Establishing Classroom Culture

A healthy classroom culture requires more than routines and procedures. It also involves balancing your authority as the instructor, maximizing classroom efficiency, and motivating students to achieve.

Holly Grout, a professor of history, and Natalie Dautovich, a professor of psychology, offer tips for creating a positive classroom culture in large courses.

Make your expectations clear

Students in Dr. Gilpin's psychology class

“Clarity is key. Students need to know from day one what the course expectations are. I clearly list these in the syllabus, in the student guide, and verbally announce them in lecture. GTAs review these expectations in the first section, and then they sit in the back of the room and monitor issues like browsing the internet during lecture and will ask students to shut down if they continue to browse.

For in-class discussions, I’ll pose questions about the material and students will raise hands, or I’ll ask broad questions that many students should know and encourage all of them to call out the answer at once. It helps that I constantly move around the classroom and that they never know if I might be standing next to them when I do this.

I always focus on the positive, even when an incorrect answer is offered (I’ll correct them but try to find something right about the response) so that students feel confident to respond.” — Holly Grout, History

Use the syllabus as a course management tool

The syllabus is my key tool for classroom management. I try to make the syllabus very explicit — there is not a policy, expectation, or assignment in the class that is not addressed via the syllabus. I use an incentive-based approach to have students actually use the syllabus. I will give them a bonus point at the beginning of the semester that they can lose if they ask a question that is clearly answered by the syllabus.

Actions such as starting class on time, ending on time, and addressing classroom noise early on help to set the tone for what is expected in class.” — Natalie Dautovich, Psychology