Children who feel emotionally supported, valued, and safe in their classrooms are more likely to take academic risks and to deeply engage in learning tasks. These children also tend to have more positive interactions with their teachers and their peers. Better relationships between students and teachers predict higher achievement, social competency, and stronger social and emotional skills. Teachers who are warmer and more responsive to their students’ needs tend to see fewer instances of problem behavior. As a result, the classroom becomes a less stressful environment for both children AND adults. (Vanderbilt University).
Classroom climate refers to the general mood, attitudes, principles, and tone that you and your children feel when in your classroom. A positive classroom climate feels safe, respectful, welcoming, and supportive of student learning. Positive classroom climate is built from a strengths-based approach and reflects a goal of teaching and guiding. Punishment is never a strategy used in a classroom exhibiting a positive classroom climate. The opposite of positive climate is a negative classroom climate. This classroom will feel hostile, chaotic, and out of control.
You can recognize a positive classroom because you will see responsive teachers who use behavior and attention challenges to teach children appropriate behavioral expectations, while meeting the social and emotional needs of individual children.
Here are some strategies that you can use to build a positive climate (adapted from Vanderbilt College/PRI):
- Eliminate all use of threats, shaming, and sarcasm
- Maintain an approachable affect and tone when interacting with children
- Offer praise that is specific and meaningful (not simply “good job”)
- Use behavior-approving language
- A classroom practice that supports positive climate is using language that reinforces a particular behavior and describes to the child what he/she is doing. This approach shows that you want the behavior to continue or that you approve of it. Use of this strategy can be in verbal comments, facial expressions, or physical contact with children.
A classroom practice that supports positive climate is using language that reinforces a particular behavior and describes to the child what he/she is doing. This approach shows that you want the behavior to continue or that you approve of it. Use of this strategy can be in verbal comments, facial expressions, or physical contact with children.
Verbal examples include:
- “I see that you are sitting so straight and tall on your mat.”
- “Give yourself a pat on the back!”
- “I see that you are werking so carefully on your drawing.”
- “You are really taking your time to think about this problem.”
Non-verbal examples include:
- Offering a smile, a wink, head nod, or thumbs-up in response to behavior observed in one or more children.
When learning in positive classroom climates, children over time have demonstrated significantly greater social competence and fewer unwanted behaviors, including more positive peer interactions, teachers who had a more positive emotional tone, and teachers who spent more time positively reinforcing behavior (rather than correcting undesirable behaviors).
In emotionally supportive classrooms children have frequent opportunities to develop positive self-regulation. In these classrooms, teachers model appropriate choices, reinforce children for making those choices, and guide children in developing strategies for themselves. Use of this positive approach builds self-esteem in children while also reducing stress for children and teachers. Remember: the goal is to teach, not to punish.
Teaching and Supporting Social Behaviors
Children are born wanting social interaction. They watch how family and others connect with them. They watch and listen closely to facial expressions and tone of voice. Through these interactions and observations babies develop the foundation for appropriate behavior based on what they see.
Social rules help to guide us in our interactions with others. Many children have a hard time recognizing these rules. It takes time and practice to learn.
Thomas McIntyre wrote these suggestions in his article “Teaching Social Skills to Kids Who Don’t Yet Have Them”:
- Teach “belly breathing” as a calming technique. Take a deep breath in and count slowly blowing air out. The first photo in this chapter shows a child blowing bubbles, a strategy that is also highly effective here, as a child must take a deep breath to blow bubbles. You might also use the strategy of “smell the flower and blow out the candle” for a visual image and use a silk flower and unlit birthday candle for props.
- Include a calm corner (not the book area/library) in your classroom. Include soft toys, pillows and emotion posters and materials.
- Teach social skills (making friends and getting along with others) and incorporate social stories regularly in your ongoing curriculum. Social stories help teach children routines, expectations, and behavioral standards in an alternative way. Search online for “social stories” for more information.
- Teach children how to identify their emotions and label feelings with them. Use photos and prompts and keep materials about emotions available in the classroom.
- Ensure you integrate plenty of movement activities throughout the day.
- Include many opportunities for sensory play, including sand and water.
- Model the social behaviors you want to see from the children.