At a recent training in Virginia, some teachers and I were discussing classroom tone and the importance of maintaining a positive classroom environment. One teacher shared a wonderful philosophy from her years of teaching: To keep your class and yourself in a positive frame of mind, it’s important to water the flowers more than the weeds. This could be easily rephrased as, “Spend most of your energy on students who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and don’t get overly caught up on the couple of students who aren’t.” Granted, we know we’ll always need to redirect and refocus students numerous times throughout the day, but the important lesson is to not let your own positivity, and your classroom’s mood, be entirely consumed by a few students demanding attention for the wrong reasons.
A classroom teacher’s day is loaded with both split-second decisions and methodical, deep decisions. It’s those split-second decisions that can transform the classroom atmosphere to a feeling of doom and gloom or of joy and hope. Often, it comes down to how the adults in the classroom respond to any given situation at any given moment.
Teachers can become great actors and actresses, calmly moving through the day, making decisions, re-teaching a lesson to a student who is struggling, asking critical-thinking questions, and redirecting the student who is off-task. While a teacher might have been up all evening with a sick child or be suffering from a splitting headache, she never shows just how tired she really is to her students. Ideally, she perseveres with a smile and strategically moves into a new lesson or project, making it look effortless while keeping the tone upbeat and positive.
Over my many years of teaching, I’ve learned several tricks to keep myself in a positive frame of mind during the challenging times. Here are a few ideas for redirecting classroom energy when you feel the tone of the classroom becoming stressful or not as upbeat as you’d like it to be:
- Move your lesson outside for a bit; fresh air and sunshine do wonders. (K–12)
- Reward the students who are on task with kind words, a high-five, a ticket, or some form of acknowledgement. (HS, MS)
- Have the class circle-up and share their favorite video or board game, share one thing they are thankful for, or share their favorite birthday gift. (HS, MS)
- Make five positive phone calls home to parents at the end of a day. (HS, MS)
- Play a quick review game to change the tone. (HS, MS)
- Show a 3–5 minute, age-appropriate, funny online video. (HS)
- Tell a funny story from your childhood. (K–12)
- Hand out modelling clay and ask students to create the content as you are teaching it (this also works in secondary classrooms). Kinesthetic learning can lighten the mood of any classroom. (K–12)
Using any one of these ideas can give the class—and you—a quick dose of dopamine and help turn the day around. Sure, it’s important for your students to be enjoying themselves as they learn. But, how you feel and act as a teacher is equally important because your mood transfers to your students. That’s why teachers could win acting awards for hanging their problems outside the classroom door as they step in and get students excited about their learning. When you look out over your classroom and you think of all those faces looking back at you like flowers in a garden, remember to water the flowers with care and love.
Please share your ideas for keeping the classroom environment positive!
Cheryl Abla is a managing consultant at McREL International. After 26 years in the classroom, she now works with teachers and schools on what matters most in classrooms using knowledge gleaned from The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching, Classroom Instruction that Works with English Language Learners, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, and Classroom Instruction that Works. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.