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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teacher Preparation Opinion

Teacher Prep Should Include Classroom-Culture Training

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 10, 2022 12 min read
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(This is the second post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new question of the week is:

What do you think many teacher-credentialing programs should be teaching that they might not be doing now?

In Part One, PJ Caposey, Keisha Rembert, Stephanie Smith Budhai, Ph.D., Jasmine M. Wilhelm, and Jeffrey Wilhelm shared their responses.

Today, Andrew Sharos, Tairen McCollister, Kelsey Pycior, and Wendi Pillars continue the conversation.

Classroom Culture

Andrew Sharos is an educator, author, speaker, and consultant. In 2018, Andrew was named the winner of the College Board’s Distinguished Service Award, given to a forceful spokesperson for educational and societal goals. He has published two books: All 4s and 5s: A Guide to Teaching and Leading Advanced Placement Programs and Finding Lifelines: A Practical Guide for Teachers and Mentors:

While many new teacher programs are focused on methodology, infusion of content and skills, and equipping new teachers with technology tools to engage students, the softer and less tangible ideas around “culture building” are often ignored. In some cases, the creation of classroom culture might be a tad abstract and maybe more personality-driven for college professors to dedicate time to its merits. Alas, if you show me a great classroom culture where students enjoy being, I will show you a great teacher.

Creating classroom culture is as easy as this: Teachers have to pay attention to it.

Oftentimes as a teacher, I would give my students a survey at the end of the year that asked them about what they enjoyed and what I could improve on. It is always fashionable to incorporate an element of student voice and exercises like that, which can even help us become more effective in our craft.

But instead of offering a course evaluation, perhaps teachers can ask their students to fill out a culture inventory.

How do we write in class? What are the expectations of behavior? What do we do for fun? What makes our class different from the one happening next door? What made you laugh/cry/think in our class? By answering these questions, students can internalize the culture the teacher tries to create in class. If the teacher reflects on these same questions, it makes for a very interesting comparison to the culture the students internalize and the vision the teacher actually has.

Any administrator can tell you how they feel when they walk into a teacher’s classroom. There is no rubric in education that perfectly encapsulates this feeling, but it’s the most tangible thing about a learning space. How do you feel as a student in the room? What do you see? How does it sound?

Culture is sort of like the oxygen in the classroom. You cannot see it, but without it, you can’t breathe.


‘Trauma-Informed Practices’

Tairen McCollister has taught all grade levels, including higher education. She is currently in her 13th year of teaching high school English in Delaware and also serves as an adjunct professor at a local university. She is a trauma-informed educator, SEL advocate, and diversity and equity coordinator with a passion for meeting the needs of the whole child:

When you step into a teacher education program, either at the undergraduate or graduate level, there are certain nonnegotiables that you are certain to study. You are certain to complete coursework that focuses on legalities in education, curriculum development, possibly some special education coursework, and the like. The components lacking in many programs are trauma-informed practices, social-emotional learning, and culturally responsive pedagogy.

When we, as educators, enter the classroom, many times we are unaware of the experiences our students have had that could serve as barriers in their learning. Students enter the classroom with personal experience, hardships, struggles, and sometimes, downright traumatic events. ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, can be invisible pieces of our students’ learning puzzle. Abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction are the three areas that ACEs fall under. When students have experienced trauma, the brain is impacted, particularly the areas that support learning and development. If teachers are not aware and versed in this, the likelihood of students successfully learning as best as possible can be lessened.

For preservice teachers, and even experienced teachers, not being exposed to information that can help them move from trauma-aware to trauma-informed can possibly retraumatize students inadvertently. In light of the past year and a half, the need for more trauma-informed practices is even greater. The possibility of students that had previously experienced ACEs now having additional experiences adversely impacting them is even greater. In addition to that, students that previously had not experienced trauma have now experienced the collective trauma of not just the pandemic but the societal issues the country has faced with racial and political issues at the forefront of our lives.

With some exposure to the importance of establishing a cultural connection to help students learn better, or implementing practices to address these areas, teachers entering the profession will at the very least have a working knowledge and a certain degree of mindfulness about it as they meet their new students. As teachers, we are charged with a minefield to navigate in our efforts to help our students thrive. Without proper training, we not only do them a disservice but ourselves as well. Incorporating trauma-informed practices, social-emotional learning, and culturally responsive pedagogy is critical now more than ever.



Kelsey Pycior teaches social studies at Manville High School in central New Jersey. In her spare time, she volunteers with the following child and young adult bereavement/survivor programs: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Tuesday’s Children’s Project Common Bond, and Comfort Zone Camp:

Something I wish I had learned in college would be how to better advocate for myself and my students. I had amazing instructors and plenty of field placements (four full semesters worth before graduating), so I learned how to incorporate new skills, activities, and more into lessons. However, I never learned how to advocate what I needed for a successful classroom or what my students needed to have the best opportunities for success.

I have been blessed with administrators, child-study teams, and guidance departments that have truly had the students’ best interests at heart, but I have also experienced administrative teams that were more focused on keeping the status quo than improving situations for their students and staff.

The students often expect and rely on their teachers to be their voice when they feel injustices are happening. And when speaking on their behalf, or your own behalf, is met with challenge rather than listening ears, it can be hard to keep morale up in the classroom. It’s the same in any other work environment: Employees who feel valued and respected by their bosses will perform better. Students who feel valued and respected by their teachers and administrators will be more open to learning and pushing through hard times. Teachers who feel valued and respected by their administrators will continue to go above and beyond for their students.

I don’t know if this is something that could be addressed in teacher-preparation programs, but I am hopeful that a professional-development workshop exists that allows for a forum of teachers, administrators, and even students to sit down and talk about strategies to open communication in a fair and equitable way.


Climate Change

Wendi Pillars, NBCT and lifelong educator, is passionate about advocating for the planet and visual storytelling. She is the author of two books: Visual Notetaking for Educators, and more recently Visual Impact! Transform Communication in Your Boardroom, Classroom, or Living Room. Find her on Twitter @wendi322, at her son’s baseball game, or out exploring:

Climate change education should be an integral piece of every teacher’s credentialing program and not just within the realm of science. Sea ice disappearing. Intensified storms. Rising sea levels. Ocean acidification. Climate migration ... all vital topics at this very moment, yet we aren’t teaching about them in school. We’re missing the opportunity to craft instruction that suits the 21st century and what UNICEF has deemed as the greatest threat facing the world’s children and their children—climate change.

It is a challenge we face as a society, a species, and co-species. It impacts every aspect of life and is inherently interdisciplinary in its scope of cause and effect. From science to history, to literacy and more, every topic we teach has ties to our planet and determines how decisions are being made. From construction and infrastructure to policy, education, and myriad innovations, how we view the planet reflects how we value our resources and our own lives as well as those of our children and grandchildren.

Exploring facets of our changing planet is the ideal vehicle for inquiry-based learning, the kind in which students examine an issue, whether historical or more current, and analyze changes, how it was/is being addressed, and how things might be different. Something like the GeoInquiry Process or Project-based learning can serve as the foundation, with a continual eye on how to apply knowledge gained in more practical ways than a multiple-choice test.

Wondering how this might look in your content area? Here are a few ideas.

  • Listening to, reading about, or creating video stories via interviews about others’ climate-based stories and personal experiences.
  • Using historical trends and patterns, formulas, diagrams, maps, and graphs to predict future trends and patterns.
  • Examining biodiversity of plants and animals in a variety of locations, through articles, folktales, and maps, considering climate changes over time. The Arctic used to be a temperate zone. How do we know? What does this mean for life in the 21st century?
  • Exploring climate impacts on livelihoods, lifestyle choices, priorities, and impacts at all societal levels, from nutrition to clothing to building materials.
  • Developing media literacy with a critical lens and purposefully seeking out opposing views from different locations and voices.
  • Valuing and integrating different ways of knowing with Western science. Polar bears eating lichen? Western voices see “starving polar bears” while Indigenous knowledge holders know that they are pregnant females cleansing their digestive systems before hibernation, if only we had asked and listened to them in the first place.
  • Crafting policy ideas and learning how to advocate an idea, or for a person, or for a place integrates a plethora of communication skills transferable among all content areas.
  • Engineering innovations from equipping used cellphones to monitor illegal Amazon logging to analyzing hibernating ground squirrels to inform space travel; the possibilities are endless. When students realize there is no right answer, that adults are tinkering, hypothesizing, failing, and revising in life, it can be an expansive experience far beyond the confines of a single right way so many are accustomed to.
  • Integrating aspects of justice and equity through an environmental lens, who is being impacted most by these changes, and who is most responsible? What are our roles? What should they be?
  • Identifying health issues and how they might relate to the environment, industries, community beliefs, and access.
  • Addressing food security along with the holistic and cultural measures affecting it.
  • Engaging students and sparking ideas through stories of other youth worldwide taking action to address local, regional, and/or global issues.
  • Writing grant requests which foster solution-based thinking that students and communities can work toward.

Oh, the powers of multifaceted thinking and envisioning!

I’ve worked with top educators worldwide through facilitating a climate change course with National Geographic, and a recurring theme from these top educators is that they don’t feel comfortable teaching climate change, aren’t sure where to begin, or feel it’s solely the domain of science classrooms. Once we incorporate climate change into a teacher-credentialing program, regardless of their content area or learner age, teachers will feel more adept at finding entry points that provoke deeper critical thinking and increase relevance.

As Christina Figueres, a leading figure on the environment, says, “Impossible is not a fact.”

Which means we have work to do.



(Image by Wendi Pillars)


Thanks to Andrew, Tairen, Kelsey, and Wendi for contributing their thoughts!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones are not yet available). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 10 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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