Climate and culture are two words as educators we hear a lot. They seem to be two words that are consistently talked about, trained on, and continually being honed and developed in schools. As they should be! Without a strong, positive climate and culture within one’s building or classroom, it doesn’t matter how much new “stuff” you have or how pretty your bulletin boards look, the students won’t feel valued, heard, or seen. And if they are feeling those negative emotions, the pathway to learning just got a whole lot harder. As educators, not only do we want our physical space to look welcoming, but we also need our space to feel welcoming. Students should feel that the classroom is not just the teacher’s space, but theirs as well. A space where their voices matter, they are safe, they are supported, and they are loved.
How do you create such a space? It is by taking the time at the beginning of the year and continually throughout the year, in implementing different activities/lessons that showcase those that make up the community in the classroom. Megan and I do not jump into content right away at the beginning of the school year. We take that precious time to work on building up the climate and culture within our classrooms. We believe wholeheartedly that taking the time at the beginning is so well worth it and will come back to you tenfold in the success you see, not only socially and emotionally but academically as well.
If you were to google climate and culture in the classroom, there are many different ideas from so many amazing educators out there. At times it can seem overwhelming! What we have done is compiled a few different classroom activities/lessons that you could implement to help you get started! These activities/lessons could be implemented at the beginning or the school year, or even throughout the school year to help strengthen the climate and culture in your classroom.
Building Climate & Culture in the Classroom Ideas
1. Me Bags: This is an oldie but a goodie. For this activity, each student is given a paper bag to take home with them. Students then fill the bag with 5 (or however many you choose) items to put in the bag. When they return the bag to school, the student shares what items they have chosen and why. This allows students to get to know one another and allows students to start some great conversations!
2. Morning Message/Joke of the Day: We are huge fans of morning messages! It is such a great way to start the day. With our morning message, we always add on a joke of the day. This has become such a hit in the classroom! Students look forward to the jokes and it's fun to hear them repeating them to other teachers in the building! It has become so popular that we have had to start a Joke Box, where students can submit jokes that they know, hear, or read. It is always fun to watch their expressions when they realize it is one of their jokes on the board!
6. All About Me Collages (Digital): This is a very simple and quick activity you can incorporate in any grade level or class. Students will create a collage of their favorite things or images that will tell about themselves on a digital platform. We like to use the app PicCollage. We love this app and it’s free! As the teacher, you can dictate how many images or items they need on their collage if you feel that your group of students needs that direction. When they are done, you can post them on a digital platform for students to see and comment on. You could also print them, have students speak on what they put in the collages, and then hang the collages in the classroom, in student lockers, or even on a bulletin board. This is one you can make as simple or as extravagant as you would like.
7. Snowball Fight: Who doesn’t like a little bit of Christmas in July?! This one gets students moving, you can involve music, and is simply FUN! Before the snowball fight can begin, you have to make the snowballs. We use cut up strips of paper. It is the teacher's choice of how many strips you want/need. Each student needs to write a fact about themselves on the strip of paper. We encourage more personal things, things that would help distinguish them from the crowd, not just what their favorite color is. After facts are written, students crumple them up. You then divide students up and have them start throwing snowballs! Now, this is where music can come into play. They have to stop when the music does, etc. You can make this as creative or extend this as much as you’d like! By the end students need however many snowballs they began with. Students then take turns reading the fact and guessing which student wrote that fact!
8. Paper Chain Challenge: This challenge encourages soft skills that students need continued practice with, collaboration and communication. Here students are put into groups. The goal is for each group to make the longest paper chain they can using only one piece of construction paper, scissors, and glue. They get 30 minutes to work. They do not get new paper throughout the process so encouraging collaboration and planning is important. At the end of the 30 minutes, have groups lay out their paper chains to see which group has the longest chain! After the chains are done, you can hang them up around the classroom as a reminder of the importance of teamwork, collaboration, and communication.
Now, again, we know there are SO many more ideas that can be implemented in the classroom to help build up the climate and culture. Because there are so many, it at times can feel overwhelming. We simply wanted to provide some ideas and resources from what we have seen success with in our classrooms.
If you have any that you would like to share with us, please do! We’d love to give you a shout out and provide educators with more awesome ideas!
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Megan and Kara are educational leaders, professional development experts, and current classroom teachers who are improving the way instruction is being delivered in the standard classroom.