Session

2. Creating a positive and respectful classroom environment

This session will take approximately 30 minutes to complete.

Session overview

It’s important to create a culture of trust and respect within your classroom that supports all pupils to succeed.

To support you to do this, in this session you will explore:

  • Motivation
  • Praise
  • Building trust and respect

Motivation

Pupils are motivated by extrinsic factors (related to rewards) and intrinsic factors (related to their identity and values).

Extrinsic factors

Extrinsic factors are external motivators such as rewards and punishments. Therefore, an extrinsically motivated pupil is likely to persist at a challenging task because they want to receive a reward such as a house point, sticker, or praise, or they want to avoid punishment, like a detention or extra homework.

Intrinsic factors

Intrinsic factors are internal motivators which relate to an individual’s identity and values. As a teacher, you are a key role model, who can influence the attitudes, values and, consequently, behaviours of your pupils. For example, you might emphasise the value of persevering in the face of adversity because in order to improve at something, you must practise areas that you find challenging. Therefore, an intrinsically motivated pupil is likely to persist at a challenging task because they know you need to practise to improve as a result of the values you have been promoting.

As teachers, our long-term aim is to help our pupils move from needing extrinsic motivation to being intrinsically motivated to work and learn. Both types of motivation will be further explored throughout the programme.

To begin with, you will explore how to motivate pupils using one type of extrinsic factor: praise.

Praise

As a teacher, we can demonstrate our consistently high expectations by acknowledging and praising pupil effort and emphasising the progress pupils are making. This can help to communicate shared values that improve both the classroom and school culture.

Within the classroom, we can use praise to positively reinforce expectations by recognising pupils’ hard work and effort, sharing and celebrate their work or behaviour, and indirectly preventing low-level disruption.

Outside of the classroom, pupil praise can be a positive way to engage parents and carers in their child’s education by proactively highlighting their efforts and successes.

Whether used within or outside of the classroom, praise can be incredibly motivating for pupils.

The difference between acknowledgement and praise

Acknowledging and praising pupil effort and emphasising progress being made is a great way to extrinsically motivate pupils. Research also suggests that praise can help to build pupils’ intrinsic motivation too (Henderlong & Lepper, 2002).

Sometimes it can be tempting to praise pupils for every correct decision they make in the classroom – from entering quietly to picking up their pens to completing a task you set them. However, overusing praise can make it seem disingenuous to pupils, thereby causing it to lose power and effect.

To avoid overuse, it can be helpful to keep in mind the difference between acknowledgement and praise.

Acknowledgement is when you recognise or thank a pupil for meeting your expectations. You may use acknowledgement when a pupil follows your instructions or carries out the routines you have set to the standard that you expect. For example, “Thanks Suzy for lining up silently”, or, “I can see 80% of us are ready to start”.

This is different from praising a pupil for following your expectations – for example, “Well done to Suzy for lining up silently – that’s fantastic”. It’s not a good idea to praise in this way, because it sends out an implicit message that you are in some way impressed that Suzy has met your expectations and didn’t expect her to.

It’s best to reserve praise and words like ‘fantastic’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘great’ to emphasise pupil effort and progress being made. For example, when a pupil has worked hard in class and made good progress, you might say, “Mohammed has used a fronted adverbial and included the right punctuation – fantastic work Mohammed!”.

Precise praise

When giving praise, you should aim to be specific so that pupils know what they did well. If you don’t inform them of how they demonstrated effort and determination or highlight the progress they have made, then they won’t know what to repeat in future. Therefore, praise should be precise.

Here are some examples of using precise praise:

Praising independence
“Great effort. You used the resources to complete that question without asking for help.

Praising one-to-one correspondence in counting
“Well done – you counted each object once this time.”

Praising passing a ball correctly in rugby
“That’s much better. You passed backwards every time – brilliant work.”

Precise praise in action

Watch the following video of a teacher using precise praise.

As you watch, notice how the teacher uses both acknowledgement (to highlight when their expectations have been met) and precise praise (to highlight pupil effort or progress).

Precise praise – Primary – Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Precise praise – Primary [AD]

Reflection

In your next mentor session, your mentor will observe you using precise praise and acknowledgement. To help you prepare, reflect on your current teaching practice and consider:

  • How do you currently acknowledge or praise pupils?
  • How could you improve this to make it more effective and meaningful for pupils?

Engaging parents and carers

Engaging parents or carers in their child’s education by sharing successes or achievements with them is another way to extrinsically motivate pupils.

It can also help to build relationships with carers and families which can further improve pupil’s motivation, behaviour and academic success.

There are many ways of doing this and often schools have their own policies on engaging with parents and carers, so speak with your mentor to explore the approaches you could take.

Building trust and respect

Creating a calm and respectful classroom environment is a bedrock on which you can build positive relationships with your pupils.

Research shows that teachers developing trusting relationships with pupils is critical for pupils’ enjoyment of school and for their academic progress. For example, a 2015 PISA study found that teacher-pupil relations are strongly associated with performance in mathematics as well as pupils’ happiness and sense of belonging at school.

Building effective relationships is easier when pupils believe that their feelings will be considered and understood. Listen to Bea Stevenson talk here about the role that respect and empathy play in this process and consider the following questions:

  • Why is your own self-awareness important?
  • How are feelings linked to behaviour?
  • How can you help pupils to self-regulate their emotions and consequently, their behaviour?
Empathy-based classrooms – Bea Stevenson at Family Links

Video transcript

It’s a grey Wednesday morning in November. You have left the house in a hurry, forgetting your keys, and snapped at your mum on the phone on the way in to work. You arrive at school later than you had wanted to, with less time to prepare for the day ahead than you had hoped for. In a short time, your class will be arriving. A class of young people that, if you are honest with yourself, you have not yet been able to build the relationships with that you know are so important. 

So how can you, with everything you are managing in your own life, create a classroom climate that builds trust and respect and that supports all pupils to thrive? 

Firstly, we will think about YOU. What you are dealing with in your own life and how you manage the feelings associated with the ups and downs – your self-awareness

Secondly, we will consider how feelings drive behaviours and how our ability to respond empathically to those around us will support you, as teacher, to build responsive relationships with pupils.

Thirdly, we will explore how high expectations can be maintained through a finely tuned balance of empathy with clear boundaries.

So let’s return to that grizzly Wednesday morning. It’s so important to check in with your own emotional state on a regular basis: where would you be, and place yourself, in terms of your emotions at that point in the day? We come to our first point – that your self-awareness is key. Recognising your own emotions – whether it’s anger, excitement, frustration or something else – and accepting that you can both be aware of the emotion whilst also being able to ‘park it’, to return to it later, is a key part of being the strong role model that young people need in their lives. As professionals we need to find ways to be aware of, but put to one side, our own emotions – so that we can enable and support young people and build a culture of trust and respect.  

To do this, you can create times in the day to ‘check in’ with how you are feeling, for example, whilst walking down the corridor, listening to music, or having a cup of tea with a colleague.  If you can create this space – just a few moments – then you provide yourself with time to understand your own feelings and emotions. This is important because as the orchestrator of the classroom climate, in Haim Ginott’s words, it’s your daily mood that makes the weather. 

This leads to our second point that these feelings you are checking in with on a regular basis are driving behaviours – both yours and those of your pupils. Behaviour is often a way of communicating feelings; for example, a child who is shouting out may be feeling overwhelmed and therefore finding it difficult to manage his or her frustration, or a child who shouted at another pupil during play time may have been feeling jealous and angry because they felt left out. It is important that we recognise and accept all feelings, whilst also setting fair, clear boundaries about behaviour. Discussing your emotions and the emotions of pupils is helpful in these circumstances as it helps to expand pupils’ feelings vocabulary. Once they begin to recognise their feelings, you can support pupils to find other tools to deal with the situations they find difficult. 

One way we can encourage pupils to respect and support one another is with a class or group agreement that you can then return to on a regular basis. Including young people early on in identifying how they want to FEEL in class, and in relation to others around them, helps them to think about how they best learn. They may come up with words such as ‘safe’, ‘happy’, ‘energised’, ‘listened to’ and ‘valued’. Then think about the behaviours that are and aren’t helpful for the class to feel these ways. This conversation encourages ownership and a sense of agency for all young people – it means they are invested in the classroom being a place THEY want to be and to learn. It also gives the important and ongoing message that you as teacher are listening to them, that it matters how they are feeling and what they need. This is important because building effective relationships is easier when pupils are aware that their feelings are considered and understood. You can return to this agreement on a daily basis – both as a proactive way to encourage the behaviour you want to see and also as a reminder to young people when they aren’t displaying the behaviour that is helpful to them or others. Remind them gently ‘do you remember we said we all wanted to feel safe’, ‘I wonder if this is helping others feel safe, or listened to?’, ‘What do we need to do to help everyone feel this way?’ This will support their own ability to recognise what they need in order to learn, through an understanding of their own feelings and drivers of their behaviour and therefore support them to self-regulate their emotions in the long term. 

The final way to create a culture of respect and mutual trust is to maintain high expectations of pupils through a finely tuned balance of empathy with fair, clear boundaries. Empathy, unlike sympathy, is the ability to think about how another person might be feeling and to see a situation from their point of view. So we can tentatively suggest what might be going on for a child when they are throwing, or pushing, or shouting, or of course the less disruptive behaviours such as being withdrawn. It is important you maintain your expectations about appropriate behaviours but attempt to discover the drive for these behaviours in a respectful way such as ‘I’m wondering if you are feeling….’, ‘you seem…..’ . Our instinct sometimes is to try and solve things for the young people we work with rather than help them to deal with the potentially complicated feelings. It is important to understand that the way we hold high expectations of behaviour is not through methods that might shame or humiliate the children in our classes but in how we help pupils to change their behaviour.

So, how do you create a culture of mutual trust and respect that supports all pupils to thrive? First, make sure you are thinking about YOUR self-awareness – as the role model, the young people in your class are learning about relationships in their every interaction with you and with the interactions they see you having with others. Second, remember that behaviour can be driven by feelings: support young people to recognise and name these feelings, as well as find appropriate ways to manage them. Third, it is absolutely possible to have high expectations of yourself and young people – setting clear boundaries whilst also responding with empathy and understanding. Finally and most important, an empathy-based classroom pivots on you, the teacher, being able to be a responsive adult for young people, and in order to be that person it is crucial that you look after yourself.

Reflection

Think about your teaching practice and consider the following questions. Record your reflections.

  • Would you describe your classroom environment as trusting and respectful? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • What steps have you already taken to develop trust and respect in your classroom?
  • What further steps could you take?

Related ECF strands

High Expectations

1.1 Teachers have the ability to affect and improve the wellbeing, motivation and behaviour of their pupils.

1.2 Teachers are key role models, who can influence the attitudes, values and behaviours of their pupils.

1.4 Setting clear expectations can help communicate shared values that improve classroom and school culture.

1.5 A culture of mutual trust and respect supports effective relationships.

1d. Seeking opportunities to engage parents and carers in the education of their children (e.g. proactively highlighting successes).

1h. Acknowledging and praising pupil effort and emphasising progress being made.

Managing Behaviour

7.1 Establishing and reinforcing routines, including through positive reinforcement, can help create an effective learning environment.

7.5 Building effective relationships is easier when pupils believe that their feelings will be considered and understood.

7.6 Pupils are motivated by intrinsic factors (related to their identity and values) and extrinsic factors (related to reward).

7a. Establishing a supportive and inclusive environment with a predictable system of reward and sanction in the classroom.

7o. Helping pupils to journey from needing extrinsic motivation to being motivated to work intrinsically.

Professional Behaviours

8.4 Building effective relationships with parents, carers and families can improve pupils’ motivation, behaviour and academic success.

8h. Communicating with parents and carers proactively and making effective use of parents’ evenings to engage parents and carers in their children’s schooling.