Creating an Inviting Classroom Environment

By Barbara R. Blackburn

As we start another school year, it’s important to consider creating a classroom environment that is inviting to students. There are two areas we can focus on to form a classroom that will be positive for all students: Building a Relationship and Creating a Physical Environment.

Build a Relationship

The first step to creating an inviting environment is to build a relationship with your students. Understanding who they are and responding to that in supportive ways helps you connect with them. This also teaches students that you respect who they are. Let’s look at three activities you can use to connect with students.

Creating a Timeline

One option is to ask students to create a timeline of experiences. After the students write individual autobiographies or make a list of events in their lives, you can add photos (just take digital pictures and print them) and put them in a notebook to create a class book.

It’s a great way to encourage students to get to know each other better by reading the book. It’s a useful resource for new students, parents, administrators, and substitute teachers, too. You can also create these electronically through a program like the Book Creator app recommended by Megan Kelly, another MiddleWeb contributor, this week.

“Where I’m From” Poems

Another excellent strategy for getting to know students is a “Where I’m From” poem or rap. It allows students to share their lives with you, which will create a strong connection.

One way to start these poems is to first have students organize their thoughts through simple pre-writing techniques like brainstorming, freewrites, or completing a graphic organizer. They can use the following headings to begin to brainstorm ideas: location, favorite foods, memorable moments, important people, hobbies, and favorite music. (Other options: here’s an “I Am From” Pinterest page and a “I Am From” poem generator.)

Once the students have come up with a few thoughts per heading, they can begin to put their poem together. Stress to students that perfection is not the purpose; the purpose is to allow others to see you differently from what they may normally see, or to learn more about you as a new classmate.

I Am From

I am sweet dark caramel.

I am from royalty, strong backs and bones.

I am Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King,
Sojourner Truth, Barack Obama.

I am the creator of a legacy for which my mother and father
laid the foundation.

I am from struggles and despair.

I am love, peace, strength, courage.

I am from a place deep within my soul that makes me smile.

By Abbigail Armstrong

Me Posters

When I was teaching, each of my students created a “Me Poster” at the start of the year. I adapted this idea from one my dad used with teachers during workshops. I provided some starting points using basic pictures or shapes (stickers can work or internet printouts on adhesive paper), and they could customize the posters. This gave me a tremendous amount of information about who they were and their interests and goals—probably more than I would have known if I had merely talked with them, or even asked them to write about themselves because many were reluctant writers.

Components of a Me Poster

– In what way do you star as a student?

Trade-In Car – What part of your personality would you like to trade in?

Flower Pot – How can you make our classroom a better place to be?

First Prize Ribbon – For what one thing would you like to be remembered?

– What is your crowning achievement?

Winner Sign – Why are you a winner?

Sad Emoji or Gray Cloud – What are some things that get you down?

Question or Exclamation Mark – What one thing do you want others to know about you?

Creating a Physical Environment

The second way to create an inviting classroom is to ensure that the physical environment of your classroom is positive, welcoming, safe, and focused on progress. The physical aspects of your room are a critical part of an environment that supports rigor.

Success Quotes

In order to reinforce a positive culture, post encouraging quotes about success around the room. Here’s one web source. There are lots! Just search for “middle school quotes.”

Sample Positive Quotes

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman

“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.” – George Edward Woodberry

“I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – J. K Rowling

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” – Albert Einstein

“If you want to fly you have to give up the things that weigh you down.” – Toni Morrison

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Positive Role Models

Students also need to see positive role models. Many of the students you teach either don’t have a role model for the future, or the one(s) they have do not value education or long-term goals. Read about, talk about, and visibly reinforce role models that can be a positive influence on your students. Here’s a list of worthy teen celebrities at Parenting magazine. Here’s another at Common Sense Media. Also see student and role model Hannah Alper’s list.

Sample Role Models*

Oprah Winfrey
Tyler Perry
LeBron James
Martin Luther King
Lin-Manuel Miranda

Dwyane Wade visits Stoneman Douglas High School, March 2018. TMZ Sports

Dwyane Wade
Jennifer Lopez
Eva Longoria
Malala Yousafzai

**Please note that these were current when I first wrote this, but people (and whether or not they are appropriate role models) can change. Use an up-to-date list in your classroom.

Student Role Models

It’s important to post pictures and stories of role models. However, another alternative is to use your students as role models. Create posters like the sample below and post around your room. (Goals are particularly important here.)

Welcome Doors

A final way to welcome students to your room is to decorate your door. You can use a theme, or just words, but the message is clear: I want you here to learn!

Ideas for Door Themes

✻ Oh, The Places You Will Go with students’ faces on tiny balloons with a welcome message.

✻ Rainbow Fish and student’s faces can make up the scales. The message should encourage diversity (the rainbow fish has many colors). For example: We Like Different!!

✻ Olympic Medalist with students’ names on gold medals including a message about Winners Enter Here or Success in Progress.

Construction Zone: Science Skill Building in Progress (can choose your topic)

✻ Use a popular song like “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen except change the lyrics to Read Me Maybe.

Our invitation to students is so important

The start of the year sets the tone for our students’ successes. To help our kids believe the school year will be positive, we need to create an inviting classroom environment. When we build a relationship with them from the beginning and create a physical environment that is welcoming, our students will start year with a solid foundation and happy prospects.

Barbara Blackburn was named one of the Top 30 Global Gurus in Education in 2017. She is a best-selling author of 16 books including Rigor is Not a Four Letter Word and most recently Rigor and Differentiation in the Classroom: Tools and Strategies.

A nationally recognized expert in the areas of rigor and motivation, she collaborates with schools and districts for professional development. Barbara can be reached through her website or her blog. Follow her on Twitter @BarbBlackburn.

Feature image: Classroom doormat,


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