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Top 5 Attributes of My Classroom Culture

Jan 18, 2022

Welcome back to the Sustainable Teacher blog episode 56, the Top 5 Attributes of a Sustainable Classroom Culture, and here’s the very first thing I want to say.

I think there should be an entire college course on classroom culture.  I don’t say that about many things. I teach Intro to Educational Technology, and I think a course on classroom culture should come first.  And here’s why… because it’s one of the top, if not THE top factor that will determine your sustainability and impact in your career.

It’s this awesome mix of knowing what you believe as an educator and making sure you always act from that space, helping you to recognize that your impact is greater than any mastered standard or test score.

So, I’ve got five of them for you today, and they each of a message of sorts that you could be sending to your students.  And they are a part of a sustainable classroom culture because they compromise the messages, systems, beliefs and actions of your classroom that determine how your students will leave it feeling.

What these attributes look like in your classroom is what is unique about the culture you develop.  This episode will give you the attributes and the resounding messages, but how those live out and present themselves in your classroom is up to you.  And that’s a really cool part of what we do… that is, teacher autonomy… one of my favorite things about what we do as educators.

The attributes are in no particular order, nor is any one of them dependent upon or more significant than any other.

But here’s my goal for you… that after listening to this episode you’ll feel a certain level of teacher-bad-ass :).  Truly. I want you to feel gung-ho and confident in your influence and impact with students through each of these messages you send through your classroom culture, all knowing that these messages are ones that will last the longest, longer than any amount of content

Before we get started, if you have been listening to this podcast for some time now or have found an episode or two that you love (and hopefully this will be one of them), I would so appreciate you taking a brief moment to share this podcast with your teacher friends.  Click the three dots in the upper right corner (sometimes it’s the side arrow share button) in the app where you’re listening and text or email any episode to your teacher-friend across the hall, your lunch table friend, or even that awesome educator you’ve connected with on Instagram.  It really would mean the world to me and all of the teachers here at Teach On A Mission.

Alright, let’s get to it.

Today’s episode is sponsored by Camtasia.  The day I started making videos for my more accessible and flipped classroom ten years ago was the day I started using Camtasia.  Camtasia is a software suite, created and published by TechSmith, for creating video tutorials and presentations directly via screencast, or via a direct recording plug-in to Microsoft PowerPoint, making it super user-friendly for teachers to record, edit, and get their instruction in front of their students without all the hassle.  As you become more familiar and comfortable with the easy-to-use tool, you’ll realize more awesome features you can grow into when you’re ready - like adding thought bubbles, captions, awesome backgrounds and even music.  It is the best tool for beginners to produce quality, long-lasting flipped videos, and the possibilities are endless when you’re ready to explore more features.

And get this - they offer teachers a discount!  

To learn more about Camtasia and to get an ADDITIONAL 10% discount because you’re a Sustainable Teacher Podcast listener, head over to teachonamission.com/camtasia.

That’s a huge savings you don’t want to miss on what will quickly become the most used tool in your toolbox like it has been for me for 10 years.  Again that’s teachonamission.com/camtasia.

Now, let’s get back to the episode.

In true Sustainable Teacher fashion, let’s get straight to these top 5 attributes, and not waste any time on a super long episode, shall we?

Great.  Here we go with the top five attributes of a sustainable classroom culture

I am not the beholder of all knowledge

This was a motto I frequently used in my classroom from very early on out of sheer necessity.  I was teaching an Advanced Placement® class that was very content heavy, staying only one day ahead of my students in most cases.  I had to let them know quickly that I will know the content and I will coach you through it, but I don’t know everything.

And you don’t have to say and live this as if it’s a cop-out, because it’s not.  It’s merely the truth, and it’s also empowering to your students.  They can learn and know things because of the basic knowledge you’ve helped them obtain thus far.  Just because they learn something from somewhere other than you doesn’t mean they learn in spite of you, as if it’s something you should be ashamed of.  NOT AT ALL.  You are more an expert of learning than you are an expert in any content, so empower them as learners and take pride (and even some credit) in the fact that they learned something you didn’t know.

This saying also means that in most cases, as the teacher, I nine-times-out-ten know the answer.  But that doesn’t mean that the best solution is for me to give it to you.  So when I say things like “Well, what about this,” or “You have that in your notes, so find it and apply it in this situation,” or “Hmm, you should know that, and I think you do or can know it, so find out and come back to me,” please know that’s me coaching you.  That’s me weaning you off of relying on me.

I’ve recently watched my oldest son struggle with this a bit in school.  He’s in the second grade and only recently started working on a computer independently and using it to find answers and information on his own.  I could tell by his frustration and some comments from his teacher that he didn’t like having to find the information.  He just wanted to be told the information.  There must be something innate about us as humans - we want the surety and maybe security of someone else’s knowledge.  And it makes sense, right?!? As kids, we heard all the time to “just do what I say,” or “because I said so,” HA!

Which means you’ll have some kick back here.  And that’s ok.  It’s a transition, it’s a growing pain.  Let it play out.  Let them see and feel what it is to discover and solve without dependence on you.  Let them depend on you for the moral support and encouragement, and less for the direct learning 100% of the time.

Sometimes other things are more important than school

But not often, and here’s why.

This attribute of a sustainable classroom culture has some layers to it, so let me explain a bit.

First, take the first part of the sentence… “sometimes other things are more important than school” is exactly as it sounds.  Sometimes in life other people, our health, our mental health, our families, our livelihoods are more important than our education.  Sometimes we need to take a step back out of necessity, and that is ok.

Preaching this to your students will give them a welcoming sense of acceptance when they feel they are not meeting expectations of what a student should be or do, or when they are acting out because of this, regardless of if they can articulate it or not because that’s also true for many students.

It will let them know that dealing with things like mental health struggles, neglectful or abusive parents, divorce, death of a loved one, physical health struggles, working to support your family, or raising your siblings is a life situation that can’t be ignored, and that sometimes that means those things come before school work.  That’s called a life choice, and those aren’t easy.

Now let’s consider the second part of this attribute… “but not often, and here’s why.”

This very intensely (and I say that because I truly and intensely believe in this part of the attribute) means that these scenarios where school is second in the list of priorities are very rare.  Now, we could make a list of all the things that school takes precedence over, but that’s less important than recognizing that this part of the attribute more so means that you wholeheartedly believe in your power and the power of education in general on our students, culture, and world as we know it.  

So, yes, this means that 99.9% of the time, your education comes before work or friend drama or who you’re attracted to or what sport you play, and that is because education will have more collective impact on your life than all of those things.

Think of the message this sends to your students.  It means you believe in what you are doing with your life.  It speaks highly of what you do for a living, and commands a sense of respect and pride for being in your classroom.  

For this entire attribute, “sometimes other things are more important than school, but not often and here’s why,” I want you to think about one of the first things any great coach says to his/her team at the beginning of each new season.  They say something along the lines of, “I know what it takes to win.  I believe in the talent and expertise of my coaching staff, I believe in what we’ve built at this institution, but I need you to show up whole.  I need you to show up healthy and ready to go every single day, and that doesn’t just happen.  It takes work to take care of yourself, and I need you to do that so that we do great things in here.”

That’s the kind of message I want to send to my students right there.

I don’t give grades, you don’t earn grades

In this classroom, I don’t give grades, you don’t earn grades… you learn, you work to learn, and your grade reflects that learning.

This message says that I don’t play the game of grades.  I don’t play the game of school where we’re all just vying to get ahead of each other or earn the A out of some sense of perfectionism or because if we don’t our parents won’t love us.  Ok, that last one is extreme, but is also kind of a thing, and it’s probably the hardest one to fight, but it’s doable.

Ok, back to the point.

The most important aspect of this attribute is that you have to mean - you have to walk the walk here by making certain that your students grades ONLY reflect their level of mastery and NOTHING else.  Yes, really.  Nothing else.

Not how many bathroom passes they didn’t use or how many tissues boxes they brought in.  Not how often they did their homework or how many non-assessment assignments they turned in.

All of these things can play a role in their learning (well, not the tissue boxes, sorry), but their grades will not reflect that directly.

And that whole directly part is exactly where this conversation gets more complicated.  And that’s why I have two whole episodes on grading that I would love for you to download and click play next where you’re listening.  Those are episodes 30: Overcoming the Game of Grades with Students and 43: The Meaning of Grades with Dr. Bill Rice.

This is an attribute that will be meaningless to only talk about, it will be better to show them.  Show them by giving them tangible evidence of how brain engagement and hard work in the classroom leads to learning, and that’s all that matters.

My classroom won’t ALWAYS be anything

It won’t always be organized, or well planned, or fun.  It will sometimes be those things, but certainty not always.  

What my classroom will ALWAYS be is welcoming, where respect and relationship is way more important than any super fun lesson we could have in class. 

This attribute is more for you than it is for your students because it’s freeing.  It means that you and your classroom have value outside of how efficient and productive it is being simply because it is a welcoming place where you’re making unique human connections with students.  And Lord knows, those kinds of places are existing less and less these days.  So take pride in your classroom even when it’s not perfect or Pinterest-worthy, because it focuses on what matters most.

I am a professional

This attribute I want you to say aloud with me.  I am a professional.

This means that I respect you (the student) on principle, not just because you have or haven’t earned it, and because of that I will push you.  I will support you, but I will also push you to achieve and grow, and that is because I respect you. 

It also means that I know what the heck I’m doing.  I believe in what I put in front of students, if I don’t, I’ll change it, and I know it can be effective 99% of the time.  And because of that, I will hear your feedback, but I will expect you to try regardless of what you believe your learning styles, preferences, or excuses might be.  

I respect your trust and therefore I will always act in a trustworthy manner, but I also deserve your trust.  So let’s do this.

And there you have it teacher-friend, the Top 5 Attributes of a Sustainable Classroom Culture. Let’s do a quick recap of what each of those are, and then when you’re finished be sure to join me on Instagram or Facebook and let me know which one resonates with you most.

  1. I am not the beholder of all knowledge,
  2. Sometimes other things in life are more important than school, but not often and here’s why,
  3. I don’t give grades, you don’t earn grades… you learn, and your grade reflects that learning,
  4. My classroom won’t ALWAYS be anything,
  5. I am a professional.

Now that you’ve listened to this episode I hope you feel a certain level of teacher-bad-ass :).  Truly. I want you to feel gung-ho and confident in your influence and impact with students through each of these messages you send your students in your classroom culture, all knowing that these messages you send students are ones that will last the longest.  Longer than any amount of content.

I’m excited for next week’s episode which will be available right here, same time, same place.  Bye for now.

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