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How to Build a Strong Classroom Culture

As an educator, one of the most important things you can do is create a classroom culture that helps students thrive. If you’re a new teacher, you may be looking for tangible ways to make your students feel respected, seen, and comfortable. Rocketship’s Manager of Professional Development, Kane Koller, is here to break down exactly how our educators create a vibrant, goal-oriented, inclusive school environment that helps teachers build strong relationships with students to reach their potential.

1. Identify your core values and choose one to center your culture around.
A strong school culture is intentionally built with values that staff and students keep top of mind when they walk through the door each day. Choose a set of values to center your school around. For example, Rocketship has network-wide core values such as persistence, empathy, responsibility, and respect. However, each school partners with their founding parents to choose the fifth core value to center their campus and classroom culture around. Some of those include grit, ganas, and love. Once you have a school-specific value, find ways to weave it into the school day through daily assignments (e.g. “how did this character show ganas?”), as well as in school-wide celebrations (e.g. spotlighting 3rd-grade students that showed integrity in their classrooms throughout the fall).

2. Create daily school-wide routines that celebrate and reinforce classroom values.
Routines are key for creating safe spaces where students know what to do and expect. Just like each school has values to operate from, each educator may have a set of values they want to bring to their classroom. For instance, if your classroom values are safety, community, and efficiency, then you’ll want routines that communicate to students that their learning is important, and they don’t have time to waste. Simultaneously, you’ll also want your time with students to be purposeful and filled with joy. That’s why we design systems that reinforce our values as a school, honor our students’ individuality and growth, and make learning fun. For example, check out the below from one of our classrooms showing a practice sight word drill. We’ll come back to this video later, but notice how most students know exactly what they need to do at each stage of the process, and how the teacher makes sight word practice both communal and engaging.

3. Practice, practice, practice!
The key elements of great teaching are embedded in great practice. Whether it’s lesson rehearsals, “layup drills” for quick redirections in behavior management, or working with students in any grade level, it’s true that practice makes perfect. Let’s take the sight word drill above. Imagine the first time the teacher worked through that with their students. We can assume, it probably didn’t go as well. Routines, and nearly anything we want to do “excellently” in a space, improve with focused repetition and feedback. This teacher likely had to think about where and how the students were sitting, how to “cue” the students to start, what to say and to think about follow up. Great routines and great classroom culture is done intentionally, and that takes deliberate practice to really shine.

4. Work to include all learners and form authentic partnerships.
Teaching is hard, no doubt. We recognize that and honor our teachers’ experiences and encourage them to do the same with our students. Any strong classroom culture should reflect the rich diversity of the communities and identities students arrive with each day.

By thoughtfully partnering with parents during home visits and community meetings, we welcome parents and the broader community so they feel agency in the growth of both their child and the school. Think about how you can get creative to better engage parents at your school.

At Rocketship, we’ve started the Los Dichos program, where our parents read culturally-relevant texts with our Rocketeers in the classroom. We’ve also collaborated with our curriculum design teams to feature a broader range of experiences in storybooks. Similarly, through some of our Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion professional development, our teachers and leaders get the chance to dialogue about their own identities and how that comes to life in their roles as educators. We are making conscious efforts to reach out and partner with others and be welcoming to all the stakeholders that take part in the educational experience for our kids.

Creating a strong school and classroom culture is an exciting opportunity to be intentional about what you’re building and encouraging in your learning environment. We hope this helps!

Published on September 26, 2020

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