Classroom culture and its impact on student learning
Classroom culture can be the defining factor in students’ academic achievement. Providing a safe space for students to be seen and heard as individuals who can voice their opinions, develop their interests, and be included regardless of race, gender, and beliefs provide a foundation that no educational program can achieve. What is classroom culture? How can we create a classroom culture that propels our student’s desire to learn?
Alexander Den Heijer said, “when a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” This quote reminds me of classroom culture and the students and stakeholders in these environments. Unfortunately, classroom culture is a variable that may often get placed on the back burner because we focus on other factors like student performance. Still, classroom culture directly impacts students’ learning, actions, beliefs, and behaviors.
What exactly is classroom culture, and is this a new fad?
The teacher wears many hats and plays multiple roles in the classroom. We do so much daily, from planning lessons, attending meetings and professional development sessions, engaging with parents and families, connecting with the community and resources, and so much more. The rules, norms, and values we establish in our learning environments significantly affect how our students and stakeholders participate. Those same rules, norms, and values also impact how we efficiently complete our tasks and responsibilities.
Therefore, our classroom culture is where our students and we can excel or fail. Steve Bollar says culture can be defined simply as traditions. Therefore, our classroom culture is like our character; it is grounded in the rules, norms, and values that affect how things are done in our learning environments. It can be positive or negative and can help or hinder us, our students, and our stakeholders. In addition, culture can determine how those in our environments can voice their opinion, resolve conflicts, take risks, problem-solve, and address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, race, gender, etc. Finally, our classroom culture can promote feelings of safety and belonging for our students and stakeholders.
We must understand the difference between our classroom culture and climate. Yes, the climate and culture impact the actions, beliefs, and behaviors of all stakeholders involved in the school. The climate, however, is about how stakeholders feel and act as a result of the long-term values that exist in the culture. Kristen Koppers says that a school’s climate reflects directly on students and their relationships with teachers and staff.
Therefore, strong and healthy classroom culture and climate can be a defining factor in our students’ learning for the reasons mentioned earlier. Studies on classroom culture conclude a positive correlation between school culture and climate and students’ academic achievement. For example, McNeil, Prater, and Busch evaluated the organizational health of exemplary, recognized, and acceptable schools in the study, The effects of school culture and climate on student achievement. In their research, “exemplary” schools were found to possess healthier environments than “acceptable” schools, which reported lower organizational health scores. Likewise, the study Impact of school culture on students’ academic achievement at the secondary level in a district in Pakistan with over 60 schools concluded that there is a positive relationship between school culture and students’ academic achievement.
Here are five easy-to-follow recommendations to create a strong and healthy classroom culture.
1️⃣Assess the current classroom culture.
Include students in the reflection and assessment of the classroom culture. First, we can ask ourselves and our students the questions below (please adjust the wording for students depending on the age range). Then, we can use our students’ feedback and reflections to create a plan to modify any aspect that needs improvement.
Does my classroom allow for community building? Does it foster each student’s interests?
Are my materials and curriculum diverse? Can my students find themselves identified in most of the materials and curriculum?
Do my students feel responsible for their learning? Can they describe who they are as a learner?
Are routines, procedures, and rules in place to provide safety, respect, and trust in my classroom?
2️⃣Model community within the classroom.
Creating a safe, fun, and exciting classroom provides the foundation for our students to want to engage and learn. We can use the physical structure of our classrooms to do this. First, we must consider how the décor, furnishings, and set-up can create a welcoming space. Then we can think about the message our classroom set-up sends students about relationships, roles, responsibilities, rules, learning, community, diversity, and so much more. Next, we must model kindness, empathy, compassion, and mindfulness. This can be done by listening to differing views, promoting learning in groups, and helping each other create a sense of community within the classroom.
3️⃣Foster a growth mindset.
We must recognize that we will face challenges, ideas will fail, and differences of opinion will arise. When these instances occur, we can help our students see them as learning moments and growth opportunities. We can provide the space to reflect and analyze how we can develop. We should also consider the language we can use to foster an environment where conflicts are solved and issues are discussed instead of reacting. These are examples of how to promote a growth mindset.
4️⃣Allow students to contribute to the classroom décor.
Having students’ work and contributions placed around the classroom for everyone to see allows them to feel seen and welcomed. Something as simple as having students share their favorite, appropriate quote or including a class picture as the header of your online class section can increase their sense of belonging and self-confidence.
5️⃣Provide responsibilities within the classroom.
Students should actively participate in roles within the classroom to build a classroom community and foster a feeling of belonging. For example, we can start with our desire to help our classroom environment be clean, organized, and safe for everyone. We can also create jobs or roles for students to complete on a rotation basis to help with routines, procedures, or other aspects of the classroom.
Now it's time to implement!
Undoubtedly, a positive classroom culture provides students with safety and a welcoming feeling that propels their learning. Teachers can create a classroom culture where our students and stakeholders strive. Reflecting on our current classroom culture and determining what we would like our classroom culture to be is a significant step forward.
So are you ready to do this important work? We welcome you to implement these simple strategies. If you or your school would like a more in-depth plan or support in creating an impactful classroom culture, you may connect with us at https://www.lctelearning.com, call us at (305) 209-0003, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angus J. MacNeil, Doris L. Prater & Steve Busch. (2009). The effects of school culture and climate on student achievement, International Journal of Leadership in Education, 12:1, 73-84.
Pervez, Zoma, et al. (2016). “Impact of school culture on student’s academic achievement at the secondary level.” Publications International Lahore.