Creating a Positive Environment at School and Home

Being a teacher is hard. Being a mom is hard. Combining the two makes it seems downright impossible some days. So, this past week when it was Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day, it was a week full of wonderful celebrations. How cool was that? Chocolates, muffins, sweet cards, and happy vibes were treasured. 

The combined celebratory week got me thinking about the concepts we have learned as teachers and how they carry over into our home environment as parents. Did you know that 48% of teachers are parents? Even if a teacher doesn’t have children at home, they are parents for eight hours a day in the confines of their classrooms. From tying shoes to helping with loose teeth, from lecturing students about a bad choice they made, to encouraging them to pursue a passion, parenting is part of a teacher’s job description. 

Part of being an effective teacher and parent is creating a positive environment at school and home. It is crucial to making your students and your at-home children feel loved, appreciated, and stable. 

Geeta Verman, a school principal states, “A positive classroom environment helps improve attention, reduce anxiety, and supports emotional and behavioral regulation of students. When educators foster a positive learning culture, learners are more likely to acquire higher motivation that leads to wonderful learning outcomes.” 

Since a positive classroom environment creates all of the above wonderful effects, a positive home environment fosters the same results: less anxious children who feel safe, loved, and motivated. 

Here are 3 practical ways to create a positive environment in the classroom and at home.

Creating a Positive Environment: Connect

Think about the different jobs you’ve held. Which particular job brings happy thoughts? For me, I think about the jobs and locations in which I connected with coworkers, had friends like family, and had personable administration. It was those principals that asked about my children, asked about my weekend, and were genuinely interested in me that had me looking forward to work. 

As teachers, it is crucial to connect with students. Simple and practical ways include asking about their weekend, their out-of-school hobbies and sports, and overall general interests. If there’s a moment that you are one-on-one with your student, ask them a question about what they’re going to do after school that day. I find that one question opens up the door to so much conversation. Comment on their new shoes or their shiny new braces. If they have a fun sticker on their water bottle, ask them about it. Find a way to connect. 

Sometimes, introverted students do not like to chat openly but they tend to open up in bell-ringers, writing assignments, diary entries, and paragraph responses. I love to respond back in writing to my more introverted students and carry on dialogue this way. Make an effort to connect one-on-one with your students in some way every day. 

As a mom, I had the privilege of having my son one-on-one for seven years before his sister was born. I am a teacher mom that went through a collective seven years of infertility and I cherish my two children so much. There was a period of time I did not think I would have any children, so to me, they are everything.

It was easy to connect with my son when it was just him. Now that I have a second child in the mix, it can get tricky. I cannot imagine those teacher-parents that have more than two kids. Whew-wee!

I like to connect with each of my children every day. With my son, our daily car rides to school and back and his conversations while I’m cooking dinner help us connect. Playing on the floor with blocks and Lego Duplo, or rocking my two-year-old daughter helps her feel connected to me. 

When your at-home children and at-school students feel connected to you, their responses to you are more positive. When you’re connected with your kids, you are better able to understand them and they will respond better during discipline times as well. 

For instance, if I know my student had a soccer tournament all weekend two states away, I know that he may be more tired on Monday and his behavior might come across as sluggish. If I know my student is going through their parents’ divorce, I know that their behavior might not be normal. If a student is having a behavior issue, my connection with them helps me figure out what’s going on and how to work with them in the right direction at that moment. Maybe instead of a quick demerit, they need a long chat. Maybe instead of lunch detention, they just need to confide in someone. 

As adults, we have bad days and bad moods, yet we expect our children, who are learning to live and exist, to be perfect.

If I have not had an opportunity to connect with either of my children at home, sometimes their love bucket isn’t filled and they may be grumpier. If I know my son has a math test he’s nervous about, his mood may not be the happiest. If I am hustling around trying to clean up after dinner, but my daughter is clingy, I know I need to stop and connect with her. 

Connection is key to both sets of our kiddos and helps us understand them better. 

Creating a Positive Environment: Positive Interactions

Did you know that it’s actually easier to be negative than positive? Our mind is hardwired to spot the negative. It goes back to a primal need for our brains to keep us safe. Also, as humans, our brains remember negative events more than positive events. You probably recall vividly that embarrassing moment in elementary school, but don’t really remember the positive feedback you got from a teacher. This is termed negativity bias. (Check out more of the study here.)

Even though it’s against the hardwiring of our brains, we need to focus on the positives. If your student wrote a five-paragraph story with tons of improvement, but their grammar was atrocious, focus and highlight on what they did well first and praise them for their progress. Then, you can teach the grammar parts they need to work on. Last, finish off with something truly awesome you noticed in the story or something they did. This “sandwich” way of positive reinforcement has a much more desired effect than choosing to focus on the negative. 

With your children at home, the same concept works beautifully. If you want your child to eat more veggies and fruits, but they only ate the fruits, instead of sternly telling them to eat the veggies *NOW* praise them for making a healthy choice with the fruit. Praising, using positive reinforcement, and even using the correct tone are important.

Did you know that teens react more to tone than the actual message of the words being said? A new study from Cardiff University shows exactly this. The exact same message was delivered to fourteen and fifteen-year-olds and students reacted more negatively to a harsher tone than to a positive tone. Choose your tone carefully with your students and your kids. I guess Mama was right when she said, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar!”

Next, I heard something in a workshop last year that really stuck with me. For every one disciplinary interaction you give a child, you need five positive interactions afterward to reconnect and reset. This was a game-changer for me as a teacher and as a mom. It has helped me connect with my students and at-home kids and realign us after misbehavior.

Creating a Positive Environment: Pick Your Battles

A couple of weeks ago, my son was drawing hopscotch on the sidewalk. My two-year-old daughter, who loves chalk drawings was happy and busy as a bee coloring her creations. She went over to the hopscotch my son had just drawn and started scribbling on it. He firmly told her no, but this caused a huge meltdown. My daughter had just had a vaccine the previous day and she had only taken a short nap. Her meltdown was big. After some minutes of cajoling, she was coloring away in her area and started scribbling into the hopscotch area again. I told my son to just leave her alone this time and it wasn’t hurting him in any way. I reminded him, “Pick your battles!” 

As parents and teachers, sometimes we have to pick our battles. It’s important to consistently discipline, of course, but evaluate the situation. I did not want my daughter to think he was disciplining her for just coloring. 

Picking your battles helps children feel less anxious. Would you want to live or work in an environment in which you were critiqued for every minor error? 

Children are learning. That is their whole entire job. They are bound to make mistakes. Nit-picking your students or children for everything they do that isn’t correct creates the opposite effect. Children who do not feel emotionally safe to take risks, or to fail, feel highly anxious. 

When a student or child is highly anxious, learning at school or at home cannot take place. Children must feel safe, stable, and loved in order to learn. 

Sometimes we must pick our battles with our students. Evaluate the situation. Are we just being super nit-picky today? Pause and think: If I were to discipline them at this very moment, would it be helpful or would it create a hindrance? What is a better way to address this behavior?

For instance, one morning during homeroom at school, I wrote on the board for students to work on their weekly vocabulary and spelling homework and read independently afterward with no devices. I then saw one of my wonderfully-behaved students with his device out. Before I jumped on the disciplining bandwagon, I paused and walked by him and realized he had an e-book on his device and was reading independently. 

I could have disciplined the students that decided to work on a grammar homework sheet that morning. Instead, I paused and thought about the positives. The students choose to do their homework instead of chatting. Even though they should have done it the night before, I let it pass. We still had a talk later about accomplishing their homework the night before and not procrastinating. However, I chose when I wanted to address that. 

Picking your battles, taking the time to pause, and evaluating the situation allows us to keep those connections we’ve worked so hard for and create a more positive school and home environment with children who feel safe enough to learn. 

Picking your battles should never be an excuse for not consistently training your students or children in the ways they should go. With all of this in mind, pick your battles wisely. 

Conclusion

By connecting with students, focusing on positive praise and affirmation, and picking your battles, you are creating a positive environment at home and at school is possible. Children learn best when they feel safe, loved, and in a stable environment. Discipline, training, and instruction should still take place of course. However, creating a positive environment should be one of your top priorities at school and at home. 

Author of Blog

Chapter Book Read Aloud: Gregory and the Grimbockle

If you want to truly build relationships with your students and make a deep connection with them, then reading aloud a chapter book will unquestionably create an incredible bond. Oh, how I remember the readings of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, and James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl as a fifth grade teacher. 

The readings were so magical, but the deep discussions throughout and afterward were the most powerful endeavors. You can bond with your students in such a powerful way. Even the students who kept their heads down with a hoodie guarding their facial features will bring something to the discussion out of the blue to blow everyone away. Reading chapter books aloud is definitely a relationship builder. 

I have another novel to add to the mix of great ones. It is fresh, modern, and funny. It strives to build human connections through a magical adventure. Students are instantly hooked. Plus, there is a bonus. It is by an Australian author who delights children in America with her use of Australian dialect that your students can’t help but enjoy.

The novel, Gregory and the Grimbockle, arrived quietly in my library a couple of years ago, but the huge splash it has made with my students and myself ever since is very impressive. We simply can’t get enough. I am so thrilled this little gem made its way into my collection of supreme children’s literature. 

The story begins with a 10-year-old boy named Gregory. Gregory is one of those children who seem to fall in the cracks, doesn’t have any friends, his family doesn’t pay much attention to him unless to provoke him, a true loner, one without hope, and a boy merely living a day-to-day existence. 

That is until a Grimbockle mysteriously arrives in the middle of the night, entering Gregory’s world from all places: a cracked mole just underneath Gregory’s nose. Yes, a cracked mole. Ew! Kids either gasp or are intrigued by the grossness.

Don’t worry, the brilliance of Melanie Schubert’s writing pulls you in so quickly that you don’t even wonder if this new and exciting world she has created is real or not. You just want to hop on to the story and ride the waves, or the exoodles, as the Grimbockle calls them.

What are exoodles, you may ask? The things that connect us to each other, the things the Grimbockle and the Bockles take care of for us, the things that make us human, why we care for each other, and love each other. Talk about building relationships. 

The writing is so captivating my students were instantly worrying about the relationships of the characters in the book, exclaiming why can’t the characters see that their relationships need to be restored! 

With that, this chapter book, Gregory and the Grimbockle, will truly give your students a way to visualize the connections they make with each other and how each person is so important to others. 

For a long time after I read this wonderful book to my students, the kiddos started noticing the connections they have with each other, especially the relationships in their family they normally would not think much about. 

National Geographic:

Not only did I feel this was such a wonderful story, but National Geographic did as well. Gregory and the Grimbockle was featured on their website. Don’t take my word for it, click below and check it out for yourself. There are interviews, coloring pages, and a word search.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

This is the tale of Gregory and the Grimbockle.

Gregory is a young boy of ten who thinks he must be the most unfortunate boy who ever lived. He barely has any friends and is the object of jokes and jabs from his, often disagreeable, sister. If that isn’t bad enough, poor young Gregory has recently developed an enormous and most peculiarly shaped mole beneath his nose.

Imagine Gregory’s surprise when he finds out that his mole is not just a mole, but is actually a humpy crumpy portal of skin that hides a creature called the Grimbockle.

What is the Grimbockle? A very fine question, indeed.

The Grimbockle is just one of the many strange little creatures called Bockles tending to the mysterious threads that connect all humans from one to the other. It is a very important job, and one that has long been carried out with incredible secrecy. That is before this one particular night and a most extraordinary turn of events.

Thus begins a most peculiar sort of adventure where Gregory learns all about the creatures called Bockles and the mysterious threads called exoodles that connect us all to one another.

The illustrations woven throughout this novel are extraordinary. I love when novels include that perfect element of just enough drawings throughout to pull the reader in, opening up another world without overwhelming the reader’s imagination. Abigail Kraft did an amazing job with this feat. 

Author Interview:

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Schubert. As a librarian, I am still overwhelmed each time I can communicate with an author and see ins and outs of their lives in their novels.

#1 Interview Question and Answer:

Tami: When I wrote the book Radiator the Snowman, I was walking through a gift shop and saw a sad little snowman with the longest hat ever. I knew I instantly wanted to write his story. How did you come by the idea to create a story about Gregory and especially the adorable Grimbockle?

Schubert: Aw! I love that image of the sad little snowman 💘 The idea for Gregory and the Grimbockle came from the mysterious phenomenon I observed, that often, if I was particularly sad, or thinking of a specific person that person would call or message! A healthy diet of fantasy books growing up, meant I couldn’t help but imagine the secret reason why. The image of invisible threads that connected people was kind of always in my head. At some point the Bockles just decided to glide on winged cockroach steeds into the picture!

#2 Interview Question and Answer:

Tami: Are you planning on creating a series? 

Schubert: I actually did have a second book that I started drafting titled Greta and the Grimbockle. But I was a very new writer when I won the competition to have Gregory and the Grimbockle published. When my publisher and I parted ways, I felt overwhelmed and had no idea what I wanted to do with it all! But recently the performing arts company I write for asked if I would write a play for the company based on G&G! It might be just the kick in the pants I need to get the book available for sale again myself.

#3 Interview Question and Answer

Tami: What would you like to say to any student that would like to pursue writing further?

Schubert: I would say…don’t wait for anyone’s permission to chase your dreams. The things that call to you often do so for a reason. But also, if you want to pursue writing professionally, know it is both one of the most difficult but rewarding things to break into. It might take the better part of a decade for you to get where you imagine you’d like to be with book one. You might fail more times than you ever thought you should, but if it’s in your bones, you should never ignore it–those failures by another name are just learning.

Another thing I will say in big bold caps is, LEARN YOUR INDUSTRY! Writing is a job like any other. There may be no specific “rules” but there is a general thrumming pulse. I don’t know exactly how else to explain that 😆, but if you aren’t doing your research and staying up to date with the current market you might find yourself on the outskirts of it all. A lot of this is learned naturally when you network, network, network! Get online, make some writer friends! My writing community has been life changing for me.

#4 Interview Question and Answer

Tami: Are you planning on writing any more children’s books, particularly for upper elementary and middle school students?

Schubert: Right now I’m actually working on an Adult Romcom with Fantasy elements–in a way it’s not so different to what I was writing with Grimbockle. Worlds and creatures of magic hidden within our own. But I love writing YA and middle grade too, so I’m sure I’ll return to that space again at some point. I actually have several picture book texts somewhere too, so I guess I officially write all categories 😆 but really, I just write whichever characters are screaming the loudest at that particular time. Some books and characters demand to be written–like your snow man–A wise writer would never ignore them.

While my students and I read her book each year, we love to follow her on Instagram and discuss the things occurring in her life. One of the wonderful things about social media is that students can see into the lives of authors, illustrators, and others pertinent to their lives.

Schubert’s Writing Buddy:

Goose, Writing Buddy Extradinaire

One of the best things about this was unexpected. My students instantly fell in love with Schubert’s doggie, Goose. Goose is her writing buddy, constantly at her side through thick and thin. A lot of my students have enjoyed pictures of Goose at the beach, patiently waiting for Schubert to finish her writing assignments for the day, making friends with other doggies, or waiting for someone to share ice cream with her during her many outings. 

Schubert’s Website:

Want to learn more about Mrs. Schubert, please visit her website.

Hats off to Schubert.  I am definitely looking for more works from her wonderful imagination. If Roald Dahl was still here, he would be a huge fan of Schubert as well. Again, can’t wait for more!

Conclusion:

If you would like a book that creates an extraordinary world for kids while at the same time convinces the reader that this could easily be real, well, Gregory and the Grimbockle, is the perfect one to read. My students couldn’t get enough and were so sad when it came to an end. They are already asking me to purchase her next writing masterpiece.

Author of Blog

5 Tips for Building Relationships with Our Co-Workers

Historically, building relationships has been a hot topic within education. We now understand that students learn best when relationships between teachers and students have been developed together. We have also learned that not only do students thrive in an environment where relationships have been established but that teachers also thrive when relationships have been established among co-workers. Let’s discuss 5 tips for building relationships with our co-workers we can easily incorporate daily.

If you have worked or experienced working in a contentious environment where co-worker relationships are not valued, our commitment to doing our best to educate and grow students academically may quickly diminish to survival mode or even a consideration for a new career. 

While building relationships among co-workers may come easy to some, others may have to work hard to create opportunities for relationships to grow. Please understand that I am not being unrealistic in thinking that everyone will be interested or even willing to create a collegial co-worker relationship, but my hope is that we can work together to create school environments where everyone feels valued, cared for, and part of a work family. 

The 5 tips I am offering come from personal experiences within my 14 years in education both as a teacher and a school administrator. Having experienced work environments that valued and devalued collegial relationships, I have learned a few takeaways along the way. 

1. Learn Your Co-Workers’ Names

It has been said that people’s names are the sweetest melody they can hear.

As simple as this sounds, depending on the size of your school, you may not interact or meet everyone that works within your school building.

In my experience, there have been times when I had to stop and introduce myself to someone or simply apologize for not remembering their name. 

Not knowing someone’s name makes it seem as if he or she is not important to us. With this, remembering a co-worker’s name is an easy opportunity to form a connection. Plus, knowing our co-worker’s name goes a long way in building relationships that may last throughout our careers.

2. Make Eye-Contact and Greet Your Colleagues

Have you experienced walking in the hallway preoccupied by something or your head is down looking at your phone and someone speaks to you? Without even realizing, you may say hello but never look up or stop what you’re doing to make eye contact and greet the person back.

Making eye-contact when speaking to another person makes them feel respected and acknowledged. Think about trying to engage a student in your classroom. This student never looks up.

They stay focused on what they are doing and never acknowledge that you are talking to them. You as their teacher may feel disrespected and even say, “Look at me when I am talking to you!” One way to quickly build a relationship with our co-workers is to make eye contact and greet each other daily. Just this simple tip goes a long way in building relationships. 

3. Take Time to Talk about Interests Outside of School

Talking to our co-workers about things that interest them outside of school shows that they are valued as a person, beyond what they contribute to school each day.

Personally, I take pride in knowing about my co-workers! It makes them feel cared for when I ask about their children, family, or a special event that is taking place in their life. While it is important to be respectful of your coworkers’ privacy, learning about other things outside of school that are important to them can go a long way with building relationships. 

4. Offer a Helping Hand

In the world of teaching and learning, there are so many things we must juggle all at one time. If you are able, offering a helping hand to your co-worker will go a long way.

This can be as simple as…

  • holding the door when entering or exiting.
  • opening their classroom door when you see they have an arm full of paperwork.
  • making a copy for someone while you’re on your way to the copier.
  • offering to help with a student during a frustrating time.

We teach our students to be helpers one to another; how much more of an impact would this make if we modeled those same expectations?

For more ideas, click below to download our FREE 21 Holiday Presents to Make a Co-Worker’s Day a Little Brighter PDF.

5. Acknowledge and Show Appreciation 

Growing up, my aunt had a saying, “It’s just nice to be nice!”

As educators, we keep pushing and going through to make sure we meet the obligations of the day, that we often forget to acknowledge and show appreciation to our co-workers. Just think, if we didn’t have each other, the daily operations would be extremely hard to accomplish.

There have been times when I would come into my classroom or office and someone would leave a note or a small gift to simply say thank you or to acknowledge something that I unknowingly had done. That small act of kindness changed the outlook of my whole day.

We understand that acknowledging and showing appreciation to our students improves their self-esteem and builds a better school climate and culture. With this, acknowledging and showing appreciation for our co-workers will go a long way in building relationships too! 

Conclusion

Building relationships can be hard work! Believe it or not, we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families during the school year! So, whenever you think about your school and the colleagues you work with each day, always remember, am I treating my work family the way I would want to be treated? Am I taking ownership of the actions and interactions I make? If not, I challenge you to use my 5 tips throughout your day and week to build stronger and more positive relationships with our co-workers! 

Author of Blog

Hello. My name is Dr. Tia S. Wood. I am a wife, mother and step-mother to 5 children and three 4-legged friends. I have earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from Cabrini College, a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Cheyney University, a Master of Education in Special Education from Saint Joseph’s University and most recently earned my Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Cabrini University. Teaching and learning will always be my lifelong work. My heart’s desire is to make such an impact, that I inspire, influence, and impact aspiring teachers, school leaders, and students to continue in one of the greatest professions in the world.