7 Keys to a Positive Classroom Culture in Middle School

By Darlene Anne

This post originally appeared on the blog ELA Buffet by Darlene Anne.

My first year teaching middle school was challenging. In my infinite new teacher wisdom, I decided that the best way to prevent another difficult year would be to start off by being tough and putting on my “meaner than a junk-yard dog” face.

Thankfully, I came to my senses. Because I know better. We ALL know better. Kids are not going to learn if they don’t feel safe, if they don’t feel respected, and if they don’t like the teacher.
Fostering a favorable classroom environment and a positive relationship with my students is the most important task I assign myself every year. The recipe for a classroom culture that promotes learning requires only a dash of time and energy. It does require a hefty dose of mindfulness.
How to establish a classroom environment that promotes learning:
1) Show Genuine Interest
Greet students with a smile and enthusiasm every day. Make eye contact with them and ask them questions about their life.
Each student will come into the room hearing, “You are important, and I’m glad to see you.”

This positive message will influence students’ behavior, their desire to learn, and the tone of the entire period. Sometimes we’re busy cleaning up from the previous period or setting up for the next one. When that happens, I have the kids wait outside until I’m ready for them to enter. It is much more important for me to make a connection with them than it is to start right on the dot.
2) Use Students’ Names — Often
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie states that there is “magic contained in a name…” and “a request we are making takes on a special importance when we approach the situation with the name of the individual.”
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie states that there is “magic contained in a name…” and “a request we are making takes on a special importance when we approach the situation with the name of the individual.”

Use students’ names throughout the period, at every opportunity. Subconsciously, they will be much more likely to listen and comply. Don’t abbreviate a name unless you know for sure that the student approves of the nickname.

3) Use Task-Oriented Language
The next time you speak with your students, count the number of times you use statements like “I think” or “you should.” If the count is high, it might be time to reconsider the language you use.

Which would you be more likely to agree with?
You have to do your reading homework.
In order to participate in tomorrow’s debate, it’s important to understand the issue by reading this article.
How about this?

I think you should all spend time studying for the test.
What would be an effective plan to prepare for the test?

Task-oriented language invites agreement and cooperation by focusing on the step-by-step tasks that lead to the goal and NOT the people involved. It’s not about you, and it’s not about your students. It’s about reaching the goal of learning.

4) Give Students Choices and Input
Studies show that when we give students choices, their motivation soars. This blog post will explain how to give choices that enhance achievement and progress.
Studies show that when we give students choices, their motivation soars.

We really don’t need a study to substantiate that, do we? All we have to do is ask our kids. Mine have told me that when they have some say in decorating the room or choosing books and projects, they feel more engaged and focused. They also feel validated.

However, there is a catch. We should only give kids a limited number of choices, especially when they’re in middle school. An experiment done by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper confirmed that more isn’t always better. The researchers assigned college students various extra credit essay assignment choices. Surprisingly, students given fewer choices were more likely to complete the assignment. They even did a better job writing it.

I can’t say I’m really surprised about this. After all, who can go into a paint store and immediately choose a color from the thousands of shades offered? Most of us will take a few paint chips home and begin the daunting process of narrowing down the chips. Some of us even assign someone else the responsibility of choosing because there are just “too many choices.”

Give middle school students two or three choices. When taking notes on new content, I give my students the choice of using folding interactive notes or Cornell notes. They are both guided and include the same information, but the choice gives students the freedom to use what works best for them, creating immediate “buy-in.” (You can see what this looks like here.)

5) Use Humor
I have a teacher friend who always says we put on six “shows” a day. While it’s not our job to write jokes on cocktail napkins, a little laughter can go a long way toward improving the class. One of the best teachers I know is a master of self-deprecating humor. He can redirect his students’ attention with one dry statement like, “It’s a shame that I’m so boring because I was just about to bestow upon you the single-most important secret to… (says something unintelligible).”

Humor can be a powerful communication tool. Just be sure not to confuse it with teasing or sarcasm, which can be seen as patronizing.
6) Normalize Failure
Taking the sting away from failure is essential to a student’s comfort and ability to learn. Our classroom is their safe place to fall. I feel strongly about creating this aspect of our classroom environment, and I wrote about how I do that here.
7) Ask Students for Assistance
People inherently want to be helpful. We also have a need to feel close to others. When we ask someone to do us a favor, the person being asked feels trusted and useful. The favor draws the two people together. This technique is called the Ben Franklin effect, because in his autobiography Franklin wrote about using it to win over a rival.

Asking for a favor works especially well with difficult students, whether it be an entire class or an individual. Ask them to give you a hand with technology or to explain something. Use the word “help.”

Every so often, I use this technique and I ask a class to help me by giving me a little advice. I might say, “Period 5 class, I knew you’d be the best group to give me advice about the due date for the essay assignment.”

There’s not a doubt in my mind that asking an entire class for a little help works wonders to improve the environment of the class. How am I so sure? On the last day of school, when I tell the kids that I’m going to miss them, the kids from 1st period tell me that they’ve known all along that they were my favorite class. Then 2nd period comes in and tells me that I’m going to miss them the most because they are my favorite class.

You see where this is going, right?
And they are ALL absolutely correct.

Darlene AnneDarlene Anne is a middle school ELA teacher. She knows that teachers work hard to bring meaningful and engaging content to their students, and she is determined to help them do it. Now that her own children are in college, she can’t meddle as much, so she dedicates her time to creating teaching resources that teachers can be proud to use. You can find these resources in her TpT store, Darlene Anne.

7 Keys to a Positive Classroom Culture in Middle School


Something: My Note to Three Teen Girls at Starbucks

Michelle Icard

Published on May 31, 2016

This morning, I sat at a table at my local Starbucks and I listened to three very pretty, very boisterous, horribly behaved young teenage girls at a table near me.

I heard them laugh about the girl who sang a song about being lonely at the talent show. “She is so weird!”

When they complained about the crappy presents people had given them in the past, “I swear, it looked like a used water bottle,” I began to squirm uncomfortably in my chair.

As they bashed some poor girl named Catherine who “wanted to be the lead singer, but we took a vote and everyone wanted me instead, so sorry Catherine – you can be the manager,” I glared at them, but it went unnoticed.

With each new topic I thought, “This couldn’t have been written in a more cliché-mean-girls way by a Hollywood scriptwriter.”

I fantasized about turning to them and telling them to stop. But instead I hemmed and hawed, hoping at any moment one of them would say something nice and redeem themselves, supposing maybe I was misunderstanding them… but, you know, that’s not how these things go. They fueled each other on and laughed louder and complained more. Finally, I couldn’t take it. I left to do my grocery shopping.

The entire time in the store, I felt conflicted. Should I have said something? Should I have stood up for the Catherines of this world? Professionally, I teach girls how to stand up for each other as part of my job and this felt like a problem I couldn’t ignore. Personally, it hit home, too. I remembered being 13 and invited to a Bat Mitzvah. I persuaded my mom to take our very small budget-for-gifts money to a department store so I could pick out a bracelet for my friend. I chose a pretty collection of bright glassy beads strung together. And I vividly remember watching that friend open my gift at her house later, and then turn to another girl with a snickering, “A bunch of marbles? Okay….” I felt like a failure.

I drove by the Starbucks again on my way home, and saw them still sitting in the window. I raced home, ran into my house, grabbed a note card and wrote a quick, heartfelt note.

Then I ordered three mini Frappuccinos on my mobile app and headed back up to Starbucks. They were still there. I walked up to them and said, “Hi Girls. You don’t know me but it looks like you’re here studying and I wrote you a note of encouragement.” I handed them the card and walked away. (The drinks weren’t ready, but the barista agreed to deliver them for me.)

Here is what I wrote:

“Hi Girls!

“I sat near you today in Starbucks and listened as you talked. You three are obviously pretty and hard-working. I wish your kindness matched your pretty exteriors. I heard you talk about a girl who sang a song about being lonely in the talent show – and you laughed. About a girl who couldn’t be lead singer because you got all the votes, about crappy presents other people have given you…and you sounded so mean and petty.

“You are smart and you are pretty. It would take nothing from you to also be kind. – M.”

Normally, I wouldn’t focus on a girl’s appearance like this, but in this case, I thought it was important to speak their language before I delivered my point. I also wanted to point out that having a “pretty card” only hides bad behavior for so long before people see past it. In high school, being pretty is still high value and I wanted to call attention to that.

Possibly they laughed and ditched my note in the trash along with the Frappuccinos. Or, they may have gotten defensive and complained to each other that I was a total over-reactor, and they didn’t mean what I thought I heard. And perhaps it’s true that I overstepped my bounds, but I have to believe that there is still room in our village for lessons from strangers with good intentions in their heart. I didn’t want to shame them out loud or put them on the spot. But my hope is that maybe, just one of them was only going along with the others, and tonight she will think about that in a meaningful way as she’s falling asleep.


Michelle is the author of “Middle School Makeover: Improving The Way You and Your Child Experience Middle School” and a member of the TODAY Parenting Team. Visit MichelleIcard.com for more thoughts on helping kids navigate the tricky adolescent years.


Source: http://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/if-you-see-something-say-something-my-note-to-three-teen-girls-at-starbucks?cid=sm_fbn

A lesson about privilege

Go to original article to see pictures: http://www.buzzfeed.com/nathanwpyle/this-teacher-taught-his-class-a-powerful-lesson-about-privil

A lesson about privilege

I one saw a high school teacher lead a simple, powerful exercise to teach his class about privilege and social mobility. He started by giving each student a scrap piece of paper and asked them to crumple it up.

Then he moved the recycling bin to the front of the room.

He said, “The game is simple — you all represent the country’s population. And everyone in the country has a chance to become wealthy and move into the upper class.”

Nathan W. Pyle / Via buzzfeed.com

“To move into the upper class, all you must do is throw your wadded-up paper into the bin while sitting in your seat.”

The students in the back of the room immediately piped up, “This is unfair!” They could see the rows of students in front of them had a much better chance.

Everyone took their shots, and — as expected — most of the students in the front made it (but not all) and only a few students in the back of the room made it.

He concluded by saying, “The closer you were to the recycling bin, the better your odds. This is what privilege looks like. Did you notice how the only ones who complained about fairness were in the back of the room?”

“By contrast, people in the front of the room were less likely to be aware of the privilege they were born into. All they can see is 10 feet between them and their goal.”

“Your job — as students who are receiving an education — is to be aware of your privilege. And use this particular privilege called “education” to do your best to achieve great things, all the while advocating for those in the rows behind you.”


Transition from Summer Vacation

To transition back from summer, have students create their own “warning flag” to answer the question, “What were the perils (difficulties) of a trip you took or how you spent your time this summer?” Use Beach Warning Flags as an example of what they may have had to “put up with” or were hassled by.

To put a positive spin on this [possible] assignment, have students think about an event or events that happened over the summer. Students can also create  a “Summer Flag”. Use the sentence starter, “It was the summer of…” Examples can include but not limited to: volunteering for a charity, walking a neighbor’s/caring for a friend’s pet, going to day/summer camp, visiting relatives,  attending  a music festival/museum/art gallery/ball game/water/amusement parks, reading books, playing video games etc.

For instance, both my children needed to have some teeth removed, so for me it’s been “The Summer of Tooth Extraction”!


Beach Warning Flags

How not to raise a mean girl

Original article link: http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/19/living/mean-girls-how-not-to-raise-one-parents/index.html?hpt=hp_bn11

Page 1 of 3 Jun 21, 2014 08:00:47AM MDT
Bullying stops here Talking to teens about social media
How not to raise a mean girl
By Kelly Wallace , CNN
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014 CNN.com
Editor’s note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career
and life. She is a mom of two girls. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on

(CNN) — I am one of the lucky ones. I didn’t meet my first “mean girl” until freshman year of college.
Before I met her — let’s call her “Z” — I lived life assuming that people would for the most part treat me the
way I treated them. Oh, how wrong I was.
Z was close to my freshman roommate, who was the opposite of a mean girl, but whenever Z was around,
it was clear that a) she had no time for me and b) I was not welcome in anything she was doing.
To this day, whenever I think of mean girls, I think back to Z and wonder what led her to be so miserable
to me and probably other girls, too.
I find myself thinking about that question a lot lately as I watch my daughters, now 6 and 8, negotiate
female friendships. Sadly, I have already seen mean girl qualities in some girls in their peer group, and my
kids are still years away from middle school!
Pink, princess-y and sexy too soon
psychologist Lori
Day says the problem is growing worse
with the increasing powerof the Internet and
today’s hyperfeminine girl culture, so we’re seeing more mean girls today and at younger ages.
Here’s where we as parents need to slam on the brakes. If the problem is getting worse and it’s starting
with girls as young as elementary school, what can we do about it? How can we avoid raising mean girls?
Day, who is out with the powerful new book “Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can
Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip and So Much More,” says mothers
really have to “model being allies to other women.”

“When girls see their mother gossiping with a female friend about another female friend, putting down
someone because of how they look or their weight … it’s modeling the wrong thing for girls,” she said.
She recommends being explicit with young girls about this philosophy. “You can say, ‘I really try not tohttp://www.cnn.com/2014/06/19/living/mean-girls-how-not-to-raise-one-parents/index.html?hpt=hp_bn11
Page 2 of 3 Jun 21, 2014 08:00:47AM MDT
tear other women down. I try to build them up,’ ” said Day, who wrote the book along with her recent
college graduate daughter and devoted an entire chapter to dealing with mean girls.
Opinion: Are women mean or just stating the facts?

Louise Sattler, a school psychologist, sign language educator and mom of two grown children in Los
Angeles, knows all too well about mean girls. When she was in high school, one girl, we’ll call her “C,”
seemed to have it out for her.

Thirty years later, at her high school reunion, C continued to be a bully, even requesting that Sattler not sit
at her table. (Sattler, you’ll be happy to know, did not back down. She planted her purse and her body
down at that table, and C stormed off.)
“I always felt kind of sorry for her, frankly, because I knew she didn’t come from a very happy household,”
she said.

Girls like C are always looking for something better and for recognition and validation, she added. “And so
I think the way to combat mean girls is to first just validate your daughter. They may not be the
cheerleader. They may not grow up to be the smartest. They may be a little chunky, but that’s OK.”
Mean girls often have a low self-esteem and “a feeling of mistrust and negative competition with other
girls,” said Anea Bogue, an author, educator and self-esteem expert who focuses her energies on helping
People who truly feel good about themselves don’t expend a ton of energy trying to knock others down,
said Bogue, author of “9 Ways We’re Screwing Up Our Girls and How We Can Stop.”
“The most important thing we can do as parents to avoid raising a mean girl is instill self-value and
challenge status quo messages of female inferiority and mistrust between women, a norm girls learn
about from the time they are little from a variety of sources, including fairy tales,” said the mom of two
girls, who recently launched an anti-bullying program in the U.S. and Hong Kong called Be a REALgirl, not
a MEANgirl.

The upside of selfies: Social media isn’t all bad for kids
Annette Lanteri, a mom of two girls in Bayport, New York, switched schools for her elder daughter in part
because of the way she was being treated by some mean girls.

The key in stopping this behavior, she says is teaching children the concept of empathy. “Having the
ability to step into someone’s shoes and use that information when you interact with people is an amazing
tool,” Lanteri said. “A girl with that empathizes with others, especially her peers, (and) will never become a
mean girl.”
What I also heard from the many parents I spoke with is that the golden rule that we all grew up with —
treat others as you would want them to treat you — is perhaps even more important today.
Kids viral bullying shows how frustrated parents can gethttp://www.cnn.com/2014/06/19/living/mean-girls-how-not-to-raise-one-parents/index.html?hpt=hp_bn11
Page 3 of 3 Jun 21, 2014 08:00:47AM MDT
Michelle Staruiala has been passing that philosophy down to her three kids, including her 13-year-old
daughter, their entire lives.
It works, she said. Her daughter hasn’t had issues with mean girls, has been known to stand up for friends
who are being bullied and feels guilty if she ever treats someone the wrong way.
“To this day, my daughter will say, ‘Mom, I shouldn’t have said that. I feel bad I said this about my friend,’ “
said Staruiala, of Saskatchewan.

Then again, maybe we’re going about this mean girl policing all wrong.
Amy MacClain, lead facilitator and program developer for Soul Shoppe, an interactive program focusing
on helping schools and students combat bullying, says we should banish the term entirely.
Saddling a kid with the mean girl tag means judging her in the same way she may be judging others, said
MacClain, who is also the founder of a program that helps parents bully-proof their kids.
“If you turn and go, ‘She’s a mean girl. You better go and play with someone else,’ you’re teaching your
child not to deal with the problem, not to see what might be the cause and not to take care of themselves.”
OMG! Your teen actually talks to you

Truly stopping mean girl behavior demands a lot of parental introspection. After all, what parent would
want to admit their daughter is one?
“Part of it is we’re just so blamed as parents … for the normal things that kids can do. That’s why we don’t
want to take any responsibility,” said MacClain, who has an 11-year-son.

But denial isn’t going to help anyone, parents and parenting experts say, so the best thing any mom of a
mean girl can do is start validating her daughter and connecting with her, even on the playground.
“When there are girls and they’re being mean to one another, get involved,” MacClain said. “Go to the
park where they play and jump into that play and lead it for a little while so that all the girls feel safer and
they’re having fun so you’re not directing it. You’re just jumping in and leading fun.”
How can you prevent a child from turning into a mean girl? Share your thoughts in the comments or tell or
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