Setting The Tone For A Positive Learning Environment
Every teacher has a responsibility to provide a healthy learning environment for his or her students. Over the years, volumes of research have been conducted to help teachers determine what works best for the students. There is a wealth of methods and techniques that, through research, have been proven to improve the quality of the learning environment. Many different aspects of the learning environment should be considered.
A positive learning environment is one in which school staff, students, and parents build safe and peaceful environments where people feel accepted and respected and where learning is the main focus (Stratman, n.d.). Therefore, a positive school climate exists when all students feel comfortable, wanted, valued, accepted, and secure in an environment where they can interact with caring people they trust. A positive school climate affects everyone associated with the school, being the students, staff, parents, and the community. It is the belief system or culture that underlies the day-to-day operation of a school. “Improved school climate is a goal to pursue. Educators need to constantly work toward improving their school climate, culture, and conditions so that student learning is improved” (Noonan, 2004 p.64). How Teachers Can Set the Tone for a Positive Learning Environment
There are many things a teacher can do to make his or her classroom a safe and positive place for students to learn. First and foremost, a teacher needs to be enthusiastic about her or himself. They must come in with an energetic attitude. They must be positive because it radiates. How the teacher feels and appears it will affect the classroom. The teacher is the facilitator, the teacher sets an example, and the teacher is the role model. Attitude goes a long way.
When teachers come to work stressed-out, it can be damaging to the students. A study conducted by Yoon (2002) investigated whether or not teacher stress, negative affect, and self-efficacy would predict the quality of student-teacher relationships. Findings suggested, “negative teacher-student relationships were predicted by teacher stress. Significant correlations were found among negative affect, teacher stress and negative relationships”(p.486).
The teacher should also share with the students the importance of an education and the importance of being independent. So if they see a teacher enthused about learning and ideas are shared, then the students will feel the same as well. Teachers can also help create a positive environment by simply caring for the students and showing each of them that they are special. Furthermore, they should be taught to respect and care for each other.
Teachers should regularly conduct research to stay up-to-date on the best practices and methods to use in creating a positive learning environment. Freda Glatt, a retired teacher who firmly believes in the benefits of a positive learning environment has shared some tips on creating a positive learning environment through the Sandral Sensations website (2003):
Make sure each child knows that he is important to you as an individual. Give eye contact and a pleasant greeting to every child each morning. Look and sound enthusiastic when a child makes progress on a skill he is finding difficult. Anytime is a good time for a smile.
Teach students to help rather than to laugh. It takes a lot of bravery to participate when you are unsure of yourself. Bring that to your class’ attention by doing some role-playing. Ask how they felt when their classmates laughed at them. Remind your pupils that everyone is human and makes mistakes…but that it is okay and expected. You do not want them to fear being ridiculed if they ask a question or answer incorrectly.
Take note of your students’ strengths and let them help you throughout the year. Make a positive statement before giving a correction. Your reaction when a child gets an answer wrong is also important. “A positive statement, followed by a negative one, helps to soften the blow and you remind students that you care” (Burnett, 1999, p.3).
George Stratman of the San Diego County Office of Education (n.d.) has created a useful list of “10 Subtle Ways to Create a Positive Learning Environment”, which can be a useful guide of elementary school teachers:
1. Begin your week by “nesting.” Students need time upon arrival to become familiar with and comfortable in their new surroundings. Take time during your first class to discuss the week and what they will be doing and to answer questions they may have.
2. Use the students’ names. They will feel that you know them and care about them.
3. Catch them being good. Praise the group and individuals when they do well. (Be careful not to over praise an individual. Telling the other students that they should behave “just like Suzy” can be counterproductive–and not necessarily appreciated by Suzy.)
4. Dignify wrong answers. If a child gives a wrong answer, give him or her credit for trying, and if possible, relate their answer to the subject matter. For example, if you are asking the students for an example of a decomposer and a student answers “manzanita,” you could respond by saying, “the manzanita is a vital part of this ecosystem, so you’re on the right track. However, I’m looking for a living organism that would help break down the manzanita into soil after it dies.”
5. Give students a second chance to answer correctly. You could follow-up on the situation above by giving all the students an opportunity to share with their neighbors some examples of decomposers. Once it is clear that everyone has an answer, tell the student (above) that you will give him/her another opportunity and then, after you’ve taken an answer or two from other students, call on that student again.
6. Don’t “zap” students. If a student is misbehaving, try and redirect the behavior in subtle ways such as moving closer to that individual, utilizing his or her name in a sentence during instruction (such as “let’s say we were walking on the trail and Johnny came across a deer track…”), or a gentle hand on the shoulder. If you must address the child directly and aggressively, pull him/her away from the group. If you overtly discipline a child in front of the group, others may be afraid to participate for fear of the same treatment.
7. Phrase your questions in a manner that is non-threatening. It is better to ask, “who would like to share with the group…” than to ask “who knows the answer to…” as the latter implies that if you don’t raise your hand, you don’t know.
8. Allow for thinking time. After you ask a question or give instructions give the students time to process. If you give instructions and ask for questions but do not provide wait time, children who process slower than others may not understand and will feel lost once the activity starts. Students who are not given adequate time to consider when answering a question will similarly feel left out.
9. Don’t repeat answers. When a student makes a comment, let his/her comment stand on its own. If you repeat the answer, the students will be trained to listen only to the teacher and you will steal some of the “thunder” away from the student. If you think the others did not hear, have the student repeat the answer. (Note: this technique may not work when addressing 200 people, but is very effective with a smaller group.)
10. Give the students choices. Make sure the choices you give are acceptable to you. For instance, you can say “today we are going to climb ‘Daredevil Hill,’ would you like to do that before or after lunch?” Giving some choice in activities, or at least the order, gives the students some control and buy-in for their week.
How Parents Can Set the Tone for a Positive Learning Environment:
Parents can also play a part in creating a positive learning environment (Muijs, 2004). Teachers should expect parents to work with their child and school personnel to support the learning of their child and the learning environment of the school. The Canadian Education Act 1997) asserts certain expectations for parents. These are to: “meet the basic needs of their child; ensure their child attends school; encourage their child to complete assigned homework; attend to their child’s conduct while the child is at school and on the way to and from school; communicate reasonably with school personnel.” (Canadian Education Act, 1997, p.1).
Just as the teacher’s attitude plays a role in establishing the positive environment, the parents’ attitudes also take effect (Ajzen, 1988, p.10). Parents can help by sending the child off to school on a positive note. If a parent smiles as he or she wishes the child a nice day and says “I love you”, the child is already approaching the day with a positive outlook and will be more receptive to learning (Ajzen, 1988, p.10).
In conclusion, with the support and dedication of the teachers, parents, and administration, any learning environment can and should be transformed into a positive learning environment. Clearly, everyone has a different role to play and a responsibility to fulfill in order to maintain the positive environment. There are many benefits to maintaining a positive learning environment. “Positive learning environments in schools will maximize the learning of every student; Help children and youth become full participating citizens of society; Help to build a sense of community; Lead to cost savings and economic benefits as prevention is less expensive than incarceration” (Positive Learning Environments in Schools, 2005).
Ajzen, I. (1988). Attitudes, personality, & behavior. Chicago: The Dorsey Press.
Burnett, P. (1999). The impact of teachers’ praise on students’ self-talk and self-concepts. New South Wales, Aus: Teaching and Teacher Education. Retrieved September 15, 2005, from ERIC database.
Canadian Education Act.(1997) Retrieved Sep. 14, 2005, from
DiGiulio, R. (2001). Educate, medicate, or litigate? what teachers, parents, and administrators must do about student behavior.. California, US: Educational Management. Retrieved September 15, 2005, from ERIC database.
Doctor, S. (1997). Creating a positive school climate. Towards Inclusion: Tapping Hidden Strengths, 3. Retrieved Sep 14, 2005, from
Glatt, F. J. (2003). Retrieved Sep. 14, 2005, from Reading is FUNdamental Web site: http://www.sandralreading.com.
Johnson, C., Templeton, R., & Guofang, W. (2000). Pathways to peace: promoting non-violent learning environments.. Chicago: Elementary and Early Childhood Education. Retrieved September 16, 2005, from ERIC database.
Muijs, D., Harris A., Chapman C., and Stoll, L. (2004). Improving schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas–a review of research evidence. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 15(2), 149-175.