Make your classroom a place where students want to be by building a positive culture with these tested strategies from a high school math teacher.

Teaching is a rewarding profession. But it can also be really, really difficult. We know that teachers work long hours and often feel isolated and underappreciated. As a teacher, what keeps me going? What makes me feel accomplished and fulfilled, despite the challenges? Why do I get butterflies when I first see the “Back to School” sales in the summer, anticipating that first day when I will meet my new students, full of hope and promise for the future? More than anything, what motivates and inspires me year after year is the opportunity to work at a school that fits who I am as a teacher and what I believe in.

School culture is what makes or breaks teachers. It is invisible, yet impossible to ignore. It grabs us when we walk through the halls and tells us whether or not we want to be there. It can be invigorating when positive, suffocating when negative.

In 13 years of teaching, I have been lucky to work at three diverse schools that each exhibited positive school cultures. Despite their differences, they have several common characteristics. Students, staff, and administrators greet each other by name — and with a smile — in the hallway. Teachers have high expectations, but don’t take themselves too seriously and often play (harmless) practical jokes on one another. They participate in events like Tacky Holiday Sweater Day and don’t hesitate to sign up for a Dizzy Bat Relay during a pep rally. Students hold doors open for each other. Teachers collect money for students who can’t afford prom attire and send cards to colleagues experiencing hardships. Teachers truly enjoy working with each other and view mandatory faculty meetings not as burdens but as opportunities to connect and collaborate. Finding a school with a positive culture — where teachers are supported, trusted, and respected — is crucial to an educator’s success and happiness. It is what makes us stay.

Similarly, a classroom culture dictates whether students want to be in that particular class. Not only do I have the responsibility to maintain a positive school culture and treat my colleagues in the manner in which I would want to be treated, but I also have to ensure that what happens inside my classroom mirrors the school’s culture. If I want students to try their best during my class, I have to create an environment that allows them to flourish as happy, engaged citizens.

I want them to learn how to work with people with different strengths and find common ground.

Daily, I have to intentionally build a positive culture in my classroom. I want my students to want to be at school, in my classroom. Here is a peek into my typical school day, which details time-tested strategies that I use to build a positive culture.

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