Creating a Positive Climate
What is a Positive Classroom Climate?
Positive classrooms are marked by responsive teachers who manage behavior and attention challenges as well as the social and emotional needs of individual children.
Strategies for cultivating a positive climate:
- Use behavior-approving language more frequently than behavior-disapproving
- Eliminate damaging forms of redirection (e.g., threats, shaming, and sarcasm)
- Give specific praise
- Maintain a pleasant affect and tone when interacting with children
Examples of Behavior-Approving Language
Behavior approving reinforces a particular behavior; it says to the child that whatever he/she is doing, the teacher/EA wants it to continue or approves of it.
Behavior approving can come in the form of verbal comments, facial expressions, or physical contact with the children.
Verbal examples of Behavior Approving:
- “I like the way you are sitting.”
- “Pat yourself on the back.”
- “You are working really carefully.”
- “I like the way you are thinking.”
Non-verbal examples of Behavior Approving:
- Smiling, winking, nodding at one or more children in response to behaviors.
Examples of Behavior-Disapproving Language
The teacher/EA’s intent is to change the child’s behavior; to say to the child, “I want you to do something different from what you are doing.”
Teacher/EA uses disapproving facial expressions, verbal comments, tone of voice, and/or physical contact with children.
Verbal examples of Behavior Disapproving:
- “Criss-cross applesauce, Jonathan.”
- “Put a bubble in it, Janie.”
- “Well, that wasn’t a good choice, was it?”
- “You must not want to go to the playground today, Keisha!”
Non-verbal examples of Behavior Disapproving:
- Grimacing, frowning, side-to-side head-shaking, gesturing
Please note: Statements do not have to be negative, as long as the intent is to change the child’s behavior
- “I know that you can sit on your bottom, Kenny.”
- “We’re waiting for Tim and Rose and Carlos to get in line.”
- “I hear too many loud voices at the Circle Table.”
Teacher Tone Scale
The teacher’s tone of voice and facial expressions can convey specific messages to children about how teachers feel about them, the teacher’s interest in activities, and the teacher’s attitude toward other children in the classroom. Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to be aware of one’s affect. Even the slightest awareness and effort to develop a more positive tone can make a difference!
Ways to Improve Teacher Tone
Show enthusiasm for activities. Children take their cues from the teacher. If the teacher is barely singing “5 Little Monkeys” with a flat affect, children might assume that the teacher is bored by the song and so it’s not worth their attention either.
The facial expressions and tone must match the words. If the teacher is praising a child, the teacher must be smiling and looking interested. In describing an exciting new material the teacher wants children to use during centers, the teacher’s expression must convey a high level of interest.
Engage in dramatic play and story reading. Taking on a pretend role in a dramatic play scenario or using a character voice during a read-aloud can be an easy way to incorporate a vibrant tone.
Develop a positive “listening” face. Children are encouraged to participate in discussions when the audience looks interested! Teachers can do a self-check during sharing time and consider eye contact, posture, and facial expressions. Do they say to a child, “That is so interesting — please tell me more!”?
Model pleasantness and respect. Teachers who respond pleasantly to children’s requests for attention provide a powerful model for children as they interact with adults and each other. Teachers must remember to say “please” and “thank you” with children, just as they would with a peer or co-worker.
Use Specific Praise
- Praise is most effective when it is meaningful and concrete.
- Praise should be specific to children’s actions, efforts, accomplishments.
- “Kiss your brain!”
- “Good job!”
- “High five!”
- “You’re so smart!”
- “Great! That’s the right answer!”
- “It was so kind of you to work together to solve the problem of having too many friends in the art center!”
- “You must have stacked the blocks very carefully to make that tower so high!”
- “That’s a great suggestion for another ending to the story.”
- “I can tell you really worked hard to sort all of those dinosaurs.”
Stop and think…What messages are you sending children about the actions and traits that are most valued in your classroom?
What are the Benefits of a Positive Emotional Classroom Climate?
Children who feel emotionally supported, valued, and safe in their classrooms are more likely to take academic risks and to deeply engage in learning tasks. These children also tend to have more positive interactions with their teachers and their peers. Better relationships between students and teachers predict higher achievement, social competency, and stronger social and emotional skills. Teachers who are warmer and more responsive to their students’ needs tend to see fewer instances of problem behavior. As a result, the classroom becomes a less stressful environment for both children AND adults.
According to evidence from prior PRI research, children demonstrated significantly greater social competence and fewer problem behaviors in first grade when they’d experienced preschool settings with
a) more positive peer interactions
b) teachers who had a more positive emotional tone, and
c) teachers who spent more time positively reinforcing behavior (rather than correcting less desirable behaviors)
Further, children in emotionally supportive classrooms have frequent opportunities to develop positive self-regulation. In these classrooms, teachers model appropriate choices, reinforce children for making those choices, and guide children in developing strategies for themselves. An example would be the guided use of the Teaching Pyramid Solution Kit (from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning)
In MNPS Early Learning Center Classrooms:
Children who experienced classrooms in which teachers used more behavior approving comments and fewer behavior disapproving comments showed much stronger gains in spelling and writing, vocabulary, and math knowledge.
Children who experienced classrooms with more positive emotional tone showed greater gains in interpersonal skills, spelling and writing, knowledge of letters and sight words, vocabulary, and math knowledge. This was especially true for children who entered pre-k with lower skills than their peers!
This handout provides concrete strategies for how to positive language to shape children’s behavior. These handouts are designed for parents to use with children at home, but these strategies can easily be applied in classroom environments as well.