Home Grade LevelAll Grades What is classroom culture? How do I create classroom culture?

What is classroom culture? How do I create classroom culture?

by Vicki Davis
25 minutes read
773 what is classroom culture

Classroom culture defines your classroom. You can feel a classroom culture, but what is a classroom culture? How do you build a positive classroom culture? In this show, Andrew Sharos, author of Finding Lifelifes: A Practical Tale about Teacher and Mentors, shares how to create a thriving classroom culture. He also talks about creating positive classroom habits. Furthermore, you'll learn how he measures the success of his classroom culture.

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Voting is now open in the Advancement Courses’ Tournament of Teachers bracket challenge. Would you rather teach Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter or Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Ferris Bueller or Bart Simpson? From now until March 30, you’ll have a chance to vote for which character you want to see advance through each round and see the winners announced on March 31. So, go to https://www.coolcatteacher.com/tournament to get your votes in and start playing.
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What is classroom culture?

The Oxford Reference defines “culture” as

"The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group."

In this, case, we’re talking about the customs of your classroom. Of course, we want our classrooms to have a positive, nurturing culture.

But how do we create a positive classroom culture?

My Mom was my mentor. She told me, “whatever happens in the front office, Vicki, when you close the door, what happens in your classroom is because of you. The teacher makes the weather, Vicki.” So I know whether it is stormy, rainy, or full of sunshine that classroom culture is on me as the teacher.

This is intuitive, but first, let's look at some research.

Teacher-Student Relationships Matter

The American Psychological Association has emphasized the importance of improving student-teacher relationships. It says, “Positive teacher-student relationships draw students into the process of learning and promote their desire to learn (assuming that the content material of the class is engaging, age-appropriate and well matched to the student's skills).”

Thus, student-teacher relationships are part of classroom culture. But also, student-student relationships need to be encouraging and positive.

Research from Malik and Risvi supports a classroom culture that gets students in active in the classroom. They said, “active involvement of the low achievers may affect their learning more positively.”

Episode 773- The 10 Minute Teacher Podcast

What is classroom culture? How do I create classroom culture?

Andrew Sharos
Award-winning AP History Teacher, Author

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Classroom Culture References Mentioned In This Post

Andrew Sharos - Bio As Submitted

andrew sharos

Andrew Sharos, Award winning AP History teacher

Andrew is an educator, author, speaker, and consultant. He has authored two books, Finding Lifelines and All 4s and 5s, the latter of which was an Amazon best-seller.

He was a finalist for the Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year Award in 2014  In 2018, Andrew was named the winner of College Board's “Distinguished Service Award,” given to a forceful spokesperson for educational and societal goals.

Andrew currently works as an Assistant Principal and the CEO/Founder of the Village Project Consulting Team that provides speaking, consulting, and professional development to schools on the topics of school and classroom culture, instructional methods, and new teacher training. 

Blog: www.andrewsharos.com

Twitter: @AndrewSharosAP


What is classroom culture? How do I create classroom culture? - Transcript

What is classroom culture?

00;00;05;15 – 00;00;20;05

Vicki: What is classroom culture, and how do I build a positive classroom culture? That's the topic of episode 773 now. My mom was my mentor, and she always said to me, “Vicki, whatever happens in the front office, when you close the door to your classroom, what happens there and how it feels is really up to you.”

00;00;20;05 – 00;00;38;25

Vicki: And she was right. She was talking about classroom culture. Now there are two pieces of research we want to relate to. The first is from the American Psychological Association, which talked about how improving student-teacher relationships draws students into the process of learning and promotes their desire to learn.

00;00;38;25 – 00;00;53;10

Vicki: And indeed, that's part of classroom culture. Additionally, there is some 2018 research from Mali and Risvi that I'll link to in the show notes that low achievers' active involvement may positively affect their learning. So today's topic is an important one.

00;00;53;10 – 00;01;30;19

Vicki: What is classroom culture? And, how do I build a positive classroom culture? Episode 773 

Sponsor – Advancement Courses

Today's podcast is sponsored by Advancement Courses. Their Tournament of Teachers Bracket Challenge is well underway, featuring some of the most well-known mischief-makers in books and film. Stay tuned at the show's end to find out how to start voting for your favorites. 

Introduction to Andrew Sharos

Vicki: Today, we're talking with Andrew Sharos, author of Finding Lifelifes: A Practical Tale about Teachers and Mentors. We've had him on the show before talking about All 4's and 5's: Secrets to AP Teaching Success

Andrew, today we're talking about building classroom culture, so how do we start building classroom culture?

What creates your classroom culture?

00;01;30;19 – 00;01;37;08

Andrew Sharos: Thanks so much for having me on, and I think classroom culture is all about the habits you have in your class.

00;01;37;09 – 00;01;53;03

Andrew:: What are the things that you do daily, and what are the things that define what you're all about? The classroom teacher it's not the kind of stuff that scores out on a teaching rubric. It's not the kind of stuff you get evaluated on all the time.

00;01;53;12 – 00;02;04;17

Andrew: It's not even the kind of stuff that you go to school to talk about methods and delivery and content and all that stuff. But it's something that someone else could walk into a room, and they can feel it.

00;02;04;20 – 00;02;19;28

Andrew: They can sense it. They can't see it. It's like oxygen. It's there, but without it, there's no light. And so I think maybe now more than ever, I'm sure you've been hearing this a lot, right? But now, more than ever, classroom culture is so essential to the pulse of our class.

Andrew Sharos’ Classroom Culture

00;02;21;02 – 00;02;25;23

Vicki: Now, as you talk about classroom culture, what does your classroom look like right now?

00;02;25;23 – 00;02;33;18

Andrew: So I think it has to be a place of empathy. Certainly, it's something that we're we're all trying to do better and listen to each other and understand each other's situations.

00;02;34;01 – 00;02;47;12

Andrew: It has to be a place with deep connections and relationships between the teachers and the students. I think the pendulum has swung that way pretty hard in the last five or ten years where they used to tell us, you know, don't get too close to the students.

00;02;47;26 – 00;03;04:05

Andrew: And now it's like they want us to be. And I think we're called to be another positive force in many of our kids' lives. And that involves a lot of effort on our part as educators and reaching out and trying to kind of chisel away at one of our what our students are and how we can help them.

Great teachers relate to educate.

you have to relate to educate

00;03;04;05 – 00;03;07;01

Vicki: As I always say, you have to relate to educate, don't you?

00;03;07;01 – 00;03;13;22

Andrew: No doubt. I think I've heard you say that before on this very podcast; you must believe it! That must mean you believe it. I love it!

00;03;14;07 – 00;03;22;15

Vicki: It is the secret of success. The great teachers I've known all related to their students, and then they were able to educate.


00;03;22;15 – 00;03;28;07

Andrew: Well, here's the secret to teaching, right? You have to get kids to do what you want them to do and whatever you want them to do that day.

00;03;28;14 – 00;03;35;27

Andrew: They're not going to do unless there is a relationship, a relatability, sort of a why behind everything they're doing in class.

00;03;35;27 – 00;03;43;07

Vicki: Hopefully, it's things that they want to do, you know, that it becomes intrinsic somehow if you can unleash that intrinsic desire.

00;03;43;07 – 00;03;47;21

Vicki: that I want to do this, or even if they think it's their idea, that's even better.

Encouraging Students to Become Passionate About Learning

00;03;47;21 – 00;04;00;20

Andrew: Well, nothing brings us more joy than when they start to share your passion. And if it's for the content area, for if it's sparks of thought or something they want to research or get into, or if you're a high school teacher

00;04;00;20 – 00;04;07;20

Andrew: something they want to do for the rest of their lives. That's the stuff that makes us excited in our profession.

Start with the Why

00;04;07;20 – 00;04;12;27

Vicki: It does. So how do we get started in building that kind of that culture?

00;04;12;27 – 00;04;16;18

Andrew: Well, I always think you have to start with the why, and I know that's a trendy thing right now

00;04;16;18 – 00;04;33;26

Andrew: in education, talking about the why and creating this collective mission-based thing as a class is about we. And not me. And I mean this respectfully. But I think if students are asking you constantly, “Hey, what are we doing today or what are we doing in class today?”

00;04;34;20 – 00;04;46;05

Andrew: They don't understand your why? Because if they did, they wouldn't have to ask about the what. And I think if your students are thinking about the what and the how it's because they're functioning on this diet that we're feeding them.

00;04;46;06 – 00;04;59;01

Andrew: If students were to ask me, what's the ultimate cause of the Civil War? I've still got to be able to make that argument for a student. I get that the “how” and the “what's really important.” But understanding your “why” as a teacher, it's liberating.

00;04;59;02 – 00;05;14;05

Andrew: If you know your “why,” so many of the decisions that you make, the interactions with students, how you handle something with a parent, those decisions have already been made because you're all centrally focused on what you get up in the morning for as a teacher.

00;05;14;05 – 00;05;28;14

Andrew: And so if a parent calls concerned about a grade, you know, how to handle that because you know what your why is. What if the student cheats on an exam? You know how to handle that Because you know what your why is, and the more that you can spread that in your community of your parents, I think if

00;05;28;14 – 00;05;43;19

Andrew: the students can regurgitate the why, if you're annoying about it, if it's on the board, if it's on the door, if it's on the classroom webpage, I think that's something that adds purpose to your class. And I think it gives us a better center for what we're doing right now.

Andrew's Why

00;05;43;19 – 00;05;45;02

Vicki: And what's your why?

00;05;45;02 – 00;05;53;14

Andrew: Well, I think it's an AP teacher. I wanted the kids to pass the test, and it wasn't just about the past; it was about all the things that came with the test. First, it was the confidence to finish the race.

00;05;53;22 – 00;06;06;06

Andrew: It was about competing with the best kids in other schools. It was about the self-confidence that they can accomplish something about the love of history. You could say it was about the scores, but for me, it was all about the learning and the things that came with it.

00;06;06;07 – 00;06;13;06

Andrew: I want my students to feel accomplished and confident that they can accomplish something, and that's something that will serve them forever.

00;06;13;06 – 00;06;15;24

Vicki: OK, so it starts with your why, and then where do you go?

How to create habits in the classroom that help create culture?

00;06;15;24 – 00;06;19;11

Andrew: I think there are many things that help create those habits that we talked about.

00;06;19;23 – 00;06;33;09

Andrew: What are your habits of thinking, reading, writing, communicating with each other? How are we engaging students? How do we use technology? What do we do today? What are the things that we do in class for fun, like the stories that all teachers tell every year?

00;06;33;09 – 00;06;46;18

Andrew: And you know that story's going to come out or the relate-ability of what's going on at home and your family and kids eat some of that stuff up. But I think a lot of that culture and that building comes down to the words and phrases you use in class.

00;06;46;25 – 00;07;02;03

Andrew: What do you write on the wall, what's on the door, or on every handout? The words we use equal the culture, and when your students can use those words back to you. And remember those ten years later,” I remember you always used to say this.” Like, that's powerful.

00;07;02;04 – 00;07;18;15

Andrew: You know, you've got them. When the words you use become the words that we use as a class, I think language is a huge part of it. I think engagement is a huge part of it. Relationships we touched on that a little bit, but all of these come down to the habits that make your class

00;07;18;24 – 00;07;28;25

Andrew: different from the one happening next door. Like, there's nothing better about my class than yours. There's nothing better about your class than mine. It's just different in that room that the class is thriving on.

Teachers Are Repeaters: What Does Andrew Repeat to His Students?

00;07;28;25 – 00;07;34;03

Vicki: So if I talk to your students today, what would they say that Mr. Sharo always says?

00;07;34;19 – 00;07;50;19

Andrew: Five's don't grow on trees. I can't teach you anything if you're looking out the window, someone is out working you today. So, I mean, there's, you know, I think there are things. I'm not that creative. So there are things that we repeatedly say, hoping that eventually, it will stick with your students.

00;07;50;28 – 00;08;04;26

Andrew: But a lot of them, I think, are our motivation. All right. We want students to continue pushing forward. We want to continue building that together as a class. And I think if you use those phrases over and over again, it starts to become something that they're internalizing.

00;08;04;26 – 00;08;08;26

Vicki: Well and even relating it to your topic as you analyze history.

00;08;08;26 – 00;08;25;14

Vicki: You know, as I teach students to analyze technology, if everybody says it's a good idea, you're too late, I talk about the pushback you get when you're truly an innovator, how you feel it in your gut if it's something that's an odd or new technology, sometimes you have a visceral response.

Using Feedback to Think About Your Why

00;08;25;14 – 00;08;30;01

Vicki: So you also have those types of things as you help kids analyze history?

00;08;30;01 – 00;08;39;26

Andrew: I think sometimes like you had mentioned, you have to use the opposition to sharpen your vision. And whether that's a parent, that might be a little concerned about what the kid's doing at home or what you're teaching.

00;08;39;27 – 00;08;55;21

Andrew: Oftentimes, it will come from your peers where your peers will hear something about things going on in your classroom. And that's not just teaching, that's the workforce too, right? That's corporate America. That's other places. And sometimes when you get that negative feedback or sort of those inquisitions that come, I think it forces you to think more

00;08;55;21 – 00;09;10;06

Andrew: about your why it forces you to think more about why you do what you do if you're relating it, the content, or what you're teaching. I think it pairs really well with what you're all about. As a teacher, it should be a package deal in delivering some of the content sort of around the purpose of the class.

00;09;10;07 – 00;09;23;03

Andrew: And I think a lot of it sounds abstract. Right, and like a lot of the folks that come on your show, they could probably talk a lot about content and methods and instructional practices and assessment and delivery. And I might know a little bit about that, maybe more than you think.

00;09;23;03 – 00;09;28;29

Andrew: But if you don't have any of these things in place, couldn't you make an argument that none of that other stuff really matters?

00;09;28;29 – 00;09;42;06

Vicki: So fill in the blank, Andrew, when I start a school year with a new set of students, I will know that I have successfully sparked my classroom culture in the direction that I want it to go when ______.

00;09;42;06 – 00;09;57;03

Andrew: I think at the end of the year when the students take a survey or they take an inventory on what the class was all about, and you get that feedback and they say to you, that was the best class that I had all year, or it was the most exciting or engaging class.

00;09;57;03 – 00;10;09;06

Andrew: I had all year. I think we get that positive affirmation from our students a lot. But to hear that it makes all the work, all the relationships, all the grading, all the preparation, that that makes it all worth it.

00;10;09;16 – 00;10;15;25

Andrew: And I think that's the feedback that we want from our students, that they enjoy the 48 minutes that they spend with us every day.

00;10;15;25 – 00;10;25;24

Vicki: That's awesome. So the new book is Finding Lifelifes: A Practical Tale about Teacher and Mentors by Andrew Sharos. Thanks for coming on the show and talking about building classroom culture.

00;10;25;28 – 00;10;47;29

Vicki: Voting is now open and Advancement Courses Tournament of Teachers bracket challenge. Would you rather teach Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter or Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Ferris Bueller or Bart Simpson? From now on, until March 30th, 2022, you'll have a chance to vote for which character you want to see advance through each round and

00;10;47;29 – 00;11;05;02

Vicki: see the winners announced on March 31st, 2022. Go to coolcatteacher.com/tournament to get your votes in and start playing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Janet O. March 27, 2022 - 3:51 pm

I like the idea of classroom culture which I think is important being a teacher can have an important role in this as teachers are the ones who set the rules and set the schedule for the day. Being the teacher is like being seen as a role model and can influence the way students behave bringing positive minds that want to learn. Of course, finding ways for students to behave with each other can bring the classroom experience more pleasing having overall classroom rules and a good role model teacher would benefit the classroom culture.

Vicki Davis April 16, 2022 - 5:00 pm

Classroom culture is one of those things that when a class has it – you know it. I’ve seen it happen and I’ve seen a negative culture as well. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts.

Paige Reiter April 17, 2022 - 6:42 pm

I loved this blog article! We recently discussed classroom culture within our technology and design course at UNI Some of our discussion topics that we discussed were also mentioned in this article. As long as the students have a great role model for a teacher, it really does benefit the class in its entirety.

Vicki Davis April 17, 2022 - 8:16 pm

It does benefit the whole class. Something happens — there’s a great book called Multipliers. I do believe the sum of the whole multiplies and is more than any individual when you have a great culture!

Ashley Wuestenberg April 15, 2022 - 3:39 pm

I really enjoyed reading and listening to what the both of you had to say. I think it’s great to create that classroom culture and grow a relationship with the students. I loved how Andrew Sharos mentioned classroom culture is all about the habits, I couldn’t agree more.

Meg Besler April 15, 2022 - 5:06 pm

Classroom culture is something that I think is so important when becoming a teacher. Building relationships and creating an environment that is suitable to everyone is something that I am going to push myself to create when I get my own classroom! I think this post is great and puts into perspective the multiple different ways that you can provide a better classroom culture for your students.

Vicki Davis April 16, 2022 - 4:57 pm

You are right, Meg. Classroom culture is so important!

kristianna bright April 16, 2022 - 1:06 am

Hi Andrew!
“Positive teacher-student relationships draw students into the process of learning and promote their desire to learn” is a quote from your blog that really stood out to me! I think teacher-student relationships are so important for a healthy classroom. What is the best way to create relationships with students?

Kristianna Bright

Vicki Davis April 16, 2022 - 4:57 pm

Hi Kristianna,
There are many ways, but I just shared a story on my instagram today that highlighted a method that my Mom taught me to stand at the door, call each student by name while making eye contact and discuss something that interests them and then engage them in learning. It was great advice and changed my classroom. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

Isabelle Kingsbury April 16, 2022 - 4:00 pm

Hi! I listened to the podcast and found it so informational as a future teacher. I recently just finished my Level 1s and felt that classroom culture is something that really stuck out to me as I was there. I found myself realizing how much more teachers are connecting with their students on more than just a baseline level. I feel like this is super important in classrooms and feel like this was a big part that was missing personally in my education and the education of my generation. Promoting the idea of good classroom culture is amazing and I love the message behind this podcast! Thank you so much for what you’re doing!

Vicki Davis April 16, 2022 - 4:56 pm

Thanks for dropping by Isabelle. Yes! Classroom culture is so important! I agree with you. I’m glad it is helpful!


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