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Positive Classroom Climate

  • Recognize individual differences
  • Learn names
  • Arrange seating
  • Establish expectations
  • Make yourself available
  • Encourage the students

What an instructor does in the first few class sessions sets the tone for the rest of the semester. We know from research on teaching that students learn best in student-centered classrooms where they are actively involved not only with the subject matter but also with their classmates and their teachers. Teacher-centered courses, which emphasize formal lectures and note taking, questions held until the end of class, and little student participation in learning activities, do not seem to promote as much learning as classrooms in which students have a voice. Although students may be reluctant at first to take part in learning activities, most of them report that they remember material best when they engage with it during class, not just during private study time. What can teachers do to create an environment in which students are willing to be active participants?



BE SENSITIVE TO INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES. One essential characteristic of effective teaching is that it be responsive to the individual needs of students. There are simply too many differences among students for a teacher to be able to teach all of them the same thing at the same time. However, quality teaching entails being sensitive to individual differences in preferred learning styles by varying the rate, amount, nature or content of the instruction given. Teachers who alter instruction to accommodate individual differences send the message that they want to reach all of their students all of the time. Students are much more likely to participate actively in learning activities when they know that their teacher has carefully considered their needs.

During one of the first few class meetings, tell your students that you will incorporate a variety of teaching approaches toward the subject matter; then, keep your commitment throughout the course. Ask your students to suggest new methods of learning material and to give feedback on the methods you implement. Students will respect you when they know that they have a voice in how they learn, not just what they learn.

LEARN STUDENTS' NAMES. Calling students by name signifies a positive relationship between teachers and students. Students who recognize that their teachers think of them as individuals with individual needs will feel more comfortable in class and be more responsive in discussions.

Ask your students to introduce themselves the first day and have them state their names whenever they speak during the first few class sessions. Write a few notes about students to remind you of their names and interests. Encourage your students to learn classmates' names as well and to use them in class discussions.  

MAKE SURE THAT THE CLASSROOM IS SET UP IN A WAY THAT IS CONDUCIVE TO A POSITIVE CLIMATE. Asking students to come to the front of the room so that they are close to each other encourages more participation than an arrangement with students scattered around the classroom. For a small discussion section, it may be useful to arrange chairs in a circle or a U shape.

Feel free to change the seating arrangement in your classroom according to the method of instruction you are using. Your students will be less likely to become bored if you show them that your classroom is not a static but a changing environment. Having them switch seats can make them interact with more of their classmates. However, do not experiment with the seating arrangement so often that your students feel uncomfortable.  

TELL STUDENTS WHAT YOUR EXPECTATIONS ARE THE FIRST DAY OF CLASS. Most students feel anxious when they are not certain what behaviors teachers expect from them. When teachers clearly and consistently communicate their expectations for student behavior, they help to ease student anxiety.

Tell your students that you expect them to come to class prepared, to ask questions and to discuss the material on a daily basis. Work out a system for holding your students responsible for class participation, include a section in your syllabus about how you will evaluate their participation, and consistently follow the rules you established. Encourage your students to help develop ground rules for discussion and include these guidelines in your syllabus. Ground rules may include:

  • No personal attacks
  • one person talks at a time
  • everyone has a right to his or her opinion.




COME BEFORE AND STAY AFTER CLASS TO TALK TO STUDENTS. This time can allow the teacher to build individual relationships with students. These small contacts can create more personal climate. Students may feel more comfortable asking questions, expressing their concerns, or seeing you about difficulties on an individual basis.

Tell your students in advance if you have to rush off to another class directly after the one(s) you teach so that they will not feel snubbed if you do not have time to answer their questions after class. Be sure to tell them when and where they can reach you to ask you additional questions.

CREATE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR STUDENT PARTICIPATION. Teachers can foster a safe climate by insuring that:

They never ridicule a student's questions or remarks. It takes only one or two instances of "That's a stupid comment. Haven't you prepared for class?" to discourage participation.

You can disagree with a student without attacking him or her personally (e.g., "As I see it ...."). Remember always to dignify learners' responses by restating their valid points or crediting the thoughtfulness of their contributions.

They confront students who attack other students. (e.g., "John, state what you think rather than attacking another student.").

When you confront students who treat their classmates disrespectfully, you model for your students proper classroom etiquette. Your students will take you more seriously if they know you enforce the rules you include in your syllabus.



One way to encourage participation is to reinforce appropriate student behavior both verbally and non-verbally.


Make frequent eye contact with your students. Move around the room often and offer words of praise such as "good" or "interesting" to students who are participating. Refer to student contributions in your remarks with phrases such as "As Sally said..." or "Would anyone like to respond to Joe's point?" Write student responses on the board, a flipchart, or a transparency, and include them in your handouts as often as possible to acknowledge contributions. Use student points in your remarks (e.g., "As Mike pointed out...").

BEGIN TEACHING THE SUBJECT MATTER THE FIRST DAY OF CLASS. Because your class roster is not stable the first day of class, it is tempting to do little more than administrative housekeeping. Remember, however, if you do not take the subject matter seriously, neither will your students. If you want a classroom where students come to work diligently, you need to begin teaching the content the first day of class. Let the first day set the tone for the rest of the semester. Let the first class set the tone for the weeks to follow by enlisting student interest, inviting their participation, and beginning to build a sense of community.


Tips for Managing the Classroom Learning Environment

Plus FRAMEWORK designed to help instructors optimize classroom civility, generate productive responses to classroom incivility, and promote a constructive learning environment that will discourage disruptive behaviors (pdf)

1. Start class on time, sending a message that being there is important. If a student arrives late several days in a row, say something before it becomes a habit.

2. End class on time. If you begin letting students out early, they will begin routinely packing up their backpacks before class is over; if you go over time on a regular basis your students will become resentful.

3. Announce your office hours and keep them faithfully. Being accessible can prevent many problems.

4 . Set policies at the beginning of the course. In particular, make sure attendance and grading policies are clear, preferably in writing.

5. Be conscious of signs of racial or sexual harassment, whether by you, towards you, or towards other members of the class. Make it clear by your wordsand actions that put-downs or derogatory comments about any groups for whatever reason are simply not acceptable.

6. Refer students with psychological, emotional, academic, or financial trouble to the appropriate counselors. You can be sympathetic and supportive, but becoming a student's counselor can cause problems.

7. When acting as a teaching assistant, involve yourself only to the extent that you are expected to be involved. If the professor you are assisting is in charge of determining grades and you receive complaints about grades, have the students deal with the professor. Do not foster a "me against you" attitude, and do not side with the students against the professor.

- These tips are adapted from those provided by the Center for Teaching Effectiveness at Pennsylvania State University.