In the choose-your-own adventure story of ECE, a path diverges between the safe and warm classroom we all love and the rigid unwelcoming classroom no one wants to be a part of.
So which one do you want to choose?
We’re pretty confident it isn’t option number two.
When thinking of the warmest, fuzziest preschool classroom environments out there, most people don’t realize just how many individual factors contribute to that safe and supportive feeling. The classroom setup, the teacher’s demeanor, the way conflict is handled, and even the activities young students are engaged in — collectively, they contribute to a strong positive feeling in the classroom.
And this doesn’t happen by accident. Positive classroom culture is fostered and developed with purpose. Teachers are responsible for this environment and administrators must be there to support them in making it happen.
At a time when the pressure on early childhood educators is greater than ever, we’re here to help make that culture a reality. We’re covering insights, strategies and examples for how teachers and preschool administrators can build a positive classroom culture together.
A positive classroom culture starts in the back office. For practical tips for combating stress and building a ready-for-anything team, don’t miss our Guide to How to Create a Positive Working Culture at your preschool or child care center.
Before we can create a classroom culture, we need to understand exactly what it is.
Depending on your school’s values, you may define a positive classroom culture differently from other preschools or early learning centers. But more often than not, a positive culture is characterized by some key identifiers, including:
A positive classroom culture contributes to a place where students are eager to learn. They feel safe, valued and are free to be themselves.
And the benefits for centers are limitless.
In fact, according to Educating for Democracy, a positive school climate is linked to increased student engagement, prosocial behaviors and improved social-emotional development.
So how can you recognize these traits in your ECE classrooms?
Let’s compare a positive classroom culture and “not-so-positive” classroom culture to help strengthen your positivity radar.
|Positive Classroom Culture||Not-So-Positive Classroom Culture|
|Start of the day||Teachers greet students at the door with a smile from the moment they enter.||The teacher sits at their desk drinking coffee, detached from students unless they approach.|
|Class rules||Are displayed in a visible spot with words and pictures for all students to see and process.||Are implied and only enforced when challenging behaviors or incidents arise.|
|When two students have a disagreement||The teacher recognizes each student’s perspective and facilitates working through the situation.||The teacher does not acknowledge the cause of the conflict and punishes both students.|
|End of the day procedures||Students and teachers come together to wrap-up the day before leaving.||There is no transition from school time to exiting and going home.|
A child’s behavior is influenced by a range of factors and unfortunately, the reasons children behave the way they do aren’t always clear. To help make it a little easier, we’ve curated a list of 5 Behavior Tracking Tools that help unite teachers and families.
As you can probably tell, we are unabashedly in favor of a positive classroom culture because, on a fundamental level, it’s the type of place we would want to learn and to send the kids in our own lives.
But the value of positive classroom culture extends far beyond that — it benefits students, families, teachers, and your early learning business.
So don’t take positive classroom culture for granted. And don’t fall into the trap of believing the school experience is at the mercy of student personalities. Teachers and administrators have a direct influence on classroom culture with every choice they make.
And these choices are worth the effort.
Here are just some of the ways a positive classroom culture can impact learning outcomes, improve team and family experiences, and add tangible value to your ECE business.
A positive classroom actively constructs a learning space and experience that feels safe for students — both physically and emotionally. And that is crucial.
In fact, according to Northwest Missouri State University:
“If students don't have an academic environment where they feel safe, valued as individuals and free to express themselves, they have little chance of reaching their scholastic goals.”
A positive classroom culture often has social-emotional learning (SEL) inherently embedded within it. When students see their teacher modeling desired positive behaviors, they learn to handle disappointment and experience playful social interactions more easily. In essence, their SEL muscles get stronger.
The SEL skills they practice early on help shape their development throughout adolescence and beyond.
A positive classroom culture can have an incredible impact on teachers — especially our amazing (though often burnt-out) preschool and early childhood educators.
Speaking of behavior, did you know that behavioral psychologist Dr. Arthur Staats created the time out after realizing he needed a break from his own kids? Learn more about how we moved from a generation of spanking to one of positive discipline in this deep dive into the history of the time out.
By now, it’s clear. A positive classroom culture is something students, families, and teachers want to experience. This translates to higher enrollment, easier recruitment, and improved staff retention.
Let’s go back to that choose-your-own-adventure scenario for a minute. Imagine a new family coming to tour your preschool.
They could see smiling teachers engaging with curious students. Or they could see quiet teacher-centric classrooms.
Parents could witness a student crying with supportive peers around. Or they could see stress and chaos surrounding the situation.
Which school do you think they’d want their family to be a part of?
With the right classroom culture, your preschool’s marketing strategy practically executes itself.
There’s no exact formula for building a positive classroom culture but we’re going to do what we can to demystify it, starting with three key elements.
Expectations show people how they can succeed. When they’re not clearly communicated, feeling successful becomes much more challenging.
Incorporate clear and reliable expectations into your ECE culture:
From fun facts like their favorite season to important details like if their parents are divorced, there is so much to know about each of your students and their families. Everything you learn helps you understand them better.
Building relationships with students and families also shows you care, and that they’re a part of your community.
To get started, you can:
This kind of hands-on relationship-building allows you to help young children grow with respect to their unique personalities and lives.
As an educator, this one should come as no surprise.
Modeling behaviors is an extremely effective (and fun!) way to promote a positive culture in your classroom. Plus, it requires no major transformation of curriculum, activities, or physical space!
Here are a few easy ways to start modeling behaviors for the culture you want:
Still looking for inspiration on ways to cultivate that positive classroom? Check out some of our favorite ideas below!
Positive classroom cultures support academic, social and emotional growth while also engaging your teachers and families. The right culture fosters an environment of safety and care while being clear about expectations and routines. In a positive classroom, there are purposeful learning spaces where students can have fun, explore, create and grow.
But ultimately, a positive classroom culture doesn’t come down to one type of teaching pedagogy or a special certificate you can obtain. It’s all about the choices we make every day as early childhood education leaders.
And with all the benefits these learning environments provide, we’re positive it’s worth a shot.