I think it’s crucial to have a positive classroom climate so that I can do my best as a teacher and my students can do their best as students. For the moment, I’m going to set aside the question of what is it that teachers and students are supposed to do in the classroom. I’ll explore those questions another time in another post.

I have seen many different types of positive classroom environments. I’ve come to the conclusion after all these years a positive classroom environment is a function of the teacher’s personality and the students’ personalities; consequently, there are different types of positive classroom environments.

What do I think is a positive classroom environment? Well, for one thing I think it is a classroom environment that enables me to teach in an authentic manner so that I can be myself and not try to be someone I’m not. Consequently, one of the first things I need to do is to really know myself as a person. If you’ll like me you’ve probably taken some type of personality test during your undergrad or grad courses so you might already have a good idea what makes you tick. If not, you can always go online and find some tests that will help y6ou do that.

Over the years, I’ve taken oddles and oddles of professional development sessions and have found that I like having a classroom where students help create the positive environment. The Tribes training I took was especially helpful.

I’d like to share my way of helping to set a positive environment where I can teach in an authentic way. In a future post, I’ll talk about what I mean by being able to teach in an authentic way.

I begin by having the class create classroom agreements. I used to call the classroom agreements rules, but rules seem so top down, and I don’t want that. Some kids see red when they see the word “rule”. I want them to see green instead. I want students to buy into the classroom code of conduct, not rebel against it.

At the beginning of the semester we establish our behaviour agreements. Basically it boils down to attentive listening, appreciation, mutual respect and right to pass. You can view my PowerPoint for elaboration. I have written about my classroom agreements in an earlier post, but I’ll include it here for you.


I want the classroom agreements to be a result of collaboration so that the students will be more likely to buy into the code of conduct.

This is what I do
1. Tell students that since they are in grade 9, 10 or whatever, I know they’re experts at knowing what makes a classroom work because they’ve been in many so classrooms

2. Set up a placemat group activity that will ellict the students’ expertise

3. Ask students to take a few minutes to think about what makes a classroom work and then jot those things down on their section of the placemat.
4 Have students share their thoughts with group members.
5. Place four pieces of chart paper on the wall labeled mutual respect, attentive listening, appreciation, and right to pass. It’s amazing , everything seems to fall into these four categories.
6. Have each student choose two or three things that they think are the most important and write each one onto a separate sticky note.
7. Ask students to place their sticky notes onto one of the four pieces of chart paper according to where they think it belongs.
8. Discuss the results of the activity with the class noting how everything falls into one of the four categories.
9. Add my own stickies if I see that something has been omitted. I’m part of the class too.
10. Thank the students for their expert input and tell them that I think that what we have here will make our classroom work and ask them if they agree. Most will say they agree and that’s what I want.
11. Have students create posters illustrating the classroom agreements.
12. Review the agreements next day using the powerpoint presentation I made. That’s when I make sure everyone understands what kinds of behaviors each agreement includes.
13. Ask students if anyone would like to display their posters. I let them choose where, but ask that they make sure that each wall has some posters on it.

It’s interesting to see and hear what happens. Students will start to remind each other of our classroom agreements by saying things like no put downs, attentive listening , mutual respect and right to pass when someone is behaving inappropriately. It’s much more effective to cite the classroom agreements than to say stop talking while I’m teaching or stop calling him names etc. I even hear my students cite the agreements outside of the classroom when they’re walking in the halls . I love that because I want them to be proactive and advocate for themselves in and out of the classroom.


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I’d like to share the following article written by Tara Fisher, conflict resolution specialist,  regarding the important difference between teasing and bullying . I hope you find it useful. Thanks for the article Tara.

Teasing or bullying?

How special needs teachers & parents can identify and resolve a range of student conflicts.

By Tara Fishler

Bullying has become a buzzword. It also has mistakenly become a catch-all description for what actually can be a wide range of student conflicts.


Children, parents and school special needs personnel often jump to the conclusion that when a conflict develops between children, it must be a bullying scenario. However, although true bullying does happen in most schools, the vast majority of conflicts actually fall under teasing or disagreement situations.


It’s important for school personnel to know the difference between bullying and teasing. Bullying is defined as behavior that is intentional, aggressive and negative; carried out repeatedly against one or more targets; and occurs in a relationship where there is an imbalance of power between the parties involved. If one or more of these elements are missing, it is generally a teasing situation.


In the United States, at least 1 in 4 kids is bullied on a regular basis. Direct bullying, more common to male bullies, includes physical aggression such as punching, kicking, slapping or embarrassing remarks or actions, such as knocking over books. Indirect bullying, also known as social aggression, is more common to female bullies and young children. Indirect bullies force the victim into social isolation using techniques such as spreading gossip, refusing to socialize with the victim, bullying other people who wish to socialize with the victim, and criticizing the victim’s clothing or other socially significant markers. Evaluating the balance of power in a conflict often is the best way to identify bullying versus teasing. If one party is afraid of the other, it’s more likely to be a bullying situation. 


Most special needs student conflicts can be handled effectively by well trained and supervised peer mediators. However, true bullying, which can have extremely negative short and long-term effects on their targets, needs the attention of a trained adult. When handling a bullying situation, the adult should speak to each child privately.  Adults need to understand that targeted children often have a very real fear of escalation of the bullying as a result of the adult’s involvement, and significant efforts must be made to ensure the safety of the target, both on and off school property. Some bullies benefit from being made aware of the effects of their behavior and can truly reform themselves. Others have deeper emotional needs that must be addressed before any positive changes in behavior can occur. 


Reducing teasing and bullying in special needs classrooms requires educating the entire school community, particularly bystanders, about the various forms and aspects of bullying. Educated and empowered bystanders have the potential to remove the power from the bullies and protect the targets. Conflict resolution programs that teach empathy and perspective also are helpful in changing a school’s atmosphere from one of fear, to one where children can grow and learn to be responsible citizens.


Tara Fishler is a conflict resolution specialist and founder of Customized Training Solutions, a New York-based provider of conflict resolution, training and strategic management services. Visit www.tarafishler.com to learn more.


Contact:  Lekas & Levine PR, 847.327.9530, Joannepr@aol.com.

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The Sochi 2014 Winter  Olympics is in day five so there’s lots of talk in the media about what’s going on in the various Winter Olympic sports.  Yesterday I was listening to a local radio station, probably CBC Radio 1,  and I heard a someone ( sorry, didn’t catch the name) say that kids participating in sports and losing can teach kids valuable lessons. The speaker noted not everyone who participates in sports wins, in fact, the vast majority of people who participate in sports lose. He thought losing in sports could help kids learn how to deal with defeat. To be honest, I hadn’t considered participating and losing in sports a learning opportunity- other improving technique, strategy and trying harder. I did think about how losing in sports could teach kids something about entitlement: just because you participate in sports doesn’t entitled you to win.  I don’t think the trend to not keeping score when kids participate in sports and thereby not have winners and losers is especially helpful.  What does it teach kids?  How does that prepare them for life?

I think additional learning opportunities present themselves when  kids participate in sports and lose: kids have the opportunity to develop their emotional intelligence, their  ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. Emotional intelligence includes

  •  managing one’s own impulses
  • having empathy for others
  • communicating effectively
  • solving problems
  • using humor to build rapport
  • remaining optimistic in spite of stresses
  • managing change

What’s the big deal about high emotional intelligence? Why is emotional intelligence worth developing? Individuals with high emotional intelligence are able to make better choices for better consequences in life and at work and are better able to achieve a balance between work, home and recreational life.

As I write this post, I’m beginning to see the teaching opportunity I’d have and the learning opportunity my students would have when they  lose or for that matter when they win when participating in sports. I could help them develop their emotional intelligence. I could help my students who win become more empathetic toward my students who lose. I think I could help my students learn to manage their own impulses, remain optimistic in spite of losing, and so on.

Maybe other losses students experience could also be teaching and learning opportunities.  I guess the thing is someone has to be there when students experience losses and help them deal with their  losses in such a way as to strengthen their emotional intelligence. I want my students to be able to take something positive away from any losses they experience. I want my students to be able to make the best possible choices for the best possible outcomes in their lives.






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Front Row

I’m always on the look out for new effective, engaging teaching and learning tools that I can use in my teaching practice. I’m especially interested in finding teaching tools to help me differentiate instruction to meet the specific needs of students and that will encourage students to take charge of their own learning. Front Row is a new math app for the ipad and Chrome browser that does just that.

I really like Front Row as a math teaching, learning tool and administration. I like the fact that Front Row’s 15 000 math questions are aligned to the common core, but I love the fact that Front Row provides over 500 videos students can view when they get stuck on a question. I’ve found that students are often too embarrassed to admit that they don’t get a specific math question and choose to save face and not ask for help. Even though I always encourage my students to ask questions by telling them there are no stupid questions and that I love answering questions, some students will still not choose to ask for help because they don’t wish to appear stupid in front of their peers. Front Row enables students to ask for and get  help privately and save face when they’re stuck by viewing the over 500 videos that explain things to them. Front Row enables students to share their successes publicly and get help privately–a win/win situation.

I asked little Katie who is in grade 3 to review Front Row for me. At present Front Row is aligned to the common core up to grade five, but I’m told soon it will be available for students to the end of grade eight. I could see myself using Front Row when it’s offered at the grade seven and eight level for math remediation for those students who come to grade nine with weak math skills.

Little  Katie loved using Front Row from the first moment she opened the app. In fact, both times she came to visit since I got the Front Row app, she asked to “play” the math game. Katie finds it difficult to sit still for any length of time, yet she spent over an hour playing the math game each time she played it. I was impressed. She loved the fact that she could do the questions on the ipad screen using her finger. She likes seeing her thinking. Katie also found Front Row’s scaffolding videos engaging and watched some of them more than once before she got it. She also appreciated the positive reinforcement she got when she got the questions correct. She just had come and  share her success with me.

I can see setting up a work station of ipads or computers with Chrome as their browsers. Students who love math as well as students who dislike math could benefit from using Front Row. Katie would be asking to go to the Front Row station all the time.

Front Row is not only an excellent teaching and learning tool, it’s also a useful admin tool. I can easily track my students’ progress using Front Row. Given Front Row is aligned to the common core, I can easily track my students’ progress in a very comprehensive manner. Since I am not a fan of all the administrative tasks I have to do as a teacher, I welcome any tool that makes administrative tasks easier.

Let me  say here that I am not affiliated with Front Row in any way, but when Sidharth Kakkar from Front Row introduced me to Front Row and I had a chance to play around with it I wanted to share it with other teachers, students, and parents. If you would like a free licence to Front Row just use my email address emhartjes@gmail.com as the referrer when you go to the site and you will get full access. Hurry though, I only have 250 free licences to give away. Please let me know what you think about Front Row.

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