Classroom Climate

a classroom with very engaged students working on math

Class climate refers to the perceptions students have of the intellectual, social, and emotional space in which they are to learn and create relationships among peers and with the instructor. Positive and supportive relationships are the basis of class climate and enhance student success. The instructor must intentionally create a welcoming space with a sense of belonging, rapport, and an identity as a community of learners. Class climate is a strong predictor of students' satisfaction with their college experience (Graham & Gisi, 2000).

Welcoming Space

Class climate happens whether you are intentional about it or not. It takes time and practice to create a safe and productive learning environment and community of learners. The following suggestions will help you be intentional about creating the climate you desire – one that supports all students in their learning. Research indicates that students appreciate co-constructing the learning environment.

  • Ask students for feedback specifically on your class climate. Act on that input. Share with students what you are doing, why, and how you hope it impacts your class climate.
  • Ask students for feedback on your teaching several times a semester; do something with their feedback.
  • What do you want your class to look like? Feel like? Sound like? Visualize this and work on it each semester.
  • Visualize what you want your class to look like… Feel like… Sound like… take small steps each semester to make it a reality.
  • Learn student names and how to pronounce them correctly. Address students by name.
  • Introduce yourself and consider sharing your pronouns.
  • Use students' preferred pronouns if they offer them.
  • Honor student identities and culture. Some students prefer not to make eye contact or shake hands. That does not mean they are not interested in connecting with you or their classmates.
  • Smile. Breathe. Use humor if it feels right (students like that).
  • Be vulnerable. Tell students when you don't know something, and find out for the next time.
  • Be aware of the CSU Principles of Community and make them a foundation of your class.
  • Work with students to create class/community norms

Setting the Stage for Success in an Online Course

While your primary teaching focus here at Colorado State University (CSU) may be in residential-instruction (RI) classrooms, there is a growing number of us who teach online, as well, or who will be expected to teach online at some point during our careers. While most of the information on teaching effectiveness pertains to both RI and online classrooms, following are a few key points for online courses.

Set up your online class to aid your students in being successful:

Sense of Belonging

Classroom climate is fundamentally an interpersonal experience which regulates the learning experience. Students feel more invested in the class and their learning if they feel like they belong and are a member of a learning community that cares about them and their ideas. "In terms of college, sense of belonging refers to students' perceived social support on campus, a feeling or sensation of connectedness, and the experience of mattering or feeling cared about, accepted, respected, valued by, and important to the campus community or others on campus such as faculty, staff, and peers (Strayhorn, 2019, p. 5)". Social support and your actions (and the actions of students' peers) should signal to students that they belong. There are strategies you can use to support students' sense of belonging in your course.

  • Add a diversity statement to your syllabus.
  • Some students experience imposter syndrome. Your affirming comments and support for their learning lets them know they deserve to be in your class. Take their questions seriously. Consider if you are inadvertently sending signals that might be interpreted as a confirmation of their status as an imposter.
  • Encourage a sense of belonging while not requiring students to give up their identity.
  • Identify microaggressions and confront them.
  • Be sure your content represents contributions from a wide range of backgrounds so that all students can see themselves as belonging to the discipline.
  • Do not ask individuals to speak for an entire group of people.
  • Make content accessible for all learners.

Instructor-Student Rapport

Students intend to succeed. Communicate your belief in their success. Establish an appropriate communicative environment between you and your students. Remember that part of your communication with students is related to your content and part of it should is interpersonal (whether it is voiced or interpreted). Develop appropriate relationships with your students. Incorporate teaching practices that build instructor-student rapport.

  • Engage students in the content – through discussion, activities, and time to think
  • Show students that you care that they learn the course content.
  • Create an atmosphere that honors effort and commitment.
  • Talk with students instead of at them.
  • Make time to answer student questions/create a system where all students ask questions.
  • Share your personal/research interest in your field.
  • Use the phrases "our class" and "we" to signal that your class is a learning community.
  • Communicate concern for students as individuals.
  • Connect the content to the lived experiences of all students.

Student-Student Rapport

We are constantly scanning our environment for cues that tell us if we are connected to others around us. We watch others' body language for nods, affirmations, smiles, grimacing, head turns. Help students find skills and language to be inclusive of their peers while still maintaining appropriate boundaries. Incorporate teaching practices that build student-student rapport.

  • Design opportunities for students to build a sense of community. Choose activities where students engage with each other on a regular basis.
  • Teach students how to communicate equitably and productively with each other.
  • Support positive, productive discourse even when students don't agree.
  • Provide opportunities for students to work with others - and for students to see the value of diverse perspectives.
  • Encourage students to be experts; allow them to teach concepts to each other.

Research and Resources

Barr, J. J. (2016). Developing a positive classroom climate. The IDEA Center, IDEA Paper #61(October 2016). https://www.ideaedu.org/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/IDEA%20Papers/IDEA%20Papers/PaperIDEA_61.pdf

Barry J. Fraser , David F. Treagust & Norman C. Dennis (1986) Development of an instrument for assessing classroom psychosocial environment at universities and colleges, Studies in Higher Education, 11:1, 43-54, DOI: 10.1080/03075078612331378451

College and University Classroom Environment Inventory (CUCEI) Fraser: 7 psychosocial dimensions of actual or preferred classroom environment: personalization, involvement, student cohesiveness, satisfaction, task orientation, innovation, and individualization. Fraser, B.J. & Treagust, D.F. High Educ (1986) 15: 37. https://doi-org.ezproxy2.library.colostate.edu/10.1007/BF00138091

Fraser B.J. (2012) Classroom Learning Environments: Retrospect, Context and Prospect (pp. 1191-1239). In: Fraser B., Tobin K., McRobbie C. (Eds.). Second International Handbook of Science Education. Springer International Handbooks of Education, vol 24. Springer, Dordrecht

Johnson, D. I. (2009). Connected Classroom Climate: A Validity Study, Communication Research Reports, 26(2), pp. 146-157, DOI: 10.1080/08824090902861622

Strayhorn, T. L. (2019). College students' sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.