Especially for newer teachers, creating a positive classroom culture is a challenge, no matter the environment. However, it can be done with hard work and perseverance in building a positive classroom community. Read more about how I mold my classroom environment into a positive one and what I learned from an exhausting and difficult experience walking into an out-of-control classroom my first year.
The first half year I taught, I did not smile. I did not suffer excuses. I frequently wrote students up. Granted, I walked into a unique situation. I've written about it before, so I won't go into detail here, but suffice it to say that I took over classes mid-year in a troubled urban school after the teacher had been fired.

I did help bring order to chaos, and it felt good to have "succeeded," but I was miserable. I've recently concluded that I was so miserable because I entered a culture of chaos that somebody else had created and instead of trying to reshape it into a positive culture, I simply managed the old culture to death. That was exhausting.

"Classroom Culture" has become an educational phrase du jour, on the menu right alongside "Growth Mindset," "Flex-Grouping," "1:1," "Blended Learning," "Differentiation," and "Formative Assessment."  In education, we often hear phrases thrown around without a lot of advice as to their practical implementation.

Merriam Webster defines culture (the kind we're discussing) as "a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)."

Merriam Webster defines positive (the kind we're hoping for) as "thinking about the good qualities of someone or something: thinking that a good result will happen: hopeful or optimistic."

So let's talk implementing a positive classroom culture, one aspect of Webster's definition at a time.
Especially for newer teachers, creating a positive classroom culture is a challenge, no matter the environment. However, it can be done with hard work and perseverance in building a positive classroom community. Read more about how I mold my classroom environment into a positive one and what I learned from an exhausting and difficult experience walking into an out-of-control classroom my first year.


Especially for newer teachers, creating a positive classroom culture is a challenge, no matter the environment. However, it can be done with hard work and perseverance in building a positive classroom community. Read more about how I mold my classroom environment into a positive one and what I learned from an exhausting and difficult experience walking into an out-of-control classroom my first year.We should focus on our students' good qualities. Everybody has them, and we need to find them. Even when they are misbehaving, we should not allow that to define who they are for us. We should address and have consequences for misbehavior, but we should always look for the positive in our students.

Especially for newer teachers, creating a positive classroom culture is a challenge, no matter the environment. However, it can be done with hard work and perseverance in building a positive classroom community. Read more about how I mold my classroom environment into a positive one and what I learned from an exhausting and difficult experience walking into an out-of-control classroom my first year.They should see that we are optimistic about who they are. On the first day of school, I have students fill out an index card. One of the things they put on it are their interests. I try to ask them about those interests and even bring them into lessons (usually tied into bellringers) and attend extra curricular events when I can.

Here are a couple of examples of how I've tied student interests into bellringers in a world history course:
- Classical Greece: A student mentioned she liked the Percy Jackson novels, so I showed a clip from the film and we discussed how it tied into the mythology we had been discussing. She was a quiet student but ended up leading that discussion.
- Middle Ages: I had a student who didn't have much success in school but competed in archery tournaments explain a demo of the English Longbow that I had shown from YouTube as a bellringer.

Not every student feels good about our respective subjects. If we behave as if we know that they are more than a grade in our class, we are creating a positive culture for them.

Especially for newer teachers, creating a positive classroom culture is a challenge, no matter the environment. However, it can be done with hard work and perseverance in building a positive classroom community. Read more about how I mold my classroom environment into a positive one and what I learned from an exhausting and difficult experience walking into an out-of-control classroom my first year.I work hard in my classroom. I work to plan lessons that I hope are engaging. I work to have grades posted in a timely manner. I take a lot of pride in my classroom. I work hard because I have hope that a "good result will happen."

I expect for my students to do the same. I am optimistic that if I take the work seriously and do my part, then so will the students.

When my son was three, I went to a talk on parenting led by child psychologist John Rosemond. One thing that he said really stood out to me. 

He said that in his younger days, he used to tell parents, "If you do this or that, you will get positive results."

He said that he wished he could take all of his "method" talk back. Equations for good behavior imply that the onus of good behavior is on the parent or teacher and it negates the reality of the child's free will.

All the parent or teacher can do is model for the child and expect to be obeyed. If the child chooses to do wrong, there should be consequences, but no amount of consequences can ensure that a child will choose right.

And so it is with all of us (life, liberty, and all), and so it is in the classroom.

Will they all follow my lead? Will they all think positively? Will they all behave optimistically? Will they all work diligently?

Well, no, they won't. But that doesn't mean that I can't expect them to and model those behaviors for them. That is what creating a positive classroom culture is all about. Oh, and of course, have consequences in place. Consequences are very, very important.

But we should never expect those consequences to control. That is exhausting. And it moves the onus of the students' behavior onto us. That's not where it belongs, and there's nothing positive about that.

Especially for newer teachers, creating a positive classroom culture is a challenge, no matter the environment. However, it can be done with hard work and perseverance in building a positive classroom community. Read more about how I mold my classroom environment into a positive one and what I learned from an exhausting and difficult experience walking into an out-of-control classroom my first year.Want more insight into creating a positive classroom culture? I know I do! Check out these other posts on the same topic from other classroom teachers.

Thanks to Desktop Learning Adventures and ELA Buffet for hosting!




You can make your students write all you want, but will they get better at it? Simply doing something over and over again doesn't improve your skills at it, necessarily. Deliberately practicing writing skills in meaningful ways, using mentor texts and mentor sentences as examples, will help improve students' skills when they write frequently. Read more about how I've implemented this practice in my own classroom, in both ELA and social studies, in this post.
If you are daunted by writing instruction, this post is for you. If you are looking for more 1:1 information, please check back next week. Writing is on my mind tonight. 

One of the most daunting tasks for any teacher is teaching writing. In the era of texting and Snap Chat, it can feel almost hopeless. I taught 8th through 11th grade ELA for six years before moving on to social studies, and it is an issue in both subjects.

Regardless of the subject I am teaching, I always require writing. Students should be doing it, and practice makes perfect, right?

Well, actually, wrong. If students are writing, that’s beneficial, and it has its place. They should be doing it. But if I sing in my typical off-key fashion every night in a friendly game of Rock Band with my son and husband, I may become more comfortable at singing, but I’m not going to get any better at it. I’m still singing off key.

Likewise, my students can journal and write essays on a weekly basis and become comfortable doing so, but they may not actually get any better at it. Eighteen weeks later, they are in the routine of writing, but their sentences are still not varied, their subjects and verbs still don’t agree, and their capitalization and punctuation are still inconsistent.

So what do we as teachers do about this? When I was working on my gifted endorsement 12 years ago, the instructor said, “If it’s not an ELA class, we should only grade the students on their content and not count off for grammar and mechanics.”

I have never disagreed with something more strongly in my career as an educator.

Writing is a medium for conveying ideas. If students are using that medium, then regardless of the subject we are teaching, they should use that medium correctly.

Would you ask a student to create a PowerPoint and accept a single slide packed with text? You would probably expect students to follow some guidelines in creating an effective presentation. The medium AND the content matter.

Why should that be any different for writing? Writing is not just the problem of the ELA teacher. Writing spans all of the content areas. Students should become adept at using the medium.

We all, then, regardless of our content area, need to have a writing emphasis. The question then becomes—how do we teach it effectively? Just having students do it is helpful, but it is not sufficient.

I became interested in generative grammar about 11 years ago when I was fumbling with this question as I was working on my Specialist degree. Generative grammar is essentially all about the logic and structure of language. It was originated by linguist Noam Chomsky. In essence, you use existing sentences to generate new ones.

I created a simple sentence imitation program that I used in my own classroom as a daily warm up and saw distinct improvements in student writing. But I never fully fleshed it out until recently.
It has become a daily writing program called “Writing Blocks.” Writing Blocks is based on the principles of generative grammar and sentence imitation that I became intrigued by so many years ago, but the true value and function of sentence imitation crystallized for me fairly recently. It all started with my addiction to podcasts.

I love podcasts. One of my favorites is FREAKONOMICS. Back in April, they did a series on self-improvement. One of the episodes was centered around K.A. Ericsson’s research on deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is the idea that anyone can become an expert at almost anything if they devote time each day to meaningful practice.

I have absolutely no musical talent, and again, if I sing in a Rock Band game every night, I may become more comfortable at singing, but the quality of my voice probably won’t improve. However, if I hire a voice coach and work on scales and improving my range and ear daily, I’m more likely to improve. That is meaningful, deliberate practice.

But what is meaningful practice when it comes to writing? I think it goes back to generative grammar. Students should look at existing sentences, consider their structure and meaning, and imitate them.
Most writers begin by reading and are somewhat derivative at first. On that same episode of Freakonomics, here’s what Malcolm Gladwell, an established writer had to say about his craft:

"I began as a writer trying to write like William F. Buckley, my childhood hero. And if you read   my early writing, it was insanely derivative. All I was doing was looking for models and copying them. And years of doing that — out of years of doing that, emerges my own style."

Gladwell did this by being a life-long reader. Many of our students have not been. So how do we help them make up for lost time?

That is difficult to do, just as it is difficult to learn a foreign language in old age, but it can be done. 

That is what this program attempts to do.


Each day, students are exposed to a different sentence. They discuss the sentence. They play with its order and its meaning. They imitate it. At the end of each week, they use those sentence patterns to construct a paragraph. At the end of six weeks, they use one of those paragraphs to construct an essay.

It comes with examples, rubrics, PowerPoint Presentations, and foldable graphic organizers. Check out this video preview:


You can make your students write all you want, but will they get better at it? Simply doing something over and over again doesn't improve your skills at it, necessarily. Deliberately practicing writing skills in meaningful ways, using mentor texts and mentor sentences as examples, will help improve students' skills when they write frequently. Read more about how I've implemented this practice in my own classroom, in both ELA and social studies, in this post.You can grab a free sample of the program HERE.


How do you teach writing? Leave a comment below, and let me know!





Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Back to Top