Kathy Bates
Portrait of a kind female teacher surrounded by her elementary school students, making learning enjoyable and fun, sparking curiosity, and fostering a love for education

Hi Kathy!

How can teacher attitude, body language, and overall atmosphere of the classroom affect student engagement and comfortability? What are some strategies for teachers to use to help all students feel supported and welcomed into the classroom, regardless of differences in backgrounds, beliefs, and abilities?

-Megan Clawson


Thank you so much for your question. I have a BA degree in Elementary Education and over 25 years of experience in the classroom with students of all ages. I have struggled with these same issues. After my husband passed away, I was nervous about going back into the classroom. I didnt want to project any of my sadness onto my students. On my first day back, I sat outside the school for what seemed like forever. Nate, a third grader came out to get me. He reminded me that I was needed and missed. He was very perceptive and promised to make me laugh every single day until the end of the school year, even if it got him in trouble. I had expressed my concern over that, but he responded, Dont worry, I am used to it.”  I laughed and Nate said, See I am already doing my job.” Based on my experiences here are a few thoughts.

Most students are very perceptive once they get to know their teachers, they can notice their body language and attitudes. After all, they spend six hours a day with each other five days a week. Try to leave your issues at home. If, for some reason, you cant do that, then maybe you should take a mental health or personal day.

Teachers need to be approachable so that their students feel comfortable asking for help. This was one of the challenges caused by the Pandemic. Teachers play a vital role in keeping students safe but, when schools were closed, they were unable to keep an eye on at-risk kids.

Students should feel like they are part of a team. There are lots of team-building activities that can help foster friendships and create a supportive classroom environment. One example would be to ask an ice breaker question to the entire class like, “What is your superpower?” or you could create a classroom bingo game. I recommend offering these activities at the beginning of the year and maybe every few weeks.

We need to learn about the strengths, challenges, and goals of each student. Understanding their strengths will make it easier for you to give them opportunities to shine. By building up their self-esteem, they will have the confidence to support their friends. For example, you may have a student who loves to draw and can demonstrate their talent during an art project.

Sometimes as teachers, we focus too much on the negative. We should try instead to look for what our students are doing right. Children tend to achieve more when they are praised than when they are continuously reminded of their mistakes.

I have one more piece of advice; a good sense of humor goes a long way in making anyone feel welcome. After all, learning should be fun whenever possible.