6 Ideas for Building Positive Classroom Culture Throughout the Year

Establishing a positive classroom culture can be a tricky endeavor.  You want your classroom to be a warm and inviting place for students to feel welcome and for learning to feel enjoyable, yet at the same time, you need to create a level of respect and a certain understanding that you are in charge when it comes to your classroom and the conduct that will be tolerated while within its four walls.

A row of dark green lockers, open and empty, with the text overlay 6 Ideas to Building Positive Classroom Culture Throughout The Year all inside a golden yellow frame

Welcome Them Ahead of Time

Even before day one, I try to establish a positive classroom culture by reaching out to my students. I send them a letter, postcard, or an email, welcoming them to the school year and introducing them to some of what they will be seeing over the next few days and months.  I find that it takes the edge off the first day and helps to ease the nerves when they know what to expect and they know what their teacher is going to look like ahead of time. It also helps to establish positive communication from the beginning when I share ways to get in touch with me before the school year has even started.

An example of a pre-school year postcard with the words "Positive Communication" written in dark blue across the top and it all inside a golden yellow frame.

A Little Treat Goes A Long Way

A scalloped orange disc, with a light blue disc on top, which holds a Smartie candy. Above is the text, "The first day is a tumultuous day for everyone, so why not help them feel more at ease." All of this is inside a golden yellow rectangular frame.

I also like to welcome my students on the first day with a little treat which they find at their desk as they enter the room.  It may seem a bit elementary, but I find that even my big kids like a treat. It doesn’t have to be candy either. You can give the students a pencil, a ruler, a bookmark, a sticker, or basically anything you think they may enjoy or use throughout the year.

The first day is a tumultuous day for everyone, so why not help them feel more at ease. Showing them you care and you understand the first day jitters, shows you get what it is like to be in their shoes. All of which go a long way to showing respect, understanding, and caring. Plus, it establishes that positive classroom culture from the first day forward.

Reward Positive Behaviors to Help Establish Your Culture

Once the year gets underway, I prefer to rely on a reward-based system to get the desired behaviors I wish to see in my classroom.  Reward cards provide a great incentive to my students to behave properly and they don’t cost me a penny. I usually use a token economy system using tickets or classroom dollars for students to amass currency. These tickets and dollars are awarded whenever I notice students behaving appropriately, completing tasks on time, helping others, etc.

Students then can use their currency to buy reward cards that have a value all their own. Where a positive note home might only be worth 10 tickets, sitting in the teacher’s chair for the day might be worth 50 or more. These Positive Reward Cards are free and available in my VIP Vault.

These brightly colored and fun positive behavior reward passes help set a positive tone and promote a positive classroom culture through reward and positive means, rather than through disciplinary measures.

Hot Seats Can Be Good Seats

Another positive classroom culture technique I like to employ is that which I call the “Hot Seat”. The Hot Seat takes about 5 minutes out of your day, but it is well worth it in the end.  Starting at the end of quarter one, I pick one student to sit in the hot seat each week. Their classmates each get a strip of colored paper.  

While their classmate sits in the hot seat for 5 minutes, the rest of the class is given the task of writing down positive comments they enjoy about their hot-seat classmate.  I then take these strips, double-check them just in case, and bind them for the students as an end-of-year gift.  It’s an affordable and treasured gift that most students keep and cherish for years to come.

8 brightly colored, narrow strips of paper, each with a sentence or two about Billy and his positive attributes. Up above in dark blue are the words "Positive Affirmations" and all of this is inside a golden yellow frame.

“Pat on the Back” Builds Positive Classroom Culture

A sampling of "Pat on the Back" handprints and appreciative comments with a quote "These simple handprints allow for expressions of positive affirmations...leading to a more positive atmosphere..." all inside a golden yellow frame.

Another item I like to use throughout the school year is my “Pat on the Back” recognition cards.  These simple handprints allow students to thank one another, staff members, or anyone they choose, thus leading to a more positive classroom culture within my room or even the entire school building. The important thing is to share them and hang them up in your room or hallway, for everyone to see.

I definitely always have a pile readily available for students to use whenever the mood strikes them. However, sometimes we also have “Pat on the Back” time where I give them 5 minutes to encourage and thank someone in their life. These can be inspiring and thoughtful when used in the right way. These “Pat on the Back recognition cards are also available in my VIP Vault.

Celebrate The Character

Finally, as we round out the year, I love to reward the character I have seen displayed by my students throughout the school year, so rather than give GPA or Honor Roll certificates, I give character awards.  It’s easy to identify a character trait or two that each student has personified during our time together, so I celebrate those moments that really stood out to me, usually shed some tears, and wish them the very best as they head off onto their next endeavor.

Two character certificates with bright backgrounds inside a golden yellow frame. On top is the text "Celebrate Character" and The Colorado Classroom logo.

Hopefully, I’ve provided you with some positive classroom culture ideas that you can add to your repertoire.  Remember, your classroom culture is all up to you and how you decide to address it, so make it a positive one.

The Colorado Classroom signature "Brittany" with a globe.

If you’d like to read more about establishing a positive classroom culture in your room, check out these wonderful posts:


11 thoughts on “6 Ideas for Building Positive Classroom Culture Throughout the Year”

  1. This is great practical advice, Brittany. I am intrigued by the post card, and I love all of your positive rewards. Students are never too old for candy or compliments! Thanks for all of the fantastic ideas!

  2. Wow, these are great ideas. I think I could steal a few of them from you for my high school students. I like to hand out "virtual birthday cake" when my student has a birthday during the school week. They feel special.

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