Six Tips For Creating A Positive Learning Environment In Your Classroom

This article first appeared on the ASCD InService website on January 8, 1918.

In Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd edition I write that when students enter your classroom at the beginning of the term there are two questions in their minds – “Can I do the work?” and “Will I be excepted here?” Their potential for success depends on them being able to answer “yes” to both of these questions. The language you use plays a big role in this. Here are some tips to help you in creating that positive learning environment for all students.

Tip 1 –

Always build classroom rules and procedures collaboratively and in the positive. I cringe when I visit classrooms and see “No Talking” as classroom rule #1. I suggest beginning by have a discussion with your students about how they learn best and then fashion your rules accordingly. If some students say they need a quite area to work in at times, try a sign like, “Quiet Area, Brains at Work.” Also, if your classroom rule says “We don’t use cellphones in class.” the students shouldn’t see their teacher texting someone. Classroom rules should apply to everyone equally.

Tip 2 –

Continually let your students know you believe in them. Saying “I know you can get this” rather than “You need to try harder” for example is an indication of your belief in them rather than an accusatory statement. Saying, “We talked about this yesterday. Did you forget?” is laying blame on the student. Instead a statement like, “You had this so well yesterday. I know you can get it today.” reminds the student of their past success. These are both subtle differences in language that can make a big difference in your students’ perception of your faith in their as learners. Think about Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets.

Tip 3 –

Speaking of mindsets, examine your own mindset. Do you believe in your own ability to learn and grow? Do you believe it is your obligation as a teacher to model learning and growing? Look at this graphic on an educator’s mindset and do a little self-reflection.

Tip 4 –

Use your language to show students that they are learning for their own benefit, not yours. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have heard teachers begin an instruction or direction by saying, “What I need you to do for me…”. This tells the student they are doing a task for the benefit and approval of the teacher. Just eliminate that part of the direction and begin with, “The first thing you need to do to learn this is…” The learning has to be for the benefit of the learner, not the teacher.

Tip 5 –

Be honest in your feedback. Good feedback tells the learner what they did correctly, where they may have missed the mark, and what specifically they need to do next. I remember being a 7th grade student art class. I have a number of talents, but drawing isn’t one of them. The teacher wrote, “nice job” on my sketch of an orange. I knew very well that my smudged mess of an orange wasn’t a nice job. It wasn’t even a decent representation of any fruit known to man. I would have benefited by her telling me one thing I could do to make it better. Maybe something like “We are learning about perspective. Try adding a shadow behind your sketch.” Her “nice job” told me little about how to improve. Knowing I received undeserved praise lessens the impact or praise when it is truly earned.

Tip 6 –

When dealing with a student conflict or behavioral issue, be objective rather than accusatory. For example, rather than say, “Why did you take Jacob’s pencil?” begin by asking what happened. Asking why a student did something will likely provoke a defensive comment. “I took is pencil because he called me a name.” This leads to the inevitable “No I didn’t, yes you did” cycle. Asking what happened will allow both students to tell their story, moderated by the teacher. Give prompts like, “How did you think that make Jacob feel?” – “How else do you think you might have reacted?” – “What might you try next time?”

Students are more likely to learn in a safe learning environment – one in which they feel valued and protected. As you build and cultivate this environment, also be sure to use research-based instructional strategies to be sure students clearly know what they are expected to know, understand, and be able to demonstrate. Building a strong learning environment and using research-proven instructional strategies makes it more likely that students are able to answer “yes” to the questions, “Can I do the work?” and “Will I be excepted here?”

Howard Pitler is a dynamic facilitator, speaker, technologist, and instructional coach with a proven record of success spanning four decades. Pitler is an ASCD Faculty member and the author of several ASCD publications including Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd editionUsing Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works, and A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd edition. Contact Dr. Pitler at, on Twitter, or on his website.

Teachers and Social Media – Five Tips That Might Save Your Job

This post originally appeared on EdCircuit on Nov. 17, 2017

Educators, more than anyone else, have to stop and THINK

by Howard Pitler, Ed.D.


Social media poses specific challenges for educators. I have thousands of followers on Twitter, almost all of them educators. I also come across many more educators when I participate in Twitter chats and on Facebook. Looking across this fairly large sample of social media sites created by educators, I think it might be useful to provide a few tips that just might help keep someone from doing something that will cost them their job.

1.) Your professional Twitter and/or Facebook sites should be separate from any personal sites you have. Students, administrators, parents, and community WILL use Google to try to learn more about you. I only use Twitter for education-related posts. I avoid taking a stance on politics. I may post something purely factual but stop short of making judgments. I leave that to the reader. My Facebook account is for family and friends only. While you might find a picture of my wife and I toasting with a glass of wine, you won’t find anything I wouldn’t want my clergy or my mother to see. Even if your settings are set to “friends only” there is nothing that would prevent a friend from retweeting or sharing your post to his or her wider network. Once a post is out there, it is out there forever. This short PSA from the Ad Council brings home that point nicely.

2.) Know your school and district’s policies regarding social media. It is likely there are policies regarding student images and even mentioning your school or district on social media. While your district may allow you to post pictures of students working in your classroom – don’t do it. Parent will have their own personal thoughts on seeing their child’s face on a class blog, and some will not like it one bit. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

3.) Never complain about your job, parents of students, or students on social media. NEVER! A comment like, “I can’t believe what my principal did today” or “I met so-and-so’s parents at conferences last night and now I see where he/she gets it from” will always come back to bite you. According to the National Education Association, "to date, there have been only three court cases involving teachers who claimed that their First Amendment rights were violated by being punished because of their postings on social networking sites. The teachers LOST every case."

4.) Do NOT friend or follow students. Just don’t do it. Head this off at the beginning of the year by telling all students that your personal policy is not to friend any students until after they have graduated from high school. The appearance of impropriety is enough to raise questions even though you or the student have done nothing wrong.

5.) Do not geo-tag your posts with your school location. Geo-tagging will allow students and parents to search by location and lead them to your account.

Social media can be a wonderful thing. It allows people to stay in touch with family around the country and the world. It brings news to your desktop as it is happening. As a former classroom teacher and building principal, I love seeing how my former students have grown into wonderful adults and parents. It is gratifying to think I might have played some small part in their development. The key is that these are former students and they, for the most part, reached out to connect with me.

I have a downloadable poster on my website you might want to have in your classroom. My rule of thumb regarding social media is THINK.



Howard Pitler is a dynamic facilitator, speaker, and instructional coach with a proven record of success spanning four decades

Pitler is an ASCD Faculty member and the author of several ASCD publications including Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd editionUsing Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works, and A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd edition. Contact Pitler at or on his website. Follow Howard on Twitter.

Net Neutrality And Schools - Why It Matters

This post originally appeared on the EdCircuit blog on May 4, 2017.

New Administration’s FCC Stance Creates Questions for Education

By Howard Pitler

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Net neutrality is back in the news. First of all, what is net neutrality? In general, it is the idea that Internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T should not be able give preferential treatment to one website over another, like slowing or speeding up access – leading to a free and open Internet.

In February 2015, the Federal Commerce Commission (FCC) passed regulations proposed by then President Obama to insure net neutrality. The policy reclassified Internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, treating them as public utilities, like phone service. This means they are subject to more regulation than they had been in the past. Supporters of the FCC policy say it prevents Internet service providers from playing favorites.

Since the February FCC ruling, lobbyists representing almost every major telecom company called on federal courts to overturn the FCC’s net neutrality rules. In June 2016, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 vote, affirmed the FCC's adopted net neutrality rules. Now, President Trump and his recently appointed Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, are aggressively working to gut the very policies insuring net neutrality. 
Currently, ISPs provide the same pipeline (speed) for all content. If I am a Comcast Internet client, I should expect the same streaming of content regardless of the device or website. If net neutrality is no longer the law of the land, Comcast might make a deal with Netflix so that content streamed through their service would come to me at a significantly faster speed than that from Hulu or YouTube. In addition, they might throttle back the speed of those services. That would likely cause me to move my subscription from Hulu to Netflix. Google might contract with my service provider to insure that a Chromecast device delivers superior performance when compared to Apple TV, again, driving my purchasing decisions.

But how might that impact schools? The same could hold true for the vendors that provide data and content services to districts. What might happen if, say, your learning management system made a deal with your district’s ISP so that not only was it delivered with the fastest possible bandwidth, but its competitors arrived at your desktop at an intentionally throttled down speed? What might that do to both your purchasing decisions and to overall competition in the marketplace? Innovation and competition are best served by a free and level playing field. The best ideas and best user experience should drive the market. I drive the car I do because I like its features and performance, not because it is allowed to drive on the Interstate highway and a similar car can only drive on the surface roads.

There is plenty of rhetoric on both sides of this issue. Ignore the rhetoric on both sides and read the actual document. When you do, I think you are likely to come to the same conclusion as I did. It is my interest as a consumer and as an educator to support net neutrality.

Talking about net neutrality is so boring, the comedian John Oliver once quipped, that he would “rather listen to a pair of Dockers tell me about the weird dream it had” than delve into the topic (Atlantic, 2016). Read up on the issue and make your own decision – then contact your representatives and voice your opinion.


Howard Pitler, Ed.D. is an author of Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd edition., Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, and A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd edition.  He has worked with teachers and administrators internationally for over a decade to improve outcomes for kids.

He was named a National Distinguished Principal be NAESP and is an Apple Distinguished Educator. He can be reached at, on Twitter, or on his website, a more meaningful experience for learners. His book, Level Up Your Classroom, about gamified instruction, was published by ASCD in 2016.

7 Tips For New And Aspiring Building Principals

This post originally appeared on the ASCD Inservice blog on May23 2017

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Congratulations! You have just been appointed a building principal. You have the ability to impact hundreds of students. What kind of impact do you want to have? Will you be that principal who is busy putting out fires and running from meeting to meeting or will you be that person who others look back on and think, “that person changed my life for the better”?

Two quotes helped me grow into my first principalship. First, when I walked into my elementary school office for the first time one August day a few decades ago the previous principal had hung a paper banner on the office wall that the students had made at the end of the previous school year. It read, “Welcome to our new PrinciPAL.” and was signed by all 380 students and the staff. The message was clear. We want someone here who likes us and we can trust. The second quote has been attributed to Ron Edmunds – “A student doesn’t care what you know until he knows that you care.” If you want to be the kind of principal that will be remembered as someone who made a difference for kids, it starts by truly caring and showing it. Learning is a social experience and relationships form the foundation.

The principal’s chair can be a very daunting place. You not only have to handle conflicts and disputes between kids; you have a building full of adults who sometimes also have conflicts. Add to that, the school exists within a community with needs and goals that are sometimes not congruent with those of the school. It’s easy to become that firefighter principal and become immersed in stamping out little blazes here and there and filling out reports every day. You need to decide if that’s the best use of your time. To me at least, my number one priority was being in all 15 of my classrooms every day. I wanted to immerse myself as much as possible in the experience of school my students and staff had.

Here are some tips for a new building principal:

  1. Be in the classrooms often. The best way to know what is really going on in you building is to be in very classroom as often as practical. A principal is the instructional leader and you need to have a clear understanding of the instruction going on in every classroom.
  2. Listen more than you talk. A great leader understands that we have two ears and one mouth because that is a good proportion. Listen first and most.
  3. Be a mediator. Try to put yourself in the shoes of both sides of a conflict. Try to understand what is being asked from both sides and look for root causes. Often, the presenting problem is only a symptom of a larger issue. An effective principal sometimes acts more like a mediator. Every action you take has consequences. Think about the unintended consequences of your actions.
  4. Learn what kinds of recognition your staff wants. Not everyone wants to be publically recognized in a large-group setting like a staff meeting or school assembly. How do you know how your staff wants to be recognized for great work? Ask them. Send out a staff survey at the start of the year and be sure one question is, “When I do great work I would prefer to be recognized by ___.”
  5. Do the hard stuff. Lead by example. Be with students in the lunchroom and at recess. Be visible at music and sports events. Just showing up says volumes to staff, students, and community. I learned more about what my school was really like by being out with the kids at lunch recesses. I also became a very good foursquare player.
  6. Know your stuff. Subscribe to and read journals like Educational Leadership to learn what new research is revealing and share that information with your teachers. Facilitate book studies on one or two books a year. ASCD member books are a good place to start.
  7. Delegate, delegate, delegate. There are people on your staff who are simply more interested and/or better are some things than you are. Seek those people out and involve them in meaningful ways. For example, I knew that recognition events and cute little gifts and tokens were important to many on my elementary staff. I also knew I wasn’t that kind of person but one if my teachers was excellent in that arena. I asked her to take on that role for the school and supported her as she ran with it.

Becoming a building principal carries with it an awesome responsibility. You truly have the future of hundreds of students within your control. The environment you establish for both the adults and children who report to the school every day will in large part determine the kind of adults those children become. Bare in mind that for at least some of your students, school is the one place they feel safe and cared for. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “I never teach my pupils. I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.” You have a large number of hats you sometimes wear as a principal – from recess monitor to custodian to disciplinarian to minister. The hat that should always be on and the base for all other hats is the one as instructional leader.

Howard Pitler, Ed.D. is an international speaker, coach, and facilitator with a passion for improving education for all learners. He was the Executive Director and Chief Program Office for McREL International from 2003 to 2015. Prior to working at McREL, Dr. Pitler spent 29 years in K-12 education as a teacher, assistant principal, elementary school principal, and middle school principal in Wichita, Kansas.

Seven Tips for Integrating Technology into the Classroom

This post originally was posted on EdCircuit on Sept. 19, 2017

Technology is not a substitute for quality instruction

by Howard Pitler, Ed.D.

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Technology is a great tool to add to your teacher toolbox. There are an abundance of amazing resources available to both educators and students. If you are just beginning to integrate technology into your teaching here are a few tips to consider.

Tip 1 – First and foremost, a quality teacher begins by selecting the most appropriate instructional strategies for the lesson being taught and the specific group of kids in the class. Just as “one size fits all” really doesn’t fit everyone, a good instructional strategy will work well for some students, but not for all. Combining quality instructional strategies with appropriate technology that enhance instruction is the key. Technology will not replace a good teacher, but a good teacher who uses technology to enhance her instruction will replace one who doesn’t.

Tip 2 – Avoid Google searching, especially for younger students! Asking students to Google something without pre-planning is a likely recipe for trouble. Want proof, just Google Martin Luther King. In the results window, one of the links is Go there at your own peril. At the elementary level consider At the secondary, level look at Better yet, go to Google SafeSearch settings and turn on safe search. Better yet, preload sites you want your students to have easy access into a classroom Diigo site and even categorize them by themes or chapters correlated to the text.

Tip 3 – Technology is only a tool, not an end in itself. While technology-based activities can be engaging and fun, begin your lesson planning by identifying the learning intentions/objectives you are planning on teaching. I like stating my learning objectives as what you expect students to knowunderstand, and be able to do. After you have unpacked the lesson into those declarative and procedural knowledge pieces, then and only then look for technologies that will enhance the lesson. Sometimes the best technology for a given lesson is no technology – and that’s ok.

Tip 4 – Room layout can make or break a technology-enhanced lesson. Be sure every screen is visible. This will enable you to effectively monitor learning by scanning the room to identify students who might be off task. I find it helpful to both monitor screens by scanning the room and then use physical proximity to adjust behaviors. If you see a learner at a site that clearly isn’t part of the lesson just quietly walk to the student and just put your hand on the back of the chair. When students know you are actively monitoring their screens, there will be much less straying.

Tip 5 – Be sure your students know the “why” of the activity you have designed to support the learning objective. While you might have a great reason for students to create a presentation for example, sometimes students get wrapped up in the technology and lose sight of the objective. When creating a PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi on a topic, be sure the focus is on the topic. Students shouldn’t spend more time working on the cute factor of a presentation than on the content itself.

Tip 6 – Content is king! A really fun lesson using an interactive lesson can be really engaging for learners, but is there a clear link to the learning objectives within your school’s scope and sequence? Teachers tell me that one of the biggest barriers they face is time, and yet I often see students engaged in “fun” activities without a clear connection to content. Time is always an issue, but until we have figured out how to change the time-space continuum, be sure that every minute you have your students is spent intentionally on learning what’s within the scope and sequence.

Tip 7 – Don’t wait to use technology until you are an expert. Some teachers avoid using technology because they are afraid that either the technology will crash on them during instruction or because they don’t feel expert enough and their students might see them mess up. First, the technology WILL crash. Trust me on this. I have been in front of hundreds of educators in a PD session and had the power go out (thank you, driver, who hit a transformer in front of the school).

Always have a viable backup plan you can quickly switch to. Also, kids know technology blows up on occasion. It happens to them as well, so accept it and keep going. Second, it is very likely you will have a number of students who know more about the technologies you are trying to use. They honestly will be willing to help. It is perfectly ok to tell the class, “I am just learning this and might need some help along the way.” Students need to see teachers as learners too. Waiting until you are the expert would be similar to waiting until you are an expert bike rider before actually getting on the bike to ride in a parade. Redefine failure in your to FAIL=First Attempt In Learning. The only people who haven’t failed are those who have never tried and never learned.

Technology is a wonderful enhancement. It is not a substitute for quality instruction. Learn and practice research-based instructional strategies and be sure you keep working on your pedagogy to become the best teacher you can. Even the master teachers I work with are constantly learning and growing. What was new technology last school year is now the baseline and new technologies will appear. It’s a challenging time to be an educator, and an exciting time as well.


Howard Pitler is a dynamic facilitator, speaker, technologist, and instructional coach with a proven record of success spanning more than four decades. Pitler is an ASCD Faculty member and the author of several ASCD publications including Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd editionUsing Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works, and A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd edition.

Sometimes the best technology is no technology


This post originally was posted on the ASCD InService site on Oct. 21, 2017

I became the principal of a technology magnet school in 1989. Nine years later, I was named an Apple Distinguished Educator. In 2016 I became a certified Apple Teacher in 2016. As the lead author of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd Ed. and numerous articles on technology integration, I remain an active proponent of technology-infused learning. Technology enables learners to do or create things that might not otherwise be possible. Knowing all of this, you might ask why I, of all people, would ever advise educators to restrict technology in the classroom.

In an the episode of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory (Season 2, Episode 13 ­– great show), Leonard reminds his roommate and fellow scientist, Sheldon, of the time Sheldon learned to swim—on the floor—using the Internet. Sheldon defensively asserted, “The skills are transferable. I just have no interest in going in the water.” Clearly, there are times in the learning process when students learn best by actually “going into the water.” Take driver’s education, for example.

Do you remember the learning sequence in your experience? You likely started in the classroom, learning the declarative knowledge necessary to drive a car, such as the rules of the road, standard traffic laws, and other basics. You might have also spent time in a simulator, practicing evasive maneuvers that would be dangerous for a novice to attempt on the road. Still, you and your teacher clearly understood that the textbook and the simulator were no replacement for actually sitting behind the wheel. An app would not have cut it; simulated experiences wouldn’t be an adequate substitute for gaining real, experiential knowledge.

In math classrooms, many teachers are now augmenting—and sometimes replacing—direct instruction with apps or video instruction provided by third-party sources, such as Khan Academy. While these apps and websites do offer a way for many learners to reinforce their understanding of basic skills and processes, the elements of student discourse and reflection are lacking.

Recently, when I visited a middle school algebra class, I watched as students completed Khan Academy lessons related to the day’s learning objectives working independently on their laptops,. Following that 10-minute online experience, students closed their laptops and were grouped into triads based on where they were in the Khan Academy progression. Each triad worked on a small number of algebra problems, discussing different ways to solve the problems. Some worked on interactive white boards while others worked on paper. They engaged in deep thinking and true problem solving, opening up a dialogue about math – a version of math talks. Students helped each other, challenged each other’s thinking, and, ultimately, learned from each other.

At the end of the class, I asked a few students what they liked about the way the teacher structured the lesson. Yes, they liked being able to work at their own pace online, but every one of the students I talked to expressed that what they really liked about the class was the time they spent talking to each other about the learning. Uniformly, students agreed the conversations were the best part of the learning experience; the feedback they received from others deepened their understanding of the concepts.

Could the teacher have accomplished a similar objective by putting students in TodaysMeet rooms or Google hangouts and have them share their thinking in that way? Maybe. But the real question is, why do that? Good educators plan their instruction intentionally. They think about what they want their students to understand and master, and then adapt their learning strategies to accomplish that goal.

The real art in teaching lies in knowing when and how to use technology to enhance learning. Sometimes, it’s better to use a textbook or a whiteboard. Other times, engaging students in online simulations and computer-assisted learning will be appropriate strategies. And, sometimes, it is best to just unplug and engage with other humans, face-to face, in real time.

Howard Pitler is a dynamic facilitator, speaker, and instructional coach with a proven record of success spanning four decades. Pitler is an ASCD Faculty member and the author of several ASCD publications including Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd editionUsing Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works, and A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd edition. Contact Pitler at or on his website.