If you really want to make a difference to the classroom community, your priority should be to establish an expectation of kindness and respect. Whether it's the start of a new year or after a term break, a clear set of rules is crucial. These guidelines teach students how their words and actions impact and build a positive classroom community.
Students blessed with engaged and loving families learn essential character traits and values at home. But for those without positive role models, a set of rules and boundaries are particularly important.
By setting clear expectations and fair rules, you can create a space where all students feel safe and valued. Being supported and feeling a sense of belonging makes them eager to please and able to learn.
Your Words and Actions Influence the Classroom Community
Kids are like little sponges, observing what adults do to learn and grow. It places teachers in a unique position where they can contribute to their growth in positive or negative ways.
The way a teacher speaks and behaves in their classroom can have a massive impact in shaping behavior and attitudes. When students see how you treat others with kindness and respect, it encourages them to do the same.
How teachers can be a role model to influence the classroom community
1. Be Approachable
It’s imperative that students trust their teacher has their best interests at heart. They must feel they're there to support them and won't judge or belittle them if they open up. To do that, you need to establish a rapport with them as soon as possible so they feel they can talk about their problems.
There are different ways you can create an open and friendly classroom community. A popular morning ritual such as greeting students at the door is a great start.
You’ve no doubt seen those heartwarming videos where students ask for a hug, handshake, or fist pump as they walk in. This is such a positive way to start the day and form a connection with students. It's a few moments of one-on-one time that sends a message that you care and are approachable.
2. Give Your Full Attention
Active listening shows your students that you are fully present and genuinely interested in what they have to say. Give your undivided attention by putting down your marker and look your student in the eye (without being creepy). Make sure to let them finish speaking before you jump in.
Paraphrase and repeat what they said to make sure you understand and ask questions to keep the conversation going. Be patient, kind, and sincere. Watch their body language to get a sense of how they’re feeling. This can help you identify problems that impact their wellbeing or that might lead to inappropriate behavior.
3. Be Intentional with Your Words and Actions
Choose your words carefully, be polite, and avoid negative or disrespectful language. Set the tone for kindness and respect by showing your students how it’s done. Your words and actions have a massive influence on the classroom community.
Treat your students with empathy and warmth, so they feel comfortable coming to you with anything. Stay positive, be encouraging, and include everyone and they'll follow your lead, spreading that respect to others.
4. Call Yourself Out and Seek to Improve
Openly acknowledge to your class when you can improve your own behavior or communication or make a mistake. If you realize that you could have expressed yourself better or acted differently, say so. This demonstrates humility, authenticity, and a growth mindset. Your students will admire that you own your actions and see that anyone can make a mistake and strive to do better.
Admitting when you’re wrong has been identified as one of the key characteristics of a highly accomplished teacher. There are a number of huge benefits of fessing up and admitting to your students when you’re wrong.
5. Be Vulnerable
Being a little vulnerable by sharing your thoughts or concerns builds trust and relatability. Talk about your own feelings about a subject or explain how you sometimes get scared or nervous. Vulnerability fosters an emotional bond, promotes empathy, and can strengthen the classroom community. It can empower students to open up to you or the class when they feel that you understand what they're going through.
6. Be Kind to Yourself
Nobody functions well on an empty tank. If your bucket is empty and you're stressed to the hilt, it will show in your teaching and your students.
I know you hear it all the time, but self-care is essential. I understand it's difficult to muster the energy to find an effective wellbeing tool, so here's one really easy suggestion. Coloring!
Adult coloring is popular because it's simple and inexpensive, and science proves it works. You don't have to schedule it because it's something you can pick up when you have a few spare minutes to take your mind to a peaceful place. It's absolutely worth giving it a try so feel free to download some free coloring pages below.
→ FREE Wellbeing Coloring Pages for Teachers ←
How Can Teachers Teach Kindness and Foster Respect?
1. Acknowledge and Praise Good Behavior
To encourage kindness and respect in your students, harness the power of positive reinforcement. When you see acts of kindness and respect, give specific praise and recognition. This motivates more positive behavior and inspires other students to follow suit to improve the classroom community.
A great way to do this is to keep a class bucket or jar. Every time you see students showing kindness or consideration, show them that you are adding a trinket or drop to the bucket. At the end of the week, count the drops and record it somewhere students can see it. That way everyone can see how behavior improves and they can strive to do better each week.
Decide on a number and challenge students to reach it. The week they hit the class goal, reward the grade with a treat.
Praise is one of the simplest and most powerful tools to engage and motivate your students. When used effectively, praise can turn around behavior challenges and improve students’ attitudes about learning. Students who learn and think differently often receive negative feedback as a result of their struggles. That makes meaningful and appropriate praise even more important.
2. Teach About Kindness and Giving
Along with respect, these are crucial values your students must learn to form connections and feel part of a community. Kindness is a highly valued character trait that creates positive emotions for all involved. Giving teaches kids to be generous and thoughtful.
The best way to embed positive values is for students to participate in kindness activities that ease a burden or make someone smile. They'll experience addictive feel-good emotions to encourage them to keep being kind.
3. Build Empathy
Incorporate empathy-building activities to help students understand and relate to others' feelings and experiences. Role-playing scenarios where kids act out different situations or talk about the emotions character show in stories can be powerful.
4. Encourage Students to Give Compliments
Complimenting is an important skill students should learn and practice. Giving compliments builds a positive and supportive environment where everyone feels valued and appreciated.
Encouraging students to give compliments helps them develop empathy, kindness, and social skills. A sincere compliment is specific and focuses on a person's efforts, strengths, or unique qualities. A simple "Great job on your artwork!" or "You're an awesome teammate!" can go a long way in spreading smiles and building a caring and positive classroom community.
5. Increase Self-Esteem
When kids are struggling or don't feel competent it can cause them to act out. It's important to build their confidence and self-esteem to encourage them to persevere and not give up. A great way to do that is to give compliments and praise their efforts. You can also build confidence with positive affirmations and coloring pages with self-esteem quotes to build their self-worth.
6. Give Students Tools to Cope
Difficult behavior may be avoided when students have strategies to cope with challenging emotions. When you teach them to understand their feelings and equip them with coping skills you can often stop students from losing control.
7. Embrace a Growth Mindset
Teach students the concept of a growth mindset by explaining that everyone has room to learn and grow, including them. Encourage them to share ideas and alternative ways of speaking or behaving to promote a culture of kindness and respect. This helps empower kids to become active participants in shaping a positive classroom community.
→ Get Your FREE Kindness Coloring Pages! ←
8. Collaborate to Create Connections
Create opportunities for cooperative learning and group activities that promote teamwork, problem-solving, and inclusivity. Activities like kindness challenges or collaborative bulletin boards help students learn how to work together respectfully, take turns, share, and value everyone’s perspective.
Collaboration helps students learn to consider and respect other’s opinions, values that should be part of your classroom rules.
9. Help Students Get to Know One Another
Getting students to know each other is the secret sauce for building a positive classroom community. When they know their classmates, it's easier for kids to see them as real people with feelings and stories. And that helps them treat one another with kindness and respect. It's like finding a common ground – they realize they're not that different after all!
Once they start bonding, they want to support and lift each other up. They'll have inside jokes, high-fives, and genuine connections.
10. Take Regular Breaks
When students get tired or struggle with a task, they can become agitated and stressed. This can cause them to become disruptive or lash out at their classmates.
Studies show that almost one-quarter of class time is lost as kids are unable to stay focused when concentrating for extended periods. Stopping for short intervals for movement or brain breaks gives them a chance to reset so they have the energy and focus to absorb the information they're learning.
11. Solve Problems Peacefully
Teach students conflict resolution techniques that promote peaceful problem-solving. Guide them through a process where they talk calmly, listen to one another, and find solutions that work for everyone.
Teach "I" messages and active listening for effective communication and encourage kids to take ownership if they’re wrong.
12. Welcome Feedback
Encourage students to provide feedback to help improve processes or the classroom community. Allow them to speak with you directly or deposit a note in a suggestion box. By seeking student input, you're showing that everyone's voice matters and that you value your students' perspective and right to be heard.
13. Encourage Sharing
Ask students to provide feedback for improving processes or the classroom climate. Allow them to speak with you directly or deposit a note in a suggestion box. By seeking student input, you're showing that everyone's voice matters and that you value your students' perspectives and right to be heard.
Another great idea was shared by Julia Brown, a middle school teacher in Texas. Her "I Need" box allows students to share any personal or academic difficulties they might be facing. This also gives you time to consider their behavior or find out if there are any other similar reports that may help you when you talk to them later.
This kind of non-threatening sharing helps build trust, boosts communication, and encourages students to seek help when they need it. It also fosters empathy among peers, as they realize they're not alone in their challenges, leading to a supportive and understanding learning community. In time, students may feel confident to share their struggles or ideas during your morning meeting.
Read more about the "I Need" Box HERE.
14. Implement Student Suggestions
When students offer suggestions, make a conscious effort to appreciate their efforts and apply relevant ideas. Kids need to know that you are listening and that their efforts to communicate aren't in vain. It also reinforces that you value their input to build confidence and encourage them to speak out to share their thoughts.
15. Establish Clear Rules
Starting the year or term with a clear set of rules or expectations can save you a lot of heartache and stress. Students should know that you won’t tolerate bad behavior and that you expect them to make everyone feel safe and included.
It helps to allow students to share what a positive and respectful community feels like to them. Let them know that you will consider everyone’s contribution when you create the rules. When students feel their ideas are heard, they feel a real sense of ownership and empowerment and are more likely to abide by the rules.
Use posters or anchor charts for students to refer to throughout the school year.