was had. As we plan for the start of another school year, we can think about the different aspects of classroom culture and how we can structure it.
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