5 Things You Can Do Right Now for a More Positive Classroom

We've all heard it - "There's no tired like teacher tired!" - and it's so true... especially this time of year! The more tired I am, the harder it is for me to be positive and energetic with my students, especially the students that have challenging behaviors. I know I am not alone in this struggle! However, while it is challenging and definitely doesn't happen instantly, I truly believe that having a positive classroom is within our power. Try these 5 research-based strategies today to transform your classroom into a more positive place for all students. They have changed my classroom in the best way possible!

These practical strategies are the backbone of my classroom management system. My favorite part is they don't really require any time to prep and you can implement them immediately. You can literally try them the next day you work with your students! The first strategy you can even try today!


Positivity in the classroom starts with you! We have incredible power to set the tone of our classroom through our interactions with students each day. But let's face it - teaching is exhausting! And it's hard to be positive when you are exhausted. This is why it is important for us to protect ourselves from burnout, especially those of us working with students from poverty. For the same reason that you may yawn when you see another person yawn (or may have just yawned even reading the word yawn!), teachers actually take on the pain of children from trauma. Mirror neurons in the brains of students pass on their pain to the mirror neurons in the brains of teachers without us even realizing it! This negativity impacts our physical and mental health, which may lead to increased absences from work and increased teacher turnover. In order to be able to help our students day after day, we have to develop our own resiliency and build our capacity to be near their trauma (Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma NEA Handbook).

"Suit up" with self-care routines and rituals. 

Just as firefighters have to "suit up" before entering a burning building, educators must "suit up" to be prepared to work in classrooms filled with students from traumatic backgrounds. We can suit up by prioritizing healthy nutrition, exercise, 7-9 hours of sleep each night, venting with a trusted colleague, spending quality time with loved ones, enjoying our favorite activities, and practicing mindfulness. I personally have been working on all of the above! After more than a decade, I am finally learning that I am a better teacher when I take care of myself than I am when I don't. Teacher friends, we matter! If you are feeling burned out and have a hard time feeling positive at school, make a commitment today to take better care of YOU. You are worth the investment!


Research shows that children from higher income homes experience six positive conversations for every one negative conversation (6:1), but children in poverty experience one positive for every two negative conversations (1:2). Given that the ratio of positive to negative for optimal human growth is 3:1, this means children in poverty often come to us stifled by negativity (Jensen 2012). Learning this really convicted me to make a commitment to positivity in my classroom.

Start being intentional about keeping an overall positive tone in your classroom. 

Take a moment to self-reflect. Do you maintain a 3:1 positive ratio with your class overall?   Now think about your most challenging students. Do they receive 3 positive statements for every negative redirection? (Did I mention neutral statements don't count towards the positive ratio?) If the answer is no to either question, intentionally focus on maintaining a 3:1 ratio with both the entire class and individual students. Start early! I love to greet students at the door with a smile and hug or high five. This sets a positive tone right from the start. 


Our natural instinct is to redirect misbehavior immediately. Even though I know this isn't effective, sometimes it's just faster to call it out than to move to the student in order to whisper it quietly. But faster often isn't better. Calling out misbehavior to get it to stop can actually have the opposite effect! As little eyes turn towards the negative behavior, mirror neurons may cause other students to replicate the exact behavior we are trying to stop! Publicly redirecting misbehavior also invites us into a power struggle because students may attempt to "save face" in front of their peers by further acting out.

Focus on complimenting the positive behaviors you want to see mirrored and repeated. 

For me, the biggest change came when I started to focus on complimenting the positive behaviors I wanted to see repeated by others. In most cases, even the eyes of the misbehaving students will turn towards those I compliment, and they instantly start correcting the behavior - all without me saying one negative word! I also chose to rethink my public management system because it wasn't working for my most challenging students. I still love Class Dojo, but I personally like to award only positive points and use the points as a classroom economy. Students love selecting privileges from our Classroom Rewards options from all the points they have earned for positive choices!


Teacher-to-students relationships are in the top 10 factors that correlate to student achievement. Students learn more when they believe we care about them and believe in their ability to learn. Sadly, when I have asked my more challenging students if they know how much I care about them, they often respond that they think I don't like them. While it is always my intention to communicate my love for them, I know that my frustration comes through in my body language or words left unspoken. It's hard for it not to, especially when I feel frustrated by how their behavior impacts their own progress and the learning of those around them. (I know I'm not alone in feeling this way!)

Take a moment to reflect on the quality of relationships with your most challenging students. 

Relationship building can be hard to quantify, but the 2x10 Strategy offers a great solution. I first learned about this strategy from Angela Watson on The Cornerstone for Teaching website. Simply spend 2 minutes a day for 10 school days in a row talking with an at-risk student about anything he or she wants to talk about. Research has shown that this strategy has improved a child's behavior by up to 85%. Simple and incredibly effective! I like to keep a record of it on my clipboard and save it for documentation purposes, especially if the child has been referred for other services. In complete transparency, this strategy has worked with every child every time. I love finding little ways to make time for them and make them feel special, and they love feeling seen and heard.


One way to ensure that you can maintain a 3:1 ratio of positives in your classroom is to embed opportunities for your students to receive affirmation from one another. We don't have to do it alone! Our students have an innate need to be accepted and valued by their peers that begins around age 7, grows into a need for social status by the age of 12, and matters even more as kids move into middle school and higher. We have a responsibility to help our students learn how to affiliate with their peers and establish friendships in a healthy way. I explored specific ideas and strategies in-depth on my blog post How to Help Students Build Lasting Friendships in Class. Teaching our students how to celebrate each other's strengths is time well-invested because it has a direct correlation to their academic achievement, positive behaviors, and overall emotional wellbeing (Jensen, 2013).

Encourage students to celebrate their peers. 

This can be as simple as having them turn to a friend to give a high five on a job well done. One of my favorite things to do is Class Cheers. I learned about these my first year teaching from one of my mentor teachers. She shared a bunch of silly cheers that we could teach our students and do together to celebrate positive choices. I have since learned the cheers originated from Dr. Jean Feldman, and you can download the cheers here. I laminated the cards, cut them out, and keep them on a ring near my computer so I can always find them! My students' favorites are Roller Coaster and Fireworks. You aren't limited to only the cheers on the cards. Let your kids get creative! For more ideas, check out this post about helping students build healthy relationships with one another.

1 comment

Back to Top