Building a Positive Classroom Environment


Learn how to build a positive classroom environment that helps low-income students thrive and succeed.

For educators, finding successful strategies for teaching students from low-income households is no longer just a small part of the job, it’s a major focus. As the number of kids from poverty-stricken homes has grown, teachers need to learn new ways to reach them and create a positive classroom environment that supports all students.

In 2018, an estimated 12.6 million children lived in poverty in the United States. MoneyWise refers to poverty as “the #1 enemy of education on every level.” Students from poor homes face many obstacles that reduce their chances of getting the most from education. Those include less access to nutritious food, witnessing more violence in the home and experiencing more stress. All of this can lead to poorer academic outcomes.

Fresno Pacific University offers a course called Helping Children Succeed that is designed for professional teachers who want to better face the challenge of educating students from disadvantaged homes. Educators earn professional development credits while they learn strategies to help students achieve at a higher level, including the creation of a positive classroom environment.

What Teachers Face in The Classroom

The Fresno Pacific course is based on the book “Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why,” by Paul Tough. In the book, Tough writes that in 2013, 51% of the country’s public-school students came from a household that fell below the federal government threshold for low income.

It wasn’t a surprise. The percentage of public-school students who are low income has been rising since 1989, when the Southern Education Foundation began tracking numbers, according to Tough. 

“Passing the 50% mark may be a symbolic distinction, but as symbols go it is an important one,” Tough wrote. “It means that the challenge of teaching low-income children can no longer be considered a side issue in American education. Helping poor kids succeed is now, by definition, the central mission of American public schools and, by extension, a central responsibility of the American public."

What Teachers Learn in the Helping Children Succeed Course

Teachers can play an important role in the lives of these students by creating a positive classroom environment that is inclusive of everyone. Taught by experienced teacher Rob Carey, who holds a master’s degree in education, the Fresno Pacific University Helping Children Succeed course examines how issues such as poverty, neglect, divorce and other stressors impact students’ lives and change school culture.

Fresno Pacific University offers the course in either 1- or 2-unit formats, making it a good option for teachers who need to earn two or fewer units to renew their licenses.

While students’ academic achievement is part of the course, it also focuses on teaching children important “non-cognitive skills” such as relationship building, persistence and grit. Teachers worth through Tough’s book in the class, developing skills in many different areas. They include:

  • Analyzing “non-cognitive” skills and the factors that contributed to the teacher’s own personal development and success
  • Summarizing the effects of trauma and adversity on academic success
  • Analyzing the teacher’s professional approach to motivating students
  • Developing a detailed plan for implementing strategies learned in the course into the classroom
  • Creating a presentation that will help peers better understand the book’s concepts

For teachers looking to earn professional development credits for license renewal, the course offers knowledge and skills that are especially applicable in the modern classroom. By understanding how to better create a positive classroom environment, educators can make their classes better suited to teach children from all backgrounds and economic situations.


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