10 Ideas for Improving Classroom Culture

I originally wrote this post in 2016, and I am thinking about how it applies to the context of 2021.

Here is the original image that summarizes all of the main points of the article:

It was later updated with the ideas for those in remote learning situations, which is still happening in many parts of the world.

As you can see, based on the comparison of the two images, some things apply no matter the space, whether it is in-person or virtual. I see the ideas shared below as simple suggestions, understanding that teaching is an amazingly complex profession, especially now. With ever-changing situations in schools around the world, I just wanted to reshare these ideas and hope they can help people in some way, whether they are used “as is” or else people can modify, add, or subtract to the list to best help in their context, whatever that may be.

Ultimately, the ideas shared below are about building relationships within our school community. I shared the following in “Innovate Inside the Box,” referring to this study from Ohio State:

“…researchers out of Ohio State found the effect of social capital was three times greater than financial investments on math scores and five times larger on reading scores. They highlight that “social capital was not only more important to learning than instructional expenditures but also more important than the schools’ poverty, ethnic makeup, or prior achievement.” At the core, connecting with people and developing meaningful relationships can help us meet the needs of all students, especially our most vulnerable.

The same study also found that relationships between the adults is equally critical for student success: “Research shows that the more teachers collaborate, the more they work together on instructional improvement, the higher the test scores of their students. That’s because collaborative work builds social capital that provides students with access to valuable support.” The more we see “relationships” as the core in what we do, whether it is with students or adults, the more likely we will be to create conditions where all learners, not just students, can excel.”

Building relationships is not just for our students but for the entire school community. Hopefully, some of the ideas below can help or are a refresher or validation of some of the work you already do in your classrooms/schools.

Below is the full article:

Simple things can make a significant difference in our classroom environments, yet we should be intentional about them. Every year we should strive to make it the best year students have, and if we all did this, the school would only progressively get better for our students.

Below are some straightforward ideas that can help shape a fantastic year for your students.

1. Greet kids at the door.

There is a significant difference between walking into a room and being welcomed versus one where you feel like you are not even noticed. This sets the tone for the entire day and reminds kids that we are privileged to have them show up every day.

2. Play music to liven up the day.

This might be something that I am a little biased on, but the environment of a room that I walk into that has lively music playing, as opposed to one that is quiet, reminds me of warming up for a game as an athlete. Music can often bring a smile to people entering the room and is just a terrific way to start the day.

3. Go out of your way to make your first interactions positive.

At some point, kids make mistakes. As a principal, I would go out of my way to connect with kids before they were sent my way. A student that knows they are valued will make the tough conversations a lot easier later on. This time spent is an investment in the child, not an expenditure.

4. Call parents early and make sure they know you care about their kid.

I learned this vital idea from a former secretary at my school. It is a great call (and far too often surprising) when parents hear from their child’s teacher, and the conversation is ONLY a positive one. This is an investment in an emotional bank account, and lets parents know that you genuinely care about their child.

5. Have ideas about what you will do, but constantly tailor things for the students in front of you.

Be flexible. What you did last year might not work this year because these are different kids. Don’t over-plan; ask questions and learn about your students.

6. Design the classroom with your students.

We spend so much time decorating the classroom before students show up, and then we call it “our room.” Something as simple as decorating the classroom together not only gives students ownership of the space, but it also helps to show that you care about their opinions (while also saving you a ton of time!).

7. Find out the passions of each student and tap into them.

One of the best ways to work with people is finding out what they love and tapping into it. The teachers who found out my passions made me feel like they had a genuine interest in who I was and what I loved.

8. Find out their dreams, and try to help them move closer to those goals.

We spend a lot of time thinking about where we want students to be and not enough time asking where they want to go. Success is deeply personal, and if we know students’ goals and dreams both in and out of the classroom and help them work towards achieving them, our impact will last long after their time under our care.

9. Have them ask questions every single day, and help them find those answers.

As stated in “The Innovator’s Mindset,” if a child leaves schools less curious than when they started, we have failed them. Through different endeavors, we ensure that we encourage our students to find the answers to the questions they pose and are curious about, not just what we are expected to teach.

10. Love them.

This might sound a little lame, but teaching is a tough job. So is being a kid. There are so many things that kids deal with while growing up that they need to know that someone cares about them. Go out of your way to show enthusiasm for them as people, not just who they are as students.

What are some of the things you do in your classroom to make the year incredible for all those you serve?




Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. I also like dogs.

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George Couros

George Couros

Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. I also like dogs.

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