I know that trying to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher can be tough. You’re doing everything the experts say, but your students are still arguing with each other and not getting along for other teachers.
If this is you, you’re not alone. Building a positive classroom community as a first year teacher can feel overwhelming when you pair it with the other million tasks teachers are required to do. But here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be! What if building a positive classroom community was so simple that it was built into your day on autopilot without you having to think about it?
Too good to be true? Well not with these 5 strategies. Today I am going to show you 5 steps you need to take today in order to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher. So grab that coffee and let’s start building the strongest community in the school!
Listen to the podcast:
[su_spoiler title=”How to Build a Positive Classroom Community as a First Year Teacher” style=”fancy”]Helena (00:00): Does it feel like your students are always fighting and they aren’t behaving for other teachers? No matter what you do, they always need you to help solve a problem. What if I told you that your students are always helping each other and taking each other, taking care of each other, and your classroom was just the most positive classroom in the school? But Helena, how do I get there? Is that class a thing? Is that a real thing? Yes, it is. I’m here to show you how. So stick around because I’m going to talk about how you can achieve just that. Hey, teacher bestie. My name’s Helena and I’m the creator, the Present Teacher podcast. I’m a first year teacher coach, and in this podcast you are gonna learn everything from simple actual classroom management, social emotional learning, and teacher wellness strategies. You know that impact you wanna make in the classroom. We’re gonna make it happen here. (00:56) Step number one, establish rules and boundaries early on. Now, without going too deep into this, because I did in a previous episode, but when you do this at the beginning of the year or now, you are going to want to have your students create rules with you. Help them buy in by having them sign or come up with the rules. And this will help create ownership of their learning and help them stay accountable and remind them, Hey, remember we all agree that this would be rule number three, and the expectation is blank. So that is step number one. Step number two, foster those positive relationships. Have you ever walked into a place and you can just tell that the moon and the vibe is just happy and calm? Well, the same goes for your classroom. You can tell the mood in your classroom just based on how you interact with your students. (01:51) So let’s make sure it’s a good vibe. You might be wondering, how do I do that? Well, here’s a couple ways to achieve that. The first one being get to know your students one-on-one, ask or compliment them in the morning. I love to greet my kids at the door because it gives me that visual cue that I can see. Are they having a a good day? Is their morning okay? Are they having a hard morning? Are they going to need some extra love? The second thing is have a meal with them. I love my quiet time as an introverted teacher. However, on Fridays I love to pick four or five depending, you know, the size of your class. But I like to pick a few students and have a meal with them and ask them about their family. Ask them about their dog, learn about their interests. (02:38) Because what happens is, is when you take time to learn about your kids and you remember those things and you bring it up later, they just, oh my gosh, they just explode that you care enough about ’em to know the little things. So trust me and that, and it’ll make you fall in love with them even more. But take some time to have a meal with them and ask those questions, show that you care and take interest in their personal life. This year I really made an attempt to go to the baseball games, to go to the soccer games, to go to the ballet because it’s important for my kids to know that I have their back and I’m there for them. So this is a great way to foster those positive relationships. And I’ve said this before, a student won’t learn from a teacher they don’t like. (03:31) And I’m not saying you’re going to be able to reach every kid and not every kid’s gonna like you, and that’s okay, but your kids are gonna learn to love you if you tell them more about you. I know that’s not what you probably thought I was going to say, but talk about your own interests. I don’t know why, but my first year, I think there was like a veteran told me that, you know, you shouldn’t say anything about your life to your kids. Now, I’m not saying tell ’em about all your problems and everything personal, but I like to share about my doc’s, Kohan Kenai from Brother Bear. My kids love that they love asking me and they call, call them my my sons like, share about your personal life because kids will remember you and learn to like you if you have something in common. (04:20) The same goes for this podcast. If I never told you anything personal about myself or anything of my like or interests, you wouldn’t be listening to me because we would have nothing in common. So there’s that. Step number three, practice active listening. So you’re gonna wanna mono what this looks like and sh show what it looks like and sounds like. And the biggest thing that I have made myself do is to preach what I say and do the same. So I talk about active listening as a respecting another person and showing that you are hearing them and listening to the words they have to say and you are holding space for them and you are actively presently in the moment listening to them. So we talk about what body languages looks like, what our minds doing, what our voices are doing. Um, you can do a visual poster, but this is something I cover at the very beginning of class. (05:21) If you haven’t done this yet, that’s okay, we can practice now, but we come up with a saying like, track the speaker still hands listening, ears, voices off sitting, still do your best caring heart. Obviously I have that memorized, but we go over it almost every single time at carpet time. And then I point out kids that are actively listening. And then I model by doing it when my kids are talking to me now with my kids, because you know I love them. They come up to me and they have something really exciting to say, but I have an adult slash teacher thing to do and I can’t give them my my full attention. I will tell them so and so, I would love to listen to you right now, however I need to finish this task, then I would love to actively listen to you. (06:07) And they, they’ve learned to wait. And then after I’m done, I turn my body, I practice what I preach, I turn my body, I cross my hands and I show them that I’m listening. And your kids will respect you for doing that. It’s that mutual respect. And again, I like to point out other students who are practicing actively listening to their friends when the rest of us need a couple reminders. So if you have a moment where your kids are really chatty at the carpet, I might say, oh, I love how so-and-so is actively listening by sitting crisscross applesauce. I love how so-and-so is actively listening by tracking the speaker still hands, going through the whole poster activity you did earlier and having it up somewhere helps but model what you preach and point out people who are doing a great job. And if you’re using the super improver wall like I am, then this is a great time for a sticker. (07:01) But beside the point, so practice active listening. Step number four, create a safe space for sharing and expressing emotions. I don’t want students, and I’m pretty sure you’re the same way, because we’re, we think a lot alike, but I don’t want students to feel like there are any silly questions. All thoughts, opinions and emotions are valid. And I may not agree with you, but I do respect you enough to listen, hold space and validate. So model what that looks like. How can I express this? You can talk about what does that look like, sound like when you’re list sharing and expressing your emotions. How can I express that I’m mad instead of throwing something across the floor, I can take a calming breath and say, I’m mad right now. How can I listen to others to make them feel validated? Kids wanna help each other, but sometimes they just don’t know how. (08:02) And you have to model that. What does that look like and sound like You can do this during circle time, morning meeting, afternoon meeting. You can talk about a friend who’s upset and what do I do as good friend to show that I see them, I hear them and I wanna validate their feelings. You could, you know, go through the thank you because the last thing I would want you to do is, I’m sorry you’re feeling that way. What can I do to make it better? All those are super important. Your kids wanna help, they wanna thrive, they wanna grow. Modeling that for each other is huge. Step number five, collaborate and teamwork. So I have a fun story about this. So during the first week of school, I noticed that these kids in particular had a hard time with collaborating and teamwork. So what I did is we played the cup game. (09:00) So the cup game isn’t the cup song from my childhood. I got magic from the long way around. I know I’ll let her sing it, but I love that song. Anyways, it’s not that one, it’s cup stacking. So I separated my class two teams and I had them sit, you know, in their groups. And when I said go, they had to stack the highest tower of cups on top of each other. What would happen was whenever my kids accidentally knocked over the Tower of Cups, they would start yelling at each other and getting angry and not regulating their emotions. What would happen was because they were being not the nicest friend to each other, the cops would keep falling down. So after we went through this exercise, once I, you know, there were some tears, it was a little frustrating, but I had everyone sit down and calm down and I just had my kids let my kids talk. (09:57) What did you notice about the cup game? What did you notice about your teammates? How did they make you feel? What did you like? What did you didn’t like? What did you notice about the cups whenever your teammates were doing that and light bulbs, absolute light bulbs, they were like, you know what, I’ll never forget one of my little boys. He’s like, I dropped the tower, or the tower fell because so-and-so was yelling at me and didn’t make me feel good. So I accidentally bumped the other cups and we talked about how we expanded on how how we treat each other is how our cups are and our cups represent our emotions and how our teammates are are working together. When we work well as a team, our shower is super high. We’re steady as a team, we’re praising each other, we’re supporting each other and it’s tall. (10:47) But when we are tearing each other down and getting mad and frustrated and taking it on each other, the cups fall. And this was huge, huge. And so we did it a second time. We talked about strategy and what they could do next time and what they wanted to do better. And so we did it a second time and those towers were so much taller and it was so much more positive in the class. So now I love to go back every once in a while and remind them of the cup game. And we play the cup game whenever we kind of forget what good teamwork and collaboration means because otherwise our cups are falling. So my point is, it’s important to model what good teamwork looks like. What does it sound like? Um, how can we be good supportive team member so our cups are tall and high and not falling? (11:41) How can we make sure that our team is the best cup stacker in the class? Thank you so much for listening. I hope you found this helpful and I’m so excited to hear about you implementing the strategies you learned from this week’s episode. Remember, I am always here from you for you cheering you on. I am your biggest fan. I would love if you could tag me and show me that you are listening to this podcast by taking a screenshot and either sending it to me or adding it to your stories and tagging me at the present teacher on Instagram. I love seeing all the amazing educators around the world listening in. Remember that we are stronger together. Take care, teacher bestie. Until next week, love Helen. (12:28) Thank you so much for joining me on today’s episode. I hope that you were able to take away some value that will help you thrive inside and outta the classroom. It would mean the world to me. If you could take five seconds right now and leave a review on this podcast, and if you found this podcast especially helpful, make sure to take a screenshot of this episode right now and tag me on your social school. Let me know you’re listening. As always, remember that we are stronger together with all the love in the world. Helena aka, the present teacher. See you next time. Teacher bestie.[/su_spoiler]
Establish Rules and Boundaries Early On
The first step you need to take to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher is to establish your rules and boundaries early on. As I talked about in a previous episode, in order for students to excel they need to know what’s expected of them.
Establishing rules and boundaries from the start is key for setting expectations of behavior. Make sure your rules are clear, concise and easy to follow. Involve your students in the process of creating these rules – they will be more engaged, motivated and responsible if they have a say. You should also explain the consequences for breaking rules so that your students know what will happen if they do not comply with them.
Some ways to implement this is to have your students create the rules with you, vote on them, and have them sign the rules. This will allow buy in and will allow your students to feel seen and heard. Overall this is a very important step to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher.
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Foster Positive Relationships With Your Students
The second step to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher is to foster a positive relationship with your students. As I mentioned in this episode of the Present Teacher Podcast, students won’t learn from a teacher they don’t like.
The same goes for building a positive classroom community, it’s hard to have a positive classroom community when the students don’t get along with the teacher. Getting to know your students beyond the curriculum can help you create a nurturing classroom community. Spend one-on-one time with each student to learn about their interests, goals and home life.
When you show your students that you care for their physical, mental and emotional well-being through positive reinforcement they will learn to love not only you but the classroom community as well.
One way to achieve this is do check-ins, leave positive notes, send positive notes home, and compliment your students. Showing that you are available and receptive to talking positively strengthens trust between yourself and your students. Which makes this step essential if you want to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher.
Show Respect by Practicing Active Listening Skills
The third step to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher is to practice active listening. Now let’s be honest, active listening is a skill that is not only difficult for students to master, but for students as well. That’s why it’s so important to practice what you preach and model active listening when your students are talking to you.
Whenever you engage with your students it is important to practice your active listening skills. Whether in small group or one-on-one settings, always keep eye contact and be attentive to details and student emotions. Ask open-ended questions and let the student talk without interruption; frequently check for understanding and restate information shared by the student to confirm understanding. Your recognition of their perspectives will help them feel heard, seen, respected and valued.
You can also have your class practice active listening and redirect them when they are not. Make sure to model what this looks like and sounds like. You can even pause instruction when someone is talking over a friends and say:
“I’m so sorry to interrupt you (insert name), but I see two students who are not practicing actively listening. Let’s wait until they show us that they are ready to actively listen.”
This is a great skill for not only adults but students as well and it’s a great next step to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher.
Create a Safe Haven for Sharing and Expressing Feelings
The fourth step to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher is to create a safe space to share feelings and expressing them. Students will not help build a positive classroom environment if they feel like their feelings will not be validated. That’s why it’s so important to make sure all feelings and thoughts are validated in the classroom.
Allowing students to share and express their feelings in a safe and respectful environment is essential for creating a positive classroom community. As teachers, it’s our job to create an atmosphere that is open and welcoming to all types of perspectives. However, it’s also important to establish ground rules and expectations with your students that emphasize respect at all times, so they feel comfortable speaking openly without feeling judged.
It’s important to encourage them to be flexible, creative, tolerant and compassionate with one another. One way to achieve this is to do a bucket filler lesson where you talk about bucket filling and bucket dipping. We also talk about inside versus outside voices and what to say to comfort a friend. If you want more support in teaching these kinds of lessons check out these resources.
All in all, creating a safe space for students to feel seen, heard and validated is essential if you want to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher.
Create Opportunities for Collaboration and Teamwork
The final step to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher is to create opportunities to collaborate and teamwork. When you allow students to collaborate you are allowing them to learn important interpersonal skills as well as the ability to talk more in a structured way. So if you have a chatty class you definitely want to be doing this!
Creating opportunities for students to collaborate and work together is a great way to foster a positive classroom community. Through team-based activities, students will learn how to better communicate and rely on one another, while also getting the chance to get to know each other in an educational setting.
You can assign tasks and projects that require students to work with others or divide the class into smaller groups and have them come up with creative solutions to different problems. Another great way is to have students “teach” each other important points as you teach. This will encourage responsibility, critical thinking, and problem solving skills all while building relationships between your students. And what better way to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher.
In summary, in order to build a positive classroom community as a first year teacher you need the following steps:
- Establish Rules and Boundaries Early On
- Foster Positive Relationships With Your Students
- Show Respect by Practicing Active Listening Skills
- Create a Safe Haven for Sharing and Expressing Feelings
- And Finally to Create Opportunities for Collaboration and Teamwork
All of these are a great way to build a classroom community so that you and your students will enjoy coming to school and have a community so strong it will feel like a family.
Which strategy are you going to incorporate to build a positive classroom community? I would love to hear your thoughts!