creating-positive-learning-environment-during-covidThere’s no denying it: school is going to look a lot different this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the globe, altering the landscape of our lives for the foreseeable future.

Whether you’re back in the classroom with your students, moving forward virtually with distance learning or doing a combination of both, “Back to School 2020” will be a season like none we’ve ever seen before.

Children, families, parents and teachers — everyone is working together to deal with the losses and adapt to the drastic changes that have rocked our world since earlier this year.

Table of Contents:

  1. Build Positive Relationships Through Communication
  2. Promote Class Discussion and Peer Interaction
  3. Staying Connected with Students
  4. Come Up with Projects Students Can Get Excited About
  5. Create a Sense of Order and Routine
  6. Deal with Technology Issues Before They Surface
  7. Positively Reinforce Good Behavior
  8. Establish Classroom Rules Regarding COVID-19
  9. Take Care of Yourself and Maintain a Positive Mindset

Now that COVID-19 has changed the way the world works, our students are going to need even more help and support when it comes to staying positive and staying engaged in learning.

Teachers have always known that creating a positive environment is necessary to help students learn and grow. From planning fun activities and writing prompts that promote positivity to teaching students to use positive words when speaking to others, positivity has become an integral part of the classroom fabric.

This year, it will be especially important that your classroom (whether it’s in-person or online) is conducive to your students’ education, health and well-being. It’s not going to be perfect, but you’ll succeed as long as you are striving to reach the following goals. 

1. Build Positive Relationships Through Communication

As you know, building positive relationships with your students, as well as with their parents, is integral to creating a productive environment for learning and personal growth.

Communicate with Both Students and Parents


You’ll want to regularly provide updates and information about what is expected of students and parents. Things can change in an instant and you may have to adjust lesson plans or your students’ work quickly. To make sure everyone is on the same page, ensure that you send information on changes to the appropriate parties in a timely manner.

If you’re starting the school year online, check in with families about their access to the internet and digital learning tools and create backup plans and workarounds if necessary. Some families may have access to wifi one week and then lose access the next. Ask parents on a regular basis if there are any changes in their household that could affect virtual learning.

Gaining an understanding of what your students need and providing detailed information will be particularly important at this time, as technological issues can hinder both your students’ enthusiasm and performance.

Make important information as accessible as possible. Post announcements in the classroom, and consider using multiple formats to communicate with students and parents so that vital information isn’t missed

Post the same information to online platforms, as applicable, and ensure your accessibility by providing your email and phone number with each communication.

Interact with Your Students on a Personal Level

While you’ll want to establish routines and implement classroom management techniques in-person and in your online classroom early on, you don’t need to rush into the content of your curriculum right away. Take the time to get to know your students as individuals first.

The better you understand their interests, strengths, weaknesses and personal challenges, the more effective you’ll be at developing a positive relationship with them that will last the whole year.

Figure out the best way to interact with each student individually, utilizing humor, technology or other creative strategies to present information that might otherwise not hold their attention.

Have fun with it, and help students get to know each other by using icebreakers or having them exchange letters.

One-on-one meetings will help you to show students that you care about them and will build the trust and understanding you’ll need to help guide them on their educational journey.

These meetings can be done in-person or online, but this individual attention will be particularly important for virtual learning, as it will help to keep students engaged and reinforce your teacher-student bond.

2. Promote Class Discussion and Peer Interaction


Hold regular class meetings to check in with all of your students and encourage them to express themselves constructively.

Promote positive interaction amongst your students. Allow them to share their feelings, and encourage them to listen to each other, give compliments, express gratitude and practice problem solving together.

As teachers, we can present topics and help initiate discussions, but then let students guide the conversation. You’ll learn a lot about them just by listening!

You’ll also want to establish groups to help students learn to collaborate and hold regular group meetings. You may find that some students are more attentive in these smaller groups, and you’ll be able to provide extra help and attention for those who need it.

3. Staying Connected With Students

Making sure that students can connect with you and each other in whatever way works best is of utmost importance. This year, that may include in-person communications, phone calls, video conferences, online platforms or a combination of all of the above.

You’ll want to keep yourself approachable for questions on digital platforms and create times that you’ll be available virtually for your students who need extra help.

Depending on your distance-learning technology, your students may be able to virtually raise their hand or send you a message to ask questions. One-on-one meetings with students and group meetings may also be accomplished using breakout rooms on virtual platforms.

You’ll find some useful tips and practices for online learning below:

  • Establish learning goals and be clear about expectations
  • Post daily lesson plans on your virtual whiteboard
  • Play pre-recorded lessons so you can work on other tasks at the same time
  • Implement regular bathroom, drink and stretch breaks
  • Meet and collaborate with other teachers online
  • Hold virtual “office hours” for parents and students
  • Work with guidance counselors to create mental health resources for students

4. Come Up with Projects Your Students Can Be Excited About


These are indeed challenging times, and it’s easy for any of us to get distracted by what’s going on around us. Your students will likely need extra help and motivation to stay engaged in the learning process.

One easy way to keep their attention is to come up with projects that will be exciting for them, such as creating a classbook.

If you want to engage students and get them excited about writing, then let them see their work and their names in print in a collaboratively-created classbook.

This project serves to introduce young writers to the writing process and build confidence in their skills. It also promotes teamwork, encourages creativity and creates a keepsake for your class.


5. Create a Sense of Order and Routine


In these uncertain times, structure, clear communication and modeling expectations for your students will go a long way toward creating a sense of order in your class, whether it is in-person or virtual. One way to start is by greeting your students in the same way every day.

If you’re starting the school year in-person, greet your students at the door of your classroom each day at a safe distance and pass out “air high fives” with enthusiasm. Let them know that each and every one of them matters to you and show that you care by making individual connections.

Explain to them that no matter what has happened before, you’ll be there at the beginning of every day of school to look them in the eye and wish them a good morning. Tell them that you expect the same in return.

If you’re starting off online, develop a way to greet each student individually. You can acknowledge each one of your students on whatever virtual platform you use by using their name to wish them good morning as soon as they login or once class begins.

Creating routines always helps to maintain a sense of order in the classroom. They provide students with a solid foundation from which to start from and a structure to help them move through their day.

You can create routines for activities throughout the school day and even for the transitional times in between.

To create routines that your students can stick to, start by explaining each routine and why it’s important. Let your students know exactly what to expect, as well as what you will expect from them. Then, let your students practice the routine using modeling and demonstrations.

Once your class has an understanding of a new routine, make it a part of your daily schedule. If you find that your students have a difficult time remembering a routine once they return from a break, be flexible in reviewing that routine and consider making changes to help set your students up for success.

6. Deal With Technology Issues Before They Surface

To create and maintain order in a distance-learning environment, make sure that your virtual technology is working properly and that each of your students are able to hear and see you.

You can create a hand signal, like holding up two fingers, or have each student virtually raise their hand to indicate they are present and engaged. Let them know how to alert you of any technical difficulties, such as by typing “tech error” into a chat box or even crossing their arms into an X shape to indicate issues.

It’s important to keep in mind that your students’ digital access may vary across your virtual classroom and that not everyone will have the same connectivity or internet speed.

For that reason, make sure to give your students ample time to open, view and download any files or information you may share. Be sure to pause from time to time to allow your students the opportunity to ask questions before moving on to a different topic.

It is also important to discuss household tech capabilities with parents before you start online learning. Some students may not have access to the internet and may need to receive assignments in a different way and join virtual classrooms by dialing in via phone.

Developing a code of conduct for your virtual classroom will be essential for maintaining a sense of order. Explain to your students that, although the educational format may have changed, your expectations for their behavior during class have not.

7. Positively Reinforce Good Behavior


All teachers understand the ongoing challenge of managing behavior and keeping students on task in class. There was once a time when doling out harsh punishments for misbehavior was common practice.

But we have since learned that positive reinforcement of good behavior is a much more effective method of changing student behavior for the better.

Rather than focusing on what your students are doing wrong and reprimanding them—a form of negative reinforcement that can inadvertently promote acting out—praise your students for what they are doing right.

If you see students misbehaving or otherwise taking incorrect action, make a point to thank the students you see taking the correct action.

Saying thank you for listening, thank you for following my instructions and thank you for participating will positively reinforce those behaviors.

8. Establish Classroom Rules Regarding COVID-19

Just like routines and structure will help your students know what to expect in class and what is expected from them on a daily basis, establishing both in-person and online classroom etiquette and rules will be foundational to creating a positive and healthy learning environment.

Now that COVID-19 is part of our new normal, you and your students will need to balance your routines and rules with a level of flexibility that will allow you all to adapt if and when changes occur.

Be sure to stay up to date on the latest guidelines from public health officials and school administrators and talk to your students about why these new rules are in place to ensure they understand the importance of following them.

Current recommendations from the CDC.

In-Person Classroom Etiquette During COVID-19

It’s important that clear classroom etiquette and rules be established early on and reviewed throughout the school year as necessary in order to create a positive environment in your classroom.

Some rules will need to be absolute in order to maintain an appropriate learning environment and ensure the well-being of your students; these might include no violence, no cheating and no stealing.

Make sure your students understand each rule and hold general class discussions to review the rules should they be broken (do not call out the students who broke the rule).

Additionally, you can talk to your students about any other rules they might like to see implemented in the classroom. Developing these rules of etiquette as a class will afford your students a deeper understanding of them and will likely make them more effective.

Some examples of these additional rules include the following:

  • Treat others as you would like to be treated
  • Don’t interrupt or laugh at others when they are speaking
  • Come to class ready to learn and share

Once you have created a complete list of classroom etiquette and rules, post them at the front of the class where everyone can see them.

Student Etiquette In an Online Learning Environment

Many of your basic classroom etiquette and rules will translate to a virtual learning environment, while others will not. Determine which rules will be absolute and then go through the same process outlined above to establish additional rules via your distance-learning technology.

As part of adapting to your new normal at school, it will be best to review rules that are specific to virtual learning at the beginning of every session.

These rules will be somewhat dependent on your distance-learning technology and may utilize specific features of your virtual platform.

Rules for virtual learning

  • Mute yourself when you are not speaking so as not to interrupt or talk over others
  • Use the chat feature to send any personal questions directly to me (the teacher)
  • No private chats or chatrooms between students unless authorized for group activities

9. Take Care of Yourself and Maintain a Positive Mindset


Without a doubt, this school year will come with many unique challenges for teachers, students and families alike. It can be difficult to maintain a positive mindset amidst so much change and uncertainty.

Do what you can to take care of yourself, both mentally and physically, and practice thinking positively; your state of mind will most certainly have an effect on the kind of learning environment you are trying to create for your students.

Practicing additional self-care on your off-time will also be of great benefit to both you and your students. Seek out strategies that will help you destress and unwind, such as practicing deep breathing, meditation, body scans, muscle relaxation and stretching.

Change is inevitable—it’s the only constant, they say—and COVID-19 has changed our lives for the foreseeable future, whether we like it or not.

That’s why, perhaps now more than ever before, it will be of utmost importance to model the kind of honesty and flexibility you’d like to see in your students.

Adapting to the new normal will be a big part of the work that lies ahead. Helping your students build resilience and thrive during these difficult times will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Studentreasures provides free classbook publishing kits. Creating a classbook is not only a fun activity that teaches students about the writing process, it can also help build their confidence as young writers.

Visit our website to learn more about how the process works and see how your students can become published authors!