Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

Creating a positive school climate and classroom culture
requires a shared vision and commitment from educators.

Research tells us that a positive school climate is associated with increased student engagement and prosocial behaviors as well as improved academic performance and social-emotional development (Bradshaw, 2015; Konold, 2017; Thapa et al., 2015). Unfortunately, school climate experiences can systematically differ for students of color (Konold et al., 2017), which may be due, in part, to inequitable discipline practices (Bottiani et al., 2017). School-wide positive behavior support initiatives, social emotional learning programs, and culturally responsive classroom practices have been found to improve school climate (with some evidence of reducing disparities), while also decreasing disruptive behaviors, improving academic performance, and decreasing suspensions and truancy (Pas et al., 2019; Bradshaw et al., 2018; CASEL, 2019).


What Can Educators Do?


School-wide and Institutional Efforts

  • Establish positive behavioral expectations and reinforce them school-wide.
  • Make schools “softer,” not “harder,” by providing holistic supports and more social-emotional learning opportunities for students, teachers, and caregivers.
  • Examine discipline data and use available resources to identify and remedy the root causes of any racial disparities found in office discipline referrals and suspensions.

Culturally Responsive Practices

  • Develop authentic relationships with students to create a sense of trust and community in the classroom; focusing on students’ strengths and praising their efforts are great places to start!
  • Demonstrate sensitivity to students’ cultures by acknowledging and accepting differences; bring difference into classroom instruction as a resource for learning.
  • Show your students that you know them and that you want to know them; ask them about their experiences and make responsive connections to the curriculum.
  • Help students build community through peer tutoring opportunities, buddy systems, and cooperative learning activities.
  • Teacher coaching and school-wide professional development activities combined have been found to increase a teacher's culturally responsive teaching strategies.


Make schools "softer," not "harder," by providing holistic supports and more social-emotional learning opportunities for students, teachers, and caregivers.

Discipline and Behavior Management

  • Provide students with clear, proactive and consistent expectations and consequences and examine institutional factors to ensure that expectations are enforced equitably.
  • Provide clear positive behavioral expectations in the classroom (i.e., telling students what to do instead of what not to do) and incentives for demonstrating desired behaviors.
  • Use “I-messages” to communicate with students (using “you” can provoke a defensive or hostile reaction). I-messages focus on how you feel about a situation, rather than blaming the student. Try saying, “I feel upset when students are late to my class because I have to stop and update them on what I’ve already gone over,” instead of “You are always late to my class."

Engaging Families

  • Engage caregivers in the educational process by inviting them to school, but also offer home visits; make them feel welcomed during visits and offer other opportunities for engagement using technology (e.g., updated website, text message and email updates).
  • Find out how caregivers prefer to communicate with you (e.g., phone call, email, text, or in-person) and do your best to honor their preferences.
  • Practice positive perspective-taking in your interactions with students and families, and give families and students the benefit of the doubt.

Creating a positive school climate and classroom culture requires a shared vision and commitment from educators. Planning how to enhance school climate and classroom culture is foundational for the academic and social-emotional success of students. 


Bottiani, J. H., Bradshaw, C. P., & Mendelson, T. (2017). A multilevel examination of racial disparities in high school discipline: Black and white adolescents’ perceived equity, school belonging, and adjustment problems. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(4), 532.

Bradshaw, C. P., Koth, C. W., Thornton, L. A., & Leaf, P. J. (2009). Altering school climate through school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports: Findings from a group-randomized effectiveness trial. Prevention Science, 10(2), 100.

Bradshaw, C. P., Waasdorp, T. E., & Johnson, S. L. (2015). Overlapping verbal, relational, physical, and electronic forms of bullying in adolescence: Influence of school context. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 44, 494–508.

Bradshaw, C. P., Pas, E. T., Bottiani, J. H., Debnam, K. J., Reinke, W. M., Herman, K. C., & Rosenberg, M. S. (2018). Promoting cultural responsivity and student engagement through Double Check coaching of classroom teachers: An efficacy study. School Psychology Review, 47(2), 118–134.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2019). What is SEL

Konold, T., Cornell, D., Shukla, K., & Huang, F. (2017). Racial/ethnic differences in perceptions of school climate and its association with student engagement and peer aggression. Journal of youth and adolescence, 46(6), 1289-1303.

Thapa, A. S., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (2013). A review of school climate research. Review of Educational Research, 83, 357–385.