The words 'shout outs', 'humor', 'positive notes', and 'model kindness' in different blue and green fonts

Creating a positive and inclusive class culture is key to helping students learn and grow. But there are so many ingredients that go into making a thriving learning environment that it can be hard to know where to start. Whether you’re teaching in the physical classroom, hybrid, or remote, here are our favorite tips for building a positive and inclusive community with your students.

How to Create a Positive Learning Environment for Students

Check out these recommended strategies from the TpT community to help students feel comfortable, included, and celebrated in school.

1. Prioritize building relationships first.

Relationships are foundational to a welcoming and inclusive classroom. “Educators should prioritize building relationships so that students can feel comfortable and secure,” says Angela from Upper Elementary Antics. If a student feels safe, understood, and respected, they’ll be better equipped to learn. Here are relationship-building strategies you can start with:

  • Connect with students one-on-one. Teachers need to know who their students are in order to support and motivate them in meaningful ways, so it’s important to get to know each student individually. Tiffany from One Fab Teacher starts building this trust even before day one. “I call each and every one of my students the night before school starts [. . . ] I let them know that I can’t wait for them to be there, I’m so excited for them to be there, but I’m just as nervous as they are.”
  • Have wellness checks. Students are under a lot of stress right now, so it’s important to make the classroom a place where they can seek support. Katie from Teachers Resource Force suggests conducting wellness check-ins. “This can be in the form of a simple questionnaire on Google Forms where you ask your students a series of quick questions each day. By offering this, you are providing your students with an opportunity to share how they are doing and raise any issues that they might be having. Knowing students feel listened to helps build rapport, and the responses they provide offer you an opportunity to act on any of their concerns.”

2. Make sure every student feels included.

A crucial component of an inclusive classroom is ensuring every student is reflected in your classroom’s culture. If students feel included in their classroom community, they’ll feel more invested in their learning and connected to their classmates. Here are some ways you can make sure every student is included.

  • Give everyone the chance to speak. Some students are more talkative than others, but every student deserves the chance to share their thoughts. To help give everyone the opportunity to share, Jennifer from Happy Teacher Mama uses a timer so that all students have time to speak without interruption.
  • Offer a variety of ways to engage. “It’s important to use a variety of different ways to connect with students so that they have multiple ways to access the content, make their voice heard, and demonstrate understanding,” says Lindsay from Lindsay Ann Learning. “Have discussion threads or posts, use platforms where students can create a video that stars them, or give them the option to not show themselves on camera,” adds Kristin from Samson’s Shoppe
  • Represent students of marginalized backgrounds. Teachers must take steps to actively include students of marginalized backgrounds in classroom culture. As Laura from The Fancy Counselor explains, “Black and Indigenous students of color tend to be marginalized in educational spaces by way of things like disparities in disciplinary practices, curriculum that silences the voices of minority people and marginalized people, policies and services that don’t best serve our minority students. Many times, those policies and procedures ignore racial trauma that comes in the form of daily microaggressions that our Black Indigenous Students of Color tend to deal with on a daily basis.”

3. Celebrate your students’ successes.

Celebrating student wins will help keep your class motivated and excited to learn. Here are some in-person and remote ways you can celebrate success with your students:

  • “Using Zoom, we gave each other thumbs ups when a student would share, or we would ‘silently clap’ for our friends when they bravely spoke up and answered questions.” — Amy Lynn from Amy Lynn Teaches
  • “[I’m] implementing a house-system to foster teamwork and community. Students will earn points for participation, helping others, kindness, following rules, etc. They can keep earning points even at home so this will help all students feel connected to each other.” — Kate from BreatheSmileTeach
  • “I want to try out mini light-up [marquee] signs. I’ll have [the sign] next to me on screen while teaching with the students name on the sign. Everyone will see the highlighted student’s name throughout the whole lesson.” — Tanya from Gifted Teacher 305
  • “Fun virtual rewards can be in the form of online games that the class can play together. […] I’m trying out a virtual show and tell. The idea works the same as a regular show and tell, whereby students will prepare something they want to share with the class, and they can talk about it in front of their peers: it’s presented online instead of in-person, but the benefits are the same. Students will be learning about one another and hopefully finding things in common as they do these show and tell activities.” — Katie from Teachers Resource Force

Resources to Help Build a Positive Classroom Community

Check out these resources for more ideas on how to create positive learning environments that are safe, welcoming, and encouraging.

Daily Check In For Social Emotional Learning | Google Forms™ | Distance Learning by Mikey D Teach

Grades: 3-8

Check In Check Out CICO by Check In with Mrs G

Grades: 3-6

Back to School No Prep FREEBIE: Building Classroom Community by The Teacher Studio

Grades: 2-5

Restorative Circle Prompts by The Radical Maestra 

Grades: 3-12

Culturally Responsive Teaching by Read Like a Rock Star

Grades: K-2

ZOOM with your teacher FREEBIE by It’s MoNique’s World 

Not Grade Specific

Distance Learning Back to School Zoom Scavenger Hunt and Selfie Project by Heather Huffman

Grades: K-12

Virtual Meeting Games | Editable | Distance Learning | End of the Year by Teaching 3rd with Mr G 

Grades: 1-12

Digital Reward Bubble Gum Machine Gumball Student Incentive for Google Slides by Teacher Erin Online

Not Grade Specific

Building a positive classroom culture and inclusive learning environment is key to helping students make progress throughout the school year. We hope these strategies and resources help you build a welcoming and supporting environment for your students.

This post originally appeared in TpT’s Back to School 2020 Guide: For Teachers Creating Tomorrow, and was updated in January 2022.