Creating a Positive Classroom Environment

Joanne Myers

Last year, during a panel discussion at an ETFO provincial conference, a colleague, Jason Johnston, said this about the Chicago Fire Department: “It spends approximately 80 percent of its entire budget each year on fire prevention. They have never had to use the entire 20 percent that is left on actually putting out fires.”

This made me think about our daily instructional programs. How much time do we spend effectively  planning  and  teaching  life  lessons? And how much time do we spend putting out fires?

Barrie Bennett and Peter Smilanich in their book,  Classroom Management: A Thinking and CaringApproach,  say: “Rules: This is your one opportunity to set yourself up for a year of happiness or a year of grief – the decision is yours.”

With this in mind, I’d  like to  explore what we can do as classroom teachers to invest in the education of “fire prevention”: how carefully we set up our routines in September and the degree to  which  we  ensure  that  students  understand how and why the rules are essential in building a respectful class community.

Teach them what you want them to do

September  should  be  about  connecting  with each of your students and discovering who they are, what they are interested in, and what kind of learning opportunities motivate them. It is the most influential time to establish  your behavioural expectations so that they can be carried through consistently all year.

Simply listing the rules and reading them out loud  together is not enough. Consider formal lessons for the  behaviours  you  feel  strongly about. Include in your lessons an introduction and  an  emotional  hook  so  that  the  students feel motivated about the topic. The lesson body should develop a deeper understanding of  the components of the rule or routine and explain the possible consequences. Always build student ownership into the lesson body and include students’ voices and input.

Finish up  each  lesson with  a  followup  that encourages students to think about, discuss, and reflect upon the need for the rule in their classroom community. Provide them with opportunities to share their responses with peers and to actively discuss their own feelings and thoughts about the rule or routine.

Repeat for each expected behaviour


Young students sitting on carpet in classroom

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ETFO members wearing red posing next to Base Petawawa sign

For the average Canadian teacher, the war in Afghanistan  seems remote. It is a news story we can turn off and ignore.