I often catch myself looking around my room and thinking, “This is awesome. This is exactly what it should be.” Granted, I don’t feel this way every day. There are definitely some rough patches and some whirlwind hours. The wonderful adolescents that I work with are bound to have a few not-so-wonderful days (both individually and in droves). But most days, and most of the time, I look around the room and am very proud of what I see. I have students that are focused, working, and smiling. I have students that are eager to share and happy to help a peer. I have students who will point out they are learning way more than they ever thought they could.
That, my friends, is all culture.
Now, that culture doesn’t come easy. For me, it starts before students even walk in the door for the first time. I’ve been known to say to incoming fifth graders, “I hope we have the chance to learn together next year.” (Kids, if you think that is cheesy, just you wait until the fall!) Once the school year officially begins with that opening bell, we start right off with why we are here (thank you, Simon Sinek).
We are here to learn.
In the opening days, we do a lot to make sure this message really hits home. I know it has sunk in when I look around the room and see it working (though even better was the moment when they were convinced that my password must have the word ‘learning’ in it)
The thing with culture is that it must constantly be maintained. It cannot falter. It cannot waiver. It must lead, at all times. The students will build it with me, but I cannot let them take that burden on their own. I am charged with both creating and carrying the culture.
I help weave culture-building into every aspect of the classroom. We celebrate failures. We get excited about learning. We praise hard work. We revel in creativity. These things happen individually, in small groups, and in front of the whole class. The students add to the atmosphere and help keep it going. I also keep a sharp eye out for those slip ups that can progress into bad habits. My most common question that I offer when students are off task is, “So how is this helping you learn?” (which they know so well that they will quote it back to me).
The amazing part about creating a culture is not just that it exists but what we can do once it is in place. We have phenomenal projects happening all the time, things that wouldn’t necessarily happen if that culture wasn’t solid. The students know the culture exists, and they help keep it going. I have students that aren’t afraid to take risks or try something new, because they know that they are safe to learn in this room.
In the end, the culture that we have created allows us to completely devote ourselves to learning. Honestly, what more could we ask for.
This blog post was reviewed by some amazing sixth grade scientists, and I thank them heartily for their contributions. Some of their suggestions included replacing “I” with “we”, taking out some of my more overused phrases, and adding more smiley faces. 🙂 Thank you scientists!