Establishing Classroom Culture
Establishing a classroom culture within the first six weeks of school is crucial for the success of a learning community. To facilitate an inclusive community culture, educators should establish routines and expectations with students, use language with intention to reflect the ideal of the environment, and foster student voice, choice and ownership through authentic learning experiences.
At All Learners Network, we believe classroom communities begin to take shape when teachers establish routines, expectations and the learning environment itself with students. Classrooms do not have to be set up before students arrive. In fact, physical space and community expectations done with students encourages agency and ownership. The environment becomes a space to model, practice, and reflect upon behaviors. This initial shared development process creates a culture that values productive and independent identities, community management of the environment, and personal and collective responsibility for how the community looks, sounds and feels. This authentic social emotional work also builds in opportunities for students to problem solve, navigate collaboration and compromise, make group decisions and develop a sense of self within a supportive environment. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) should not be siloed into a set of discrete skills. Students must be exploring responsible decision making, social and self-awareness, relationship skills and self-management within authentic experiences from the beginning of the year (CASEL, 2022).
Another crucial component, that can not be overstated, in the development of community culture is the language educators use and model with students. Educators, with all good intentions, sometimes send messages to kids, which they internalize, about what they are capable of or why they should be engaged. Teachers can affect culture by asking students to reflect and make meaning on their own and own the work they do. When learning becomes the students’ process they build agency, independence, collective responsibility and self-management. Consider the following language shift examples:
In application, specific to math education, the All Learners Lesson Structure: Launch/Number Sense Routines, Main Lesson (mini-lesson), Math Menu (just right math time), and Closure provides a context for weaving together content and community development through engaging and authentic instructional practices that develop a culture of belonging and inclusion for all students. Within Launch/Number Sense Routines students are offered engaging open ended tasks that are inclusive of all students. Through these tasks all students are valued as capable problem solvers and as such are asked to turn and talk, justify their ideas, agree and disagree and provide feedback and critiques of their own ideas and others. Students begin their math experience practicing critical SEL skills and feeling a sense of belonging within an authentic task. This engagement sets the tone for the entirety of the math block. Similarly, students do not all engage in the same way, therefore; educators must create learning experiences that provide multiple means of engagement, expression and representation and action (CAST, 2022). During Math Menu student voice and choice are central to their learning and practice with just right math. Again, through instruction students are afforded opportunities to make connections and decisions about their learning and are all held to the same high standards of practice within an inclusive environment. During Main Lesson and Closure all students are provided access to high quality grade level content with their peers. Every student is engaged in the task and learning process through universal inclusive practices. Universal practices share Teachers must believe in the capacity of all learners and allow for productive struggle by both individuals and collaborative groups. This creates a culture of belief and values each students’ progress.
Establishing classroom culture should include students at every phase and be done through authentic and inclusive academic tasks. The All Learners Lesson Structure offers opportunities for every student to belong to a community that values their ideas and honors their capabilities and capacity for growth. When educators create these types of balanced learning environments, reinforce expectations for learning with intentional agency building language, and humanizing experiences students are afforded opportunities to belong, thrive and grow in an inclusive and rigorous learning culture.