How I Build a Classroom Environment that Communicates High Expectations and Love

In college, I had a very goal-oriented job. Therefore, it required working with people and encouraging them to want to learn more about and invest in our product. Did I believe in our product? Absolutely. Did I truly believe it was beneficial? Absolutely. Not everyone did, though. I needed more than knowledge and belief in the product to bring my customers on board.

I reflected on my personal experiences with customer service. I thought about how I liked it when people were friendly or struck up a conversation. If it was a place I visited frequently and they welcomed me by name, I would imagine myself coming down the red carpet, “Move over Denzel. A bigger star is coming through!”

This reflection was definitely an “aha” moment for me. The answer to everything: RELATIONSHIPS. With relationships comes trust. With trust comes success. Everyone wants to see that they are cared for as a person and not just a number. What I realized in that first job was that only after I had built relationships with my customers was I able to not only meet my goals but exceed them.

When I turned 23, I got offered a position for another goal-oriented job. It required working with students to encourage them to grow and learn new skills. When I received my first teaching job offer, I felt so many emotions. This was the moment I had been training for. I knew the content I would be teaching, had attended numerous trainings, been in classrooms, and had been working with students during my student teaching. I should be ready, right?

I had the trainings and could teach the content and maybe that would be okay enough. I knew that it wasn’t going to get me to exceed my goals that I had for myself and my students. I thought to myself, “HOW am I going to get students to buy into what I’m “selling”? I believe in the content and knew how it would help them but HOW do I get their buy in? (Sound familiar?)  I had a flashback to the beginning of my first job when I thought to myself, “HOW am I going to do this?” I remembered how building those relationships made the people walking through my door feel important. I wanted to do the same for my students. I wanted to let them know that I care more about who they are as people than the score they get on a test. I wanted them to feel like our classroom was a second home where they had someone who loved them even when they didn’t always make the best choices, someone who believed in them, someone who celebrated their accomplishments, and made them realize that mistakes are okay. As their teacher, my ultimate goal was to create a classroom environment that communicates high expectations and love.

I don’t claim to be a classroom culture/relationship building guru by any means, BUT I am a firm believer that it all starts with relationships. There are a million and one ways to build relationships with students, but these are things that I have done in my classroom that have had the most impact.

  • I send Welcome letters to every one of my students before the school year begins. I tell them a little about me and what we will be learning this year and how EXCITED I am to meet them.
  • I always put love in my signature: Love, Mrs. Greis
  • Morning greetings: If you’re a teacher you know how hectic mornings can be. Attendance, notes, standing outside the door greeting students, morning announcements, field trip money etc. I PROMISE you, take 5 minutes of your morning to greet your students and it will pay dividends. I take it one step further and ask my students how they want to be greeted. (Hug, high five, fist bump, hand shake, or they can come up with their own.) I’ve had students want kitty high fives (compliments of GoNoodle.) I had a student last year that just wanted me to say bye to him personally as he left the door. As silly as it sounds, it was our thing, and it was something to make that student feel especially important. This is NOT.. I repeat NOT.. something you can start then stop. I’m guilty of getting caught up in the morning madness and my students WILL call me out. “Mrs. Greis! You haven’t greeted us yet.” This is something that will be a day-maker for you and your students!
  • I memorize my student’s names to their faces on Infinite Campus BEFORE meet the teacher night so when they walk in I can introduce myself to them by name. 9 times out of 10 they will say, “How do you know my name?!” …just like the adults from my first job. Shocked but mostly pleased! Imagine how you would feel if every where you went people knew your name before you told them. Move over Denzel!
  • I am transparent with my students: I tell them when I’ve made a mistake to show them that teachers do it too and it’s okay! Sometimes kids don’t realize teachers are people too and do things like make mistakes, and shop at Kroger.  If you’ve ever seen a student out in public, they’re tapping their parent’s leg or loud whispering, “That’s my teacher!” Show them you’re human! You’ll all be better off for it.
  • Daily Discussion Board is one of my most absolute favorite things! I post a prompt each day and students respond on a sticky note. Ex: “Fabulous Friday- what makes you feel fabulous?” Students can then read each other’s responses.
  • Morning journals: Some kids think writing is miserable. I love morning journals for different reasons. I will sometimes put the discussion board question as a morning journal prompt. One of my favorite prompts is Weekend News. The students write in their morning journals and I take 10 minutes out of my day to respond to what they wrote. The students that usually hate writing really enjoy this because they know they aren’t going to have correction marks all over it. I also love this because it is personal. I have learned SO much about my kiddos just by these journals.
  • Read alouds: Whether it be a quick picture book or a chapter book, I love reading to my students. This year we’ve read Wonder and Fish in a Tree. Both books are about kindness. These books were chosen intentionally by me because kindness never goes out of style.  
  • Appreciation notes: Writing each student a note with two things I like about them and leaving it on their desk for them when they arrive.
  • Morning meeting: If we have a few minutes before switching classes I will ask questions from They are similar to “Would you rather?” questions and are for kids. This is another fun way to get your students involved bright and early and a time to build your classroom community.
  • “This looks like a kindergarten room,” said a student on meet-the-teacher night my first year in 4th grade. I chuckled and was wondering if that was a good or bad thing. My classroom has colors on every wall, inspirational quotes and string lights, desk lamps for those days where a more calming light is necessary. On many days, students spend more time with us than they do at home so I want it to be something they are comfortable in.
  • Red carpet ceremony: At the end of the year I roll out a long strip of red butcher paper. I decorate my room with stars and put a red carpet on the SMARTboard as well for a photoshoot. I create awards for EVERY student. The most important part of this is that they are NOT academically based. I don’t use words like “best” or “first.”  A student that I think is a hard worker may get the “Goal Digger” award. Once I announce them into my fake microphone, the student walks up to the red carpet to get their award and smiles for their photo.
  • Positive postcards: It seems easy to report the bad, especially if that student has consistent difficulties. “Johnny had a bad day.” “Johnny put his hands on a friend.” Find a minute to write a positive postcard home. Just to say, “Hey! I think you are awesome!” “Hey, I am SO glad I get to be your teacher this year.” Plus, who doesn’t love getting real mail?!

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You don’t have to have a rainbow-colored room, sign love by your name, buy presents, or anything crazy. Building relationships can start with something as simple as asking a student about their weekend, complimenting a new haircut or telling them you appreciate them. Regardless of how you do it, by making students feel like “my day is better because you’re here,” you will create a memorable experience for you and your students and set them up for the kind of success we want for ALL kids.

Natasha Greis, Leader, 4th grade Teacher, Taylor Mill Elementary


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