10 Ways to Change Classroom Culture

I’m sitting in a professional development session about culturally responsive teaching. One of the things we’ve discussed is how to create a classroom culture that is more welcoming to more students. One phrase I’ve heard repeatedly is that we need to make a “safe space” for our learners.  However, I’m not convinced we’ve explored the implications of the statement.  So below I’m brainstorming some ways we can subtly (or not so subtly) shift our classroom culture.

  1. Avoid lecturing unless necessary (i.e. number 2 is not going to work).
  2. Ask open-ended questions. You can guide student thinking a lot more than you might think and still ask open-ended questions. For example, “In what way do lists of how to improve your teaching not fully acknowledge the complexities of teaching?” (See what I did there). 
  3. Acknowledge student responses. If you are asking open-ended questions and actually want students to keep answering, avoid rejecting and confirming what students say. Sometimes you implicitly confirm or reject based on your voice intonation when you repeat students’ comments, so…
  4. Avoid repeating students’ responses. Repeating their comments for them keeps you at the center of instruction.
  5. Rather than comment on students’ ideas, ask the rest of the students what they think about what was just said.
  6. Use open-ended assessments. Give students enough freedom to show their knowledge in a way that makes sense to them.
  7. Stop using rubrics. Leave feedback that addresses students’ individual needs instead of trying to fit them into a box.
  8. Move among the students. Try to not to stay at the front of the room. Hang white boards in the back and sides ofthe room. During group time, work with small groups at their level. Pull up a chair.
  9. Ask students to give you feedback on your teaching and the class more often. After two or three weeks, ask students to anonymously write what they like and what they don’t like about your teaching and class. 
  10. Explicitly ask the students to reflect on their learning. For example, ask students “Why do you think simply reading about this would not have been as useful for your learning?”

Ten is a nice round number, so I’ll stop there.  What other ideas would you add?

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