1. Provide structure. I can not stress this enough. By now, you have probably realized that you do need structure, but you don’t exactly how you are going to get it. When you know what you want the kids to do, they will be more sure of themselves, and it helps them to feel safe. Always be prepared for that transition and think ahead so the kids know what materials they will need.
2. Really listen to what a child has to say when they come up to you or ask you a question. I found myself saying, “Okay, go sit down please.” after they finish telling me what they want to tell me. If you take a split second and ask a question or add to what they are telling you, it speaks volumes! It let’s them know that you care, and that you want to learn more about him/her.
3. Do not accept negative facial/body expressions. This includes rolling eyes, stomping off, smirking, etc. Never ever let a child get away with that. That is the perfect time for you to address the behavior and think of an alternative. Sometimes, children do not know better. It is hard to believe, but you could be their greatest role model, so take advantage of these situations.
4. Do not accept negative tone and or words. For me, this type of language happens all the time at the beginning of the year. It is the hardest thing to conquer, but it is possible. When I hear something that is negative, or said in a snarky way, I will give the students a better way to say what they need to phrase. I will literally tell them exactly what I want them to say in the tone I want them to say it. Sure, they are a little uncomfortable at first, because it is almost like a foreign language. By October, all my kids are able to use their words in an appropriate way when dealing with conflict. (Most of the time.) Sure there will be days when I have to remind a particular student, but they are kids and they need reminders.
5. Never just say good job. Children will not remember “good job.” Find something specific you like about what they did. Celebrate it and take a couple of extra seconds to communicate that to them. This is not easy. But with practice, it gets better. Sometimes, I get stuck. But when I get stuck, that is a perfect opportunity to ask a question. It all goes back to having genuine conversations with your kids.
6. Let all your students celebrate each other’s success. I always have a few kids that struggle. They are the ones that need those celebrations the most. Kids are resilient, and they have the ability to understand that different people have different needs. They know when to celebrate a success of another student. For example, if a student is having a hard time answering a question, my kids will encourage them, give them helpful hints, and when they answer correctly they tell them how great they are or how proud they are. If you set the tone in the beginning, they will be able to do this without prompting.
7. Give brain breaks, and give them often. Sometimes we forget that time goes by slowly for children, and they need to get up and do something else in order to continue with the day. This really helps with managing behavior issues that might have come up.
8. Never let kids talk about groups or levels being high or low. I have separate groups for all my kids. I tell my kids that my groups are designed for different skills. Everybody has different skills they need. I tell them that it is impossible to know everything, and that we can all improve and learn new skills. It is just understood in my classroom that each group has a purpose, and none of them are higher or lower than the other.
9. Make learning “cool.” I struggled with this because I was working so hard to try to make it cool without letting my kids see my enthusiasm. If your kids can see your enthusiasm towards learning, they will think learning is awesome too! You have a powerful influence on them, so use it to your advantage!
10. Accept your kids for who they are. Each child is unique in your classroom, and you need to let them know that you care about them no matter what. I always try to find something they are great at, and then talk about it every once in a while. For example, Bobby, who is an artist. Or Jane, who is a caring friend no matter what. Or John, who can name every Pokemon character. Draw on their strengths, and they value them.
In the end, it is all about making students feel safe, special, and important. Cultivating a culture of success is dependent on the actions and decisions you make each day. Understand that to have great culture takes time and experience, but you can take actionable steps now to improve how your students feel in the classroom.