How can teachers increase the chances that their students will behave appropriately?
Page 5: Create a Positive Climate
Another integral part of comprehensive behavior management is a positive classroom climate. The classroom should be a place of empathy, care, collaboration, and respect, essential qualities that facilitate positive academic and behavioral student outcomes. The table below outlines some of the practices teachers can use to create and maintain a positive classroom climate, as well as action steps and examples for each.
Build and Maintain Authentic Relationships with Students and Families
Create a welcoming and supportive environment (e.g., greet each student in the morning).
Take an interest in students’ lives (e.g., ask about a hobby or interest).
Initiate and maintain positive, productive, and regularly scheduled communication.
Recognize that they are the expert on their child and can provide valuable insight.
To learn more about building positive relationships with families, visit the IRIS Module:
The week before school starts, Ms. Rollison hosts a parent meeting for the families of her students. In this meeting, she shares important information about the classroom as well as her own contact information. She also asks parents how they prefer to be communicated with.
Uphold High Expectations for all Students
Develop and communicate clear, reasonable standards for behavior.
Recognize and reinforce appropriate behavior consistently. (Key Principle: Consistency Is Essential)
Provide supports for students who have difficulty meeting expectations. (Key Principle: High-Quality Instruction Is Vital)
Ms. Rollison reviews behavioral expectations every day. She incorporates a reward system that encourages positive behaviors.
Communicate with Civility and Respect
Actively listen to what students are communicating verbally and nonverbally.
Use body language, gestures, and vocal tones that reflect understanding, patience, and acceptance.
As the school year progresses, Ms. Rollison notices that the same few students are disruptive each day. She decides to try the Two-by-Ten strategy—a simple practice that involves spending two minutes per day for 10 consecutive days chatting with a disruptive student to help build a positive relationship.
Maintain Credibility and Dependability
Consistently follow through on what you say you will do. (Key Principle: Consistency Is Essential)
Be responsive to student needs.
Keep student information confidential.
Note: Credibility and dependability take time and effort to develop.
Ms. Rollison follows through on her rewards system. She provides a homework pass as soon as students meet the required criteria.
Be a Productive and Willing Collaborator
Actively participate in all meetings.
Value the competence and experience of other school personnel and family members.
Consult with other professionals (e.g., related service providers, special educators) as needed.
Ms. Rollison communicates with the special education teacher when students with disabilities are struggling in her class.
Engage in Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Practices
Develop an understanding of culture and its influence on behavior.
Be mindful of possible biases and stereotypes about diverse students who struggle academically and socially.
verbal turn taking
Organizational system of conversation whereby speakers exchange ideas, information, and reactions by taking turns speaking; the extent to which an individual is comfortable taking turns during conversation, instead of talking while another person is speaking, might be culturally based.
Term used to describe the informal sharing of ideas, opinions, and history with one or more people through storytelling; the expression is of Hawaiian origin.
(Key Principle: Understanding of Student Diversity is Critical)
Ms. Rollison is thoughtful and intentional in planning her lessons and choosing instructional materials that include representations of different cultures and communities.
Positive interactions with teachers help students navigate the challenges of instructionally focused classrooms and facilitate motivation, engagement, and social development. (Archambault et al., 2017; Larson et al., 2020; van Uden et al., 2014)
Students indicate that having teachers that demonstrate care and respect is important. This is often done through simple positive greetings, maintaining high expectations, recognizing the strengths of cultural differences, as well as providing tangible support when students struggle academically and socially. (Liang et al., 2020)
Though customs and communication styles vary widely, communicating with civility and respect is common among cultures. (Robinson, 2020)
In the audios below, three teachers discuss strategies for creating a positive classroom climate. First, Angela Mangum discusses how she builds relationships and holds high expectations for her students. Next, Melissa Patterson discusses the importance of positive communication and how she uses positive phone calls to build relationships with families. Finally, Ashley Lloyd talks about how she treats students with respect and is responsive to student needs.
I always stand at my door and welcome my students by name every day. And if I miss one–because I was helping somebody with something or I had to run to the restroom–I’ll always make sure when I do come back that I’ve said hello to everybody. I think in high school especially, it’s really easy for kids to put their hoods on and hide in the back and be invisible. And I don’t want them to be invisible in my room. I want them to feel seen, and I want them to feel appreciated and important. So I’ll always make sure that I greet them. My curriculum is so much about student interests and students, what they like, what they don’t like. That’s how we start in the early levels because that’s very easy French vocabulary. So building into my daily instruction, asking them questions about what they’re doing, asking them what their weekend plans are, how their weekend was, and then following up on it. You know, if a student tells me they have a baseball game, the next time I see them I’m going to remember to ask them how was your baseball game? And those little things aren’t the little things. That’s what makes kids feel like you care about them. And it makes kids feel like you like your job. And when you say you like your job, whether you mean it on that day or not, they’re going to feel that, and they’re going to be more inclined to come to class on time, ready to learn, with a positive attitude because they feel like you want them there. They feel welcomed. And I think that’s really important. And when kids get frustrated and want to give up because something’s hard, I think reminding them that you believe in them and you’re not going to let them give up. I’ve said to students, I’m going to sit here until you do this so you can do it now or you can wait five minutes. But I’m going to still be sitting here ready to help you because you can do this, and you are capable. I think using those supportive phrases and just refusing to give up on them because they’re going to give up on themselves a lot quicker than you will. And showing them that you’re there and you’re committed to them as people and as students, that really helps them feel welcomed in your room, and it just makes your classroom a much more positive place to be.
Transcript: Melissa Patterson
I make sure that I’m calling home regularly–not just for negative behaviors, but for positive ones–making sure that the students are familiar with me, the phone number that pops up on their phone so they know to answer it. So they know, oh, this is Ms. Patterson. She’s calling because of something with my student. I always call if there’s some kind of negative behavior that’s affecting the climate in the classroom, but additionally I’ll make sure that every few days, especially in that first month of school, that I’m also calling to say, hey, this is what he or she did today, and it was really amazing. Parents don’t want to hear all of the negativity that’s coming from school every day, but they really appreciate hearing all of the good, positive, strengthening things that their students are doing. So I think the most important thing across the board to creating a positive climate is constant communication, whether that’s communication with the students to remind them or praise them about their behavior and then communication with the families for them to understand, their true expectations for the classroom, how successful their student is being, and what those things are that have been successful so they can encourage that behavior going forward. A lot of teachers just send home the syllabus that have the classroom rules in the syllabus, but parents don’t necessarily see those. For a student’s parent to have regular conversation with a teacher that isn’t always negative really creates that bond and encourages the student to make sure that they are doing the things that are expected of them because they know that their parent has a personal relationship with their teacher and that they are in regular contact. So they want to make sure they’re doing the right things. We get so overwhelmed with making those phone calls, but I think a good way to do that is to have a communication log and even just as simple as having a checkmark saying I called for a negative reason or I called for a positive so that you can continue to see that data. And if I called this parent six times for a negative behavior, I really need to call that parent and remind them that their student is good as well, which again can be hard, but it’s just a piece of our everyday teacher life.
Transcript: Ashley Lloyd
When I think of creating a positive classroom environment, the concept of student voice and choice whenever possible is what I try to incorporate throughout every lesson of every day. When students can bring themselves into an assignment or a task in a way large or small, they feel connected, respected, and heard. So I try to maintain the high expectations by providing open-ended opportunities that have built-in scaffolds and supports when needed. And then they can also feel that they have the voice and the choice in saying that’s not going to work for me for this reason. How about I try it this way? It gives them a lot of confidence and a lot of say. It helps build the bond between me and the child, and it helps them feel as if they’re being respected. I do everything possible to handle behaviors inside the classroom. Students who are sent out or have another adult called in to deal with their behavior start to feel disconnected, not part of the group. And they feel that me as a teacher is no longer their authority. So I try very, very hard when possible to handle any unwanted behaviors within the classroom with respect. And if I have built the student voice and choice and the highly engaging environment, it tends to be very simple to handle those behaviors in the classroom because they don’t want to miss out.
Returning to School
Care, collaboration, and respect must be emphasized immediately and repeatedly when students return to school. Teachers should focus on a few important basics when they set about establishing a positive classroom climate.
Communicate, Connect, and Check- In: Enhance relationships with students and their families by increasing both the level and quality of communication. Some ways teachers can do this is to:
Welcome and greet students with enthusiasm each day.
Show concern for students’ well-being.
Survey students or families regarding needs.
Schedule frequent “Check-Ins” to ensure levels of support and collaboration are maintained.
Make sure to use multiple channels of communication (e.g., emails, texts, phone calls, school Website, family networks).
Screen and Monitor: Formally and informally screen to determine which students need academic support, behavioral interventions, and critical services such as healthcare, nutritional support, and social welfare. Continue to regularly monitor student needs as these can change throughout the school year.
Support: Maintain a safe, respectful, and culturally responsive environment that emphasizes predictable routines, high expectations, and the strengths of diverse cultures. Some ways teachers can do this is to:
Offer guidance and emotional support to students as needed.
Minimize student sensory and emotional overload. Just being in a class with 20-30 students where many things happen simultaneously is a big change from what students experienced last year. This, in addition to increased student stress and anxiety, may result in them easily becoming overwhelmed.
Teach: Consistently teach (and reteach, when needed) behavioral expectations through engaging lessons. This may be the first time that 1st-grade students have been in a classroom, and older students may have been out of the classroom for more than a year. Keep in mind that increased time may be required to teach and model appropriate academic and social behaviors.
Adapted from Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, 2021.