How often do you hear words like what Calvin uttered out of students? Those kids who don’t want to come to school everyday. How do we reach those kids and get them to want to buy into their education? I think one important step is to build a positive school culture.
Humans are relational creatures. We need positive relationships in order to thrive. If we feel that everyone is against us and surround ourselves with negativity, then we respond in a negative fashion and a cycle persists. For some students, the only place they might experience a positive relationship is at school, so it is very important that we create a positive environment for them.
If a student feels negative about school, they won’t engage. If they feel that everyone is against them and doesn’t care about them they will fail to show up, take anything seriously, and in general just blow school off. Sometimes this negative attitude of school develops because the student learns it from their parent. If their parent didn’t have a positive school experience, then chances are likely that the parent will believe that their child will have the same experience and pass along their negativity. Sometimes this attitude develops because a student has a negative experience with a teacher or administrator.
However a negative attitude develops, it is important to try and break the negativity cycle and promote positivity. Based on the Boys Town model, there are 8 things we can do to create a positive educational setting. I will be breaking these down between 2 blog posts. The first four are as follows.
- Build Strong Relationships
The number one thing we can do to help stop the negativity cycle is to build strong relationships. This is multifold. We need to build strong relationships amongst the staff in our buildings. Staff members who enjoy coming to work with their colleagues and feel their work environment is a safe place to share ideas are more likely to present a positive image to students, parents, and community members about their school. We also need to build strong relationships with parents. Open communication is essential. Parents who are kept in the loop with what is going on in the classroom and feel like the teacher is working with them as a partner to help their child are more likely to be positive about school. Parents love hearing when their child does something good at school. Oftentimes the only communication a teacher has with a parent is when something negative happens. So when a parent sees a teacher contacting them, the first thing they think is “uh oh, something bad.” This puts them in a negative mindset before even hearing what the teacher has to say. Send home random positive notes to parents and in class newsletters, highlight the good that is going on in the class.
And of course, the most important relationship is that between the teacher and student. This relationship starts the moment a student walks into a classroom. Some things to think about as a teacher to help build positive relationships are:
- Do you smile and say good morning/afternoon and greet students in a positive manner?
- Do you actively listen when a student talks to you or do you try and multitask and not give them your 100% attention?
- Do you question students about their favorite activities and find out what makes them “tick?” If they have a sporting event, do you ask them how they played?
- Are you approachable so that students feel they can come share personal things with you?
- Do you give off the aura of wanting to be at school and happy that you are their teacher?
- Teach Essential Social Skills
By the time I get my students in 6th grade, I expect them to know social skills, but you would be surprised by how many students don’t. Oftentimes we think that kids will just pick these up as they go along, but in actuality, these need to be taught. If you are struggling with a student who argues with you all the time, it might be worthwhile to find out if that student has ever been taught how to disagree respectfully. I like how Erin Green, the Director of National Training at Boys Town put it. “You can’t hold kids accountable for something you’ve never told them. Behavior should be treated like academics, and students should be taught the skills they need to execute desired behaviors.” Each building should identify the social skills you expect students to have and systematically teach them.
- Get on the Same Page
Consistency is key. Having set norms that everyone in the school adheres to helps create consistency. In order for this to work though, staff members have to be willing to change and to work together to create a school vision and mission. Administration has to allow staff members to be apart of this process so there is buy in. Staff should be apart of creating consistent school expectations and consequences that everyone in the building enforces. If students realize that everyone is being held to the same standards and that they are being consistently enforced the same way, students will trust the system.
- Be Role Models
Teachers are role models whether we want to be or not. Sometimes teachers are the only positive role models that students will see. Students are with us for 6 hours a day and they are watching and observing how their teachers act and behave. How they treat and respond to others, whether it is other students or teachers. Step up and be a positive role model. Let only positive and kind statements come out of your mouth. Build others up around you. Model to students how you want to be treated by others. It will pay off.
I hope this gives you some food for thought as you are starting a new year. Stay tuned next month for the second installment on building a positive school culture.