109- Improving Your Classroom Culture After a Break

December 28, 2021

In this episode, Nicole and Erin help you craft a game plan for returning after a break — from actually taking a rest to making the transition back to teaching in a way that sets you and your students up for success. Follow these simple steps to improve classroom culture after a break.

Why focus on improving classroom culture after a break?

School holidays are an ideal time for a reset. Why?

Often, kids forget rules and procedures when they return. You’ll need to review these things anyway. So, this is also a good time to make changes.

Why is classroom culture important in a classroom?

Before your students are able to learn, they must feel safe. Students learn best when they are in a positive environment. Classrooms with a poor classroom dynamic have low engagement and disruptive behavior. Therefore, classroom culture is arguably the MOST important part of your classroom.

If you are interested in the brain science behind this, check out episode 101 – The Brain Science behind your student’s (missing) engagement.

How can you improve classroom culture?

It’s easier than you think. But it will take some planning. We want to make this as painless as possible, so we came up with a step-by-step plan.

Step 1: Survey Your Students

Ideally, you’d do this before you leave for break. But, if you didn’t do that, it’s not too late.

Use an online form or paper copy and ask your students how they are feeling about school in general and your classroom specifically. Here are a few questions we recommend including:

  • What’s working for you right now?
  • What’s not working?
  • What things are other teachers doing that is helpful?
  • How do you feel about school?

Open-ended questions are important because they provide a space for your student’s voice to be heard. But, it may be difficult for all of your students to respond in this manner. For that reason, we recommend including some questions that allow students to answer using a scale.

Why it’s important.

A survey gives your students the opportunity to be heard. Too often, student voices are stifled in a classroom setting. This leads to feelings of frustration and other negative feelings that affect the classroom culture.

Also, students are more than capable of providing valuable insight into what isn’t working in your classroom.

This might be the hardest step.

Reading negative feedback is difficult. And, students don’t always soften the blow. The results are sometimes hurtful.

There are two things to remember here. First, students don’t always have the words to explain what they are feeling. So, their feedback can feel more harsh than intended. Secondly, the only thing that you can really change in the classroom environment is you. You can’t change student behavior directly. Rather, you can only control how you respond.

Step 2: Take a Break

It’s incredibly important that you are devoting time to your life outside of the classroom. Though it’s difficult, it’s important to step away during a break.

Nicole and Erin recall countless weekends and holidays that they spent creating lessons for their students. But, your happiness in the classroom is so important. Ultimately, when you don’t devote time to the things you enjoy, both you and your students suffer.

Step 3: Review the survey with your students.

While providing the survey is an important first step, you need to address the things that came up in the survey. Focus on the key elements that your students discussed.

Decide on at least one thing that you will change in your classroom based on their feedback. It’s totally okay if it’s just a small change. Then, address the other key themes you noticed in their results. Discuss what other changes may be coming.

The most important thing is that your students feel like they have been heard. This doesn’t mean that you need to change everything that they bring up.

What about the things that are outside of your control?

Most likely, you won’t be able to make all of the changes that students would like to see in your classroom. When things are outside of your control, it’s okay to let them know. For example, students might be upset that you assign homework. But, if it is a school policy that you assign it, let your students know.

By discussing the issues, you let them know that they have been heard. And, this is an incredibly important part of restoring classroom culture.

Keep the lines of communication open.

Create a system so that students have a predictable way to communicate with you. This may be a comment box on your desk. Or, a weekly check-in form.

Creating these systems helps students to communicate their feelings and ideas in a way that doesn’t detract from the learning.

Step 4: Have fun with your students.

Don’t jump into content right away. Instead, plan to do something fun. Team building activities, games, and challenges are great ways to help alleviate some of the stress that comes from returning to school. And, they allow students to see you in a different light.

Having these positive associations with your class will make it easier for students to learn when you do have some downtime.

Make it a regular part of your routine.

Plan to do something fun with your students more often. Do a game in the last 10 minutes of class on Friday. Or, do a monthly team-building activity. It doesn’t really matter what you decide to do. But, if possible, these events should occur on a predictable schedule to give your students something to look forward to.

Step 5 – Review the procedures.

It’s important that you review the procedures that are in place before the learning begins. Students WILL forget them. And, when they aren’t sure what the procedures are, they are more likely to act inappropriately.

Focus on the most important procedures. And, try to make the review process a little more fun. For example, have them work in groups to answer questions about the class. Consider formatting it like a pub quiz, where students compete with other groups.

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