What is classroom culture? How do I create classroom culture?

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What is classroom culture?

00;00;05;15 – 00;00;20;05

Vicki: What is classroom culture, and how do I build a positive classroom culture? That’s the topic of episode 773 now. My mom was my mentor, and she always said to me, “Vicki, whatever happens in the front office, when you close the door to your classroom, what happens there and how it feels is really up to you.”

00;00;20;05 – 00;00;38;25

Vicki: And she was right. She was talking about classroom culture. Now there are two pieces of research we want to relate to. The first is from the American Psychological Association, which talked about how improving student-teacher relationships draws students into the process of learning and promotes their desire to learn.

00;00;38;25 – 00;00;53;10

Vicki: And indeed, that’s part of classroom culture. Additionally, there is some 2018 research from Mali and Risvi that I’ll link to in the show notes that low achievers’ active involvement may positively affect their learning. So today’s topic is an important one.

00;00;53;10 – 00;01;30;19

Vicki: What is classroom culture? And, how do I build a positive classroom culture? Episode 773 

Sponsor – Advancement Courses

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Advancement Courses. Their Tournament of Teachers Bracket Challenge is well underway, featuring some of the most well-known mischief-makers in books and film. Stay tuned at the show’s end to find out how to start voting for your favorites. 

Introduction to Andrew Sharos

Vicki: Today, we’re talking with Andrew Sharos, author of Finding Lifelifes: A Practical Tale about Teachers and Mentors. We’ve had him on the show before talking about All 4’s and 5’s: Secrets to AP Teaching Success

Andrew, today we’re talking about building classroom culture, so how do we start building classroom culture?

What creates your classroom culture?

00;01;30;19 – 00;01;37;08

Andrew Sharos: Thanks so much for having me on, and I think classroom culture is all about the habits you have in your class.

00;01;37;09 – 00;01;53;03

Andrew:: What are the things that you do daily, and what are the things that define what you’re all about? The classroom teacher it’s not the kind of stuff that scores out on a teaching rubric. It’s not the kind of stuff you get evaluated on all the time.

00;01;53;12 – 00;02;04;17

Andrew: It’s not even the kind of stuff that you go to school to talk about methods and delivery and content and all that stuff. But it’s something that someone else could walk into a room, and they can feel it.

00;02;04;20 – 00;02;19;28

Andrew: They can sense it. They can’t see it. It’s like oxygen. It’s there, but without it, there’s no light. And so I think maybe now more than ever, I’m sure you’ve been hearing this a lot, right? But now, more than ever, classroom culture is so essential to the pulse of our class.

Andrew Sharos’ Classroom Culture

00;02;21;02 – 00;02;25;23

Vicki: Now, as you talk about classroom culture, what does your classroom look like right now?

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Andrew: So I think it has to be a place of empathy. Certainly, it’s something that we’re we’re all trying to do better and listen to each other and understand each other’s situations.

00;02;34;01 – 00;02;47;12

Andrew: It has to be a place with deep connections and relationships between the teachers and the students. I think the pendulum has swung that way pretty hard in the last five or ten years where they used to tell us, you know, don’t get too close to the students.

00;02;47;26 – 00;03;04:05

Andrew: And now it’s like they want us to be. And I think we’re called to be another positive force in many of our kids’ lives. And that involves a lot of effort on our part as educators and reaching out and trying to kind of chisel away at one of our what our students are and how we can help them.

Great teachers relate to educate.

you have to relate to educate

00;03;04;05 – 00;03;07;01

Vicki: As I always say, you have to relate to educate, don’t you?

00;03;07;01 – 00;03;13;22

Andrew: No doubt. I think I’ve heard you say that before on this very podcast; you must believe it! That must mean you believe it. I love it!

00;03;14;07 – 00;03;22;15

Vicki: It is the secret of success. The great teachers I’ve known all related to their students, and then they were able to educate.


00;03;22;15 – 00;03;28;07

Andrew: Well, here’s the secret to teaching, right? You have to get kids to do what you want them to do and whatever you want them to do that day.

00;03;28;14 – 00;03;35;27

Andrew: They’re not going to do unless there is a relationship, a relatability, sort of a why behind everything they’re doing in class.

00;03;35;27 – 00;03;43;07

Vicki: Hopefully, it’s things that they want to do, you know, that it becomes intrinsic somehow if you can unleash that intrinsic desire.

00;03;43;07 – 00;03;47;21

Vicki: that I want to do this, or even if they think it’s their idea, that’s even better.

Encouraging Students to Become Passionate About Learning

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Andrew: Well, nothing brings us more joy than when they start to share your passion. And if it’s for the content area, for if it’s sparks of thought or something they want to research or get into, or if you’re a high school teacher

00;04;00;20 – 00;04;07;20

Andrew: something they want to do for the rest of their lives. That’s the stuff that makes us excited in our profession.

Start with the Why

00;04;07;20 – 00;04;12;27

Vicki: It does. So how do we get started in building that kind of that culture?

00;04;12;27 – 00;04;16;18

Andrew: Well, I always think you have to start with the why, and I know that’s a trendy thing right now

00;04;16;18 – 00;04;33;26

Andrew: in education, talking about the why and creating this collective mission-based thing as a class is about we. And not me. And I mean this respectfully. But I think if students are asking you constantly, “Hey, what are we doing today or what are we doing in class today?”

00;04;34;20 – 00;04;46;05

Andrew: They don’t understand your why? Because if they did, they wouldn’t have to ask about the what. And I think if your students are thinking about the what and the how it’s because they’re functioning on this diet that we’re feeding them.

00;04;46;06 – 00;04;59;01

Andrew: If students were to ask me, what’s the ultimate cause of the Civil War? I’ve still got to be able to make that argument for a student. I get that the “how” and the “what’s really important.” But understanding your “why” as a teacher, it’s liberating.

00;04;59;02 – 00;05;14;05

Andrew: If you know your “why,” so many of the decisions that you make, the interactions with students, how you handle something with a parent, those decisions have already been made because you’re all centrally focused on what you get up in the morning for as a teacher.

00;05;14;05 – 00;05;28;14

Andrew: And so if a parent calls concerned about a grade, you know, how to handle that because you know what your why is. What if the student cheats on an exam? You know how to handle that Because you know what your why is, and the more that you can spread that in your community of your parents, I think if

00;05;28;14 – 00;05;43;19

Andrew: the students can regurgitate the why, if you’re annoying about it, if it’s on the board, if it’s on the door, if it’s on the classroom webpage, I think that’s something that adds purpose to your class. And I think it gives us a better center for what we’re doing right now.

Andrew’s Why

00;05;43;19 – 00;05;45;02

Vicki: And what’s your why?

00;05;45;02 – 00;05;53;14

Andrew: Well, I think it’s an AP teacher. I wanted the kids to pass the test, and it wasn’t just about the past; it was about all the things that came with the test. First, it was the confidence to finish the race.

00;05;53;22 – 00;06;06;06

Andrew: It was about competing with the best kids in other schools. It was about the self-confidence that they can accomplish something about the love of history. You could say it was about the scores, but for me, it was all about the learning and the things that came with it.

00;06;06;07 – 00;06;13;06

Andrew: I want my students to feel accomplished and confident that they can accomplish something, and that’s something that will serve them forever.

00;06;13;06 – 00;06;15;24

Vicki: OK, so it starts with your why, and then where do you go?

How to create habits in the classroom that help create culture?

00;06;15;24 – 00;06;19;11

Andrew: I think there are many things that help create those habits that we talked about.

00;06;19;23 – 00;06;33;09

Andrew: What are your habits of thinking, reading, writing, communicating with each other? How are we engaging students? How do we use technology? What do we do today? What are the things that we do in class for fun, like the stories that all teachers tell every year?

00;06;33;09 – 00;06;46;18

Andrew: And you know that story’s going to come out or the relate-ability of what’s going on at home and your family and kids eat some of that stuff up. But I think a lot of that culture and that building comes down to the words and phrases you use in class.

00;06;46;25 – 00;07;02;03

Andrew: What do you write on the wall, what’s on the door, or on every handout? The words we use equal the culture, and when your students can use those words back to you. And remember those ten years later,” I remember you always used to say this.” Like, that’s powerful.

00;07;02;04 – 00;07;18;15

Andrew: You know, you’ve got them. When the words you use become the words that we use as a class, I think language is a huge part of it. I think engagement is a huge part of it. Relationships we touched on that a little bit, but all of these come down to the habits that make your class

00;07;18;24 – 00;07;28;25

Andrew: different from the one happening next door. Like, there’s nothing better about my class than yours. There’s nothing better about your class than mine. It’s just different in that room that the class is thriving on.

Teachers Are Repeaters: What Does Andrew Repeat to His Students?

00;07;28;25 – 00;07;34;03

Vicki: So if I talk to your students today, what would they say that Mr. Sharo always says?

00;07;34;19 – 00;07;50;19

Andrew: Five’s don’t grow on trees. I can’t teach you anything if you’re looking out the window, someone is out working you today. So, I mean, there’s, you know, I think there are things. I’m not that creative. So there are things that we repeatedly say, hoping that eventually, it will stick with your students.

00;07;50;28 – 00;08;04;26

Andrew: But a lot of them, I think, are our motivation. All right. We want students to continue pushing forward. We want to continue building that together as a class. And I think if you use those phrases over and over again, it starts to become something that they’re internalizing.

00;08;04;26 – 00;08;08;26

Vicki: Well and even relating it to your topic as you analyze history.

00;08;08;26 – 00;08;25;14

Vicki: You know, as I teach students to analyze technology, if everybody says it’s a good idea, you’re too late, I talk about the pushback you get when you’re truly an innovator, how you feel it in your gut if it’s something that’s an odd or new technology, sometimes you have a visceral response.

Using Feedback to Think About Your Why

00;08;25;14 – 00;08;30;01

Vicki: So you also have those types of things as you help kids analyze history?

00;08;30;01 – 00;08;39;26

Andrew: I think sometimes like you had mentioned, you have to use the opposition to sharpen your vision. And whether that’s a parent, that might be a little concerned about what the kid’s doing at home or what you’re teaching.

00;08;39;27 – 00;08;55;21

Andrew: Oftentimes, it will come from your peers where your peers will hear something about things going on in your classroom. And that’s not just teaching, that’s the workforce too, right? That’s corporate America. That’s other places. And sometimes when you get that negative feedback or sort of those inquisitions that come, I think it forces you to think more

00;08;55;21 – 00;09;10;06

Andrew: about your why it forces you to think more about why you do what you do if you’re relating it, the content, or what you’re teaching. I think it pairs really well with what you’re all about. As a teacher, it should be a package deal in delivering some of the content sort of around the purpose of the class.

00;09;10;07 – 00;09;23;03

Andrew: And I think a lot of it sounds abstract. Right, and like a lot of the folks that come on your show, they could probably talk a lot about content and methods and instructional practices and assessment and delivery. And I might know a little bit about that, maybe more than you think.

00;09;23;03 – 00;09;28;29

Andrew: But if you don’t have any of these things in place, couldn’t you make an argument that none of that other stuff really matters?

00;09;28;29 – 00;09;42;06

Vicki: So fill in the blank, Andrew, when I start a school year with a new set of students, I will know that I have successfully sparked my classroom culture in the direction that I want it to go when ______.

00;09;42;06 – 00;09;57;03

Andrew: I think at the end of the year when the students take a survey or they take an inventory on what the class was all about, and you get that feedback and they say to you, that was the best class that I had all year, or it was the most exciting or engaging class.

00;09;57;03 – 00;10;09;06

Andrew: I had all year. I think we get that positive affirmation from our students a lot. But to hear that it makes all the work, all the relationships, all the grading, all the preparation, that that makes it all worth it.

00;10;09;16 – 00;10;15;25

Andrew: And I think that’s the feedback that we want from our students, that they enjoy the 48 minutes that they spend with us every day.

00;10;15;25 – 00;10;25;24

Vicki: That’s awesome. So the new book is Finding Lifelifes: A Practical Tale about Teacher and Mentors by Andrew Sharos. Thanks for coming on the show and talking about building classroom culture.

00;10;25;28 – 00;10;47;29

Vicki: Voting is now open and Advancement Courses Tournament of Teachers bracket challenge. Would you rather teach Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter or Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Ferris Bueller or Bart Simpson? From now on, until March 30th, 2022, you’ll have a chance to vote for which character you want to see advance through each round and

00;10;47;29 – 00;11;05;02

Vicki: see the winners announced on March 31st, 2022. Go to coolcatteacher.com/tournament to get your votes in and start playing.