13 Ways to Create a Positive Learning Environment in Your ClassroomAll Posts
Written by Joshua Prieur, Ed.D.
Teachers! Get more ways to promote positive learning with Prodigy Math, a game-based learning adventure for grades 1 to 8.
- Teaching Strategies
Consider for a moment where you work or learn best.
Where are you? What does the room you’re in look like? What are the things you do to set yourself up for success?
All of the things you surround yourself with — a great cup of coffee or an up-tempo Spotify playlist — play a part in how you work or learn. They’re all tied to the environment you choose to best prime yourself for success.
As an educator, the same thing applies in a school or a classroom. Your goal is to create a positive classroom and school environment that will set your learners up for success.
But there are a few challenges. How can you help students to feel safe, valued, and respected? What can you do to help set the framework for positive relationships to flourish?
Read on to find out 13 strategies that’ll help you build a positive learning environment that students and fellow staff members alike are excited to be a part of.
What is a positive learning environment?
Having a positive learning environment takes much more than having a classroom with positive posters on the wall (although that’s one of the many strategies that can be used!). It means truly understanding and supporting the needs of students and colleagues in multiple ways.
For example, having clearly established classroom rules will help set the tone for a healthy learning environment where students know what is expected of them. Having that structure in place will help students feel safe, allow you to really understand their needs, and promote positive well-being. This applies to students at all levels — elementary, middle, and high school, too!
One thing to keep in mind is that creating a positive learning environment isn’t something you create once and leave as-is. It requires renewed attention every school year.
What is the difference between a positive and negative learning environment?
To really dig into the differences of a positive and negative learning environment, let’s start with some positive learning environment examples:
- Students feel safe to come to school without feeling like they have to act like someone else for acceptance
- When students feel safe in their environment, they’re more willing to take risks in their learning without fear of failing– sometimes we learn best when we fail!
- A true community exists. Students and staff members alike are more engaged and excited to interact with one another under positive circumstances.
In a negative learning environment, you’re going to see more undesirable behaviors such as:
- High levels of student frustration, likely leading to increased disciplinary rates. This could be mitigated by clear classroom management strategies.
- A disconnect between members of the community (ie. staff, students, and parents/guardians), leading to tension and less involvement from parents/guardians in the school environment. High levels of parent involvement have a direct impact on positive learning environments.
- High levels of stress for teachers leading to burnout and anxiety, which research has shown can even cause a physiological anti-stress hormone response in students. Practicing self-care techniques can be a great way to de-stress.
Read on to find out even more about why having a positive learning environment is crucial!
Why is a positive learning environment important?
Having a positive learning environment in place takes a great deal of thought and consideration, but there are major benefits that’ll pay off for the hard work that goes into it. For example:
- Research has shown that academic performance is likely to increase
- Students will be more likely to support other students with disabilities
- There will be an increase in positive interactions between students, staff, and parents/guardians
- Stakeholders will appreciate that you take mental health just as seriously as you take student achievement
- Students are more likely to take ownership of their learning experience (also known as self-regulated learning)
- You’ll set the tone for a great school year from the very first week as you build an environment conducive to student development
What can you do to help jumpstart your work in this area?
Keep reading to learn some strategies that you can easily implement to create an environment that’ll build a tightly-knit school community with a positive learning environment at the center of it all.
13 Ways to create a positive learning environment in your classroom
As an educator, you’ve likely already taken several steps to build a positive environment in your classroom and your school. Read on for 13 steps that can help take that work one step further!
1. Build positive relationships with students and parents
Building positive relationships with students and parents is critical, and it starts on the first moment of the first day of school each year.
This means getting to know each of your students’ unique personalities including their likes, dislikes, strengths, and areas of opportunity. Putting the time in early will help you support students both individually and as a whole group.
One strategy to build rapport with students is to greet them as they arrive in the classroom each day. While it takes a bit of extra work on the front end to make sure the lesson is ready-to-go (including an activity for them to start up on the board!) greeting students as they arrive shows that you care and helps you to read their body language from the moment they arrive each day.
To help build a strong relationship with parents, take the time to communicate with them about the good and the bad that you see in the classroom. There are tons of awesome apps for teachers that you can use, like Remind to easily share information.
Sending a quick note about the success that a child had in class that day can go a long way to let the child know that you see the great things they’re doing and also help parents/guardians feel like they’re in the loop for their child’s life at school.
2. Foster student connections
There are lots of great ways for you to help foster positive student connections as a way of helping improve students’ sense of belonging, increase engagement, and establish a caring classroom culture.
Here are two quick strategies that you can implement with relative ease:
- Listen to the chatter going on between students before class. They’ll often talk with one another about things they’re passionate about. That information can help you learn things to ask them about that will help you forge a really strong bond. If by listening you learn that a student does ballet, you can ask the student more about it the next time you see them.
- Implement highly-personalized lessons to help students feel special. For example, if you’re creating a sample response to a writing prompt, you could opt to include a student’s name and the hobby you know they like. This strategy works really well as a way to highlight and motivate and engage learners who are often reluctant to participate!
3. Outline classroom rules for positive behavior
Having high expectations for your students is so important as you shape the norms for student behavior and lay the foundation for student success. To do this, you’ll need to have clear classroom rules and techniques at-the-ready from the first moment of the first day.
One pro tip is to frame your classroom rules in a positive manner. For example, instead of saying “don’t disrespect other students” you instead say, “All students in class will be respected at all times.” This positive framing, while small, can make a huge difference as you are showing that the expectation is tied to positive behavior.
4. Use positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a great way to build intrinsic motivation and help promote positive student work habits.
There are two great strategies that you can use here:
- Recognize when students put forth a ton of effort, even if they don’t show 100% mastery. Sometimes failing is when we learn best, so praising students’ effort to persevere can go a long way to help them build the muscle not to give up in the face of a challenge and implement problem-solving strategies.
- Take the time to celebrate even the smallest of wins for learners who are sometimes reluctant to participate in class. Providing praise for a job that’s well done goes a long way towards building trust and helping students feel seen. This, in turn, will increase the likelihood that they’ll do it again.
5. Ensure content is culturally relevant
Every class is unique thanks to the cultural diversity that each student brings to the group.
Since each student has a different lived experience and cultural background, teachers can honor those differences by implementing culturally responsive teaching strategies. These include: integrating relevant word problems, using media that positively depict a range of cultures, and bringing in guest speakers from different backgrounds.
A recent research study found that when teachers implement contextual learning strategies test scores can improve by more than 44%.
6. Keep a positive mindset
Anyone who has been a teacher knows just how exhausting the job can be.
Taking time for yourself can be a real challenge with the demands that exist both inside and outside of school. That said, it’s highly recommended that you work to find some time, even just a few minutes to implement some self-care techniques as a means of helping you maintain a positive mindset.
Finding time each day, even just a few minutes when you first arrive at school, can make a huge difference and prepare you to face any challenges that come your way head-on and with a positive mindset.
7. Create a comfortable physical environment
Having a positive classroom environment for your students to learn in (and for you to teach in!) goes a long way towards helping build an awesome classroom climate. The physical environment includes everything from the way things are organized to what is on the walls.
Add a splash of color to your classroom with posters that include positive messages that can both motivate students and encourage positive behavior. For example, a poster that reads, “Expect to be accepted for who you are” reinforces the notion that all students belong in the classroom community you’ve created. It’s also a great reference point to draw students’ attention to if the behaviors you’re seeing aren’t aligned to that principle.
Are you a teacher who travels from classroom to classroom with a cart? Many teachers who travel opt to cover the front or sides of their cart with a poster that includes positive messaging. That gives you the opportunity to add a personal touch to any classroom you share and reinforce the beliefs you want to prioritize.
8. Stay informed on educational research
As a scholarly practitioner, it’s great to keep up-to-speed with research that could help to inform your practice and provide insights you can use to create a positive learning environment.
For example, researchers recently outlined findings that show that the level of parent participation had a direct impact on positive learning environments. One strategy to implement would be to strategize with colleagues or school administration about additional ways to get the parent and guardian community engaged with activities at school.
You may even consider participating in events like PTA meetings or events if you aren’t already as a way to contribute to a positive and collaborative school climate (which also has an impact on student motivation and achievement!).
Doing this can also help you to stay in the know with emerging areas of best practice for you to take advantage of as you build your yearly professional growth plan. A recent study shows the link between professional development, teachers’ practices in class, and student achievement.
An easy way to stay updated on education research outcomes that could help shape your learning environment is to sign up for Edutopia’s newsletter called "The Research Is In".
9. Prioritize social emotional learning
The well-being of students and teachers alike has been pushed to the forefront recently– and for good reason. While perhaps easier said than done, having positive mental health is critical.
Social emotional learning (or SEL for short) can help students understand emotions and navigate an uncertain world.
There are some wonderful resources available for teachers to implement SEL strategies in their classroom. For example, building mindfulness activities into the classroom is just one of 25 different SEL strategies that can be implemented without a ton of lift — but with huge benefits for students in class.
Helping students learn and navigate new emotions will help them to bring their best self to the classroom and contribute positively to the learning environment.
10. Plan lessons with motivation in mind
Building lesson and unit plans with student motivation in mind helps spark excitement and joy into the learning environment. That’s why Prodigy believes so firmly in our philosophy of education, “Motivation First!”.
Weave topics that students are passionate about, or finding ways to make topics that aren’t the most exciting much more fun and interactive.
Integrating game-based learning activities like Prodigy Math can be a great way to help have fun and engage with you and their peers in class while they learn how to multiply fractions. Leverage students’ natural inclination for games and integrate learning right into it!
11. Provide personalized feedback on assignments
Going that extra mile to show students that you truly care about their performance and effort can help to motivate students and foster a positive connection. Personalizing feedback for students is a great way to take a moment and highlight some of the great work students do and the areas for improvement.
Let’s say for example students have completed a short writing assignment for you. You’ve spent some time correcting the spelling and grammar of the work, and left some great notes in the margin. To take it one step further, write a personalized note in the top corner of the assignment by using their name, “Dear Jack, …” and highlighting some of the great things they did and some areas for improvement. Leaving a personalized note instead of a plain grade increases the likelihood that they’ll look at what you said and internalize the feedback you’ve given.
12. Share the love
There are lots of incredible things happening in your classroom each and every day. But unless you’re in the room, it’s tough to know what’s happening (ever asked a kid, “what did you do in school today?” when they come home? They seem to always have a tough time remembering …).
To help keep parents/guardians updated, you can take to social media or your classroom website to help share the amazing things that you’re doing with your students. Be sure to keep in mind your school/district’s policies and permission from parents/guardians to use their child’s photo online. As long as you’re aligned with those policies and know which students have permission, you’re a-ok to share snapshots of the cool things you’re doing to help parents/guardians see what’s going on in class.
Bonus tip! Want to foster a positive environment among your colleagues? Leave a handwritten note for personnel on staff at your school (ie. other teachers, administrative assistants, administrators, custodians, etc.) and place it in their mailbox. Who doesn’t love getting mail with a little kudos?
The two minutes you’ll take to write the note will help others feel so appreciated. Perhaps they’ll even start doing it for others!
13. Find time for fun!
Sometimes, the pressure to focus solely on purely academic material can mount (here’s looking at you, testing season …) and it can lead to burnout.
Find some time to use some games in your classrooms that include learning and naturally weave in some fun in a way that your students will definitely appreciate. There are few things more fulfilling than hearing students laughing while they’re having fun and working together while learning at the same time.
Create a positive learning environment to help students love learning
Having a positive learning environment in your classroom and at your school will set your students up to thrive. In fact, you’ll be setting the stage to help every student to love learning– which is our mission here at Prodigy Education.
Taking a few steps to expand the great things you’re already doing to create a positive learning environment (including leveraging game-based learning tools like Prodigy Math) could go a really long way to help build a learning community that’ll transcend the walls of your school.
Prodigy Math helps make learning an adventure for students with game-based skill practice for grades 1 to 5. Plus, your free teacher account comes with tools that help you differentiate for every student and find more ways to support their learning.