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Classroom Culture vs. Classroom Management

August 25, 2015 / by Lily Jones

As a new teacher, I remember my greatest fears: students would run wild, it would be impossible to get their attention, and my class would be out of control. I thought a lot about rules and consequences, making plans for different types of disturbances. Though my class still felt pretty crazy, I found comfort in my plans for order.

But all my thinking about classroom management neglected one important thing: classroom culture. I was so concerned with keeping my class under control that I forgot to spend time developing a positive classroom culture.

Students don't remember everything we teach, but they do remember how our classrooms feel. They remember feeling supported to take risks, being comforted when they felt sad, and being lifted up by their peers. So while management is absolutely important, it's only one piece of the puzzle.

No matter how hard you try, a positive classroom culture is not going to be developed overnight. Just like with academic skills, we need to scaffold for the behaviors we want over time. Use these strategies to make sure that you're developing strong management skills and a positive classroom culture:

Classroom Norms

Developing clear classroom norms are the foundation of both classroom management and classroom culture. My favorite way to develop norms is to talk with students about how they want their class to be, then work backwards to consider how we need to act in order to get there. Through these conversations you can develop classroom norms that all students can agree to follow. Rather than just presenting the rules of the classroom, students are more invested in the norms because they helped to create them.

Managing Behavior & Groups

Developing classroom norms is just the beginning. You also need to figure out what you'll do when students don't follow your norms. If you need ideas, talk with other teachers and find out whether or not your school has a uniform discipline policy. If not, figure out a plan that works for you. What do you think are appropriate consequences for not following your agreed-upon norms? These will vary depending on the ages and abilities of your students.

In addition, you'll need to develop your skills for managing a group. Getting the attention of a large group of students can be challenging -- try out different strategies and see what works for you. Get very clear about how you expect students to act during both lessons and transitions, then communicate your expectations to your class.

For a variety of classroom management strategies, check out this collection of videos.

How Do Students Interact?

When thinking about developing a positive class culture, think about how you want students to interact with each other. Create opportunities for students to get to know each other and participate in a wide range of conversations. Teaching active listening skills can help students interact in more respectful and productive ways.

Make sure to give students lots of praise for interacting in collaborative ways. The best way to develop classroom culture is by presenting models of what positive interaction looks like, sounds like, and feels like.

For more ideas on how to create class culture, check out these videos. I'm also facilitating a three week long, free group on Teaching Channel Teams devoted to helping new teachers develop positive classroom cultures. Find out more here.

Strong classroom culture creates less need for classroom management. If students feel respected and engaged, they are more likely to behave. Don't worry about spending too much time developing a positive class culture -- the effort you make now will pay off all year long.

Topics: Professional Learning, New Teachers, Class Culture, Classroom Management

Lily Jones

Written by Lily Jones

Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, teacher trainer, and is also a contributing writer for Teaching Channel.

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