Positive culture matters. Environments can change how humans learn, thrive, and grow. They can be places driven by possibility, creativity, and passion―where inspiration is birthed and purpose overrides time; places where humans feel safe enough to try, fail, succeed, and then given the freedom reach for more.
Do you ever wonder about that feeling you get when you walk into a room? It just might be the culture of the space or the "temperature" of the room―the one established by expectations, values, ethical decisions, habits, and social behaviors. Culture tells us how people are treated and how we are expected to treat others.
The culture of a work or school environment can be the difference between a space that thrives on success or one contaminated by conflict and struggle. Humans work better in places where they have a sense of agency and purpose; where they can make an impact and make things better for the group and themselves.
Positive culture matters.
Listed below are 20 mindful ways to cultivate positive culture. All engage natural reciprocity and can help shift the entirety of an environment.
20 Mindful Ways to Cultivate Positive Culture:
A smile is a human social behavior. It increases levels of serotonin in both the giver and the receiver of a smile. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, important for cognitive functions, especially the functions of memory and learning. Smiling is a cross-cultural form of communication that fosters connection, relationships, and naturally causes people to relax. A smile is a simple act of kindness.
Kindness cultivates empathy, decreases stress, boosts the immune system, and reduces negative emotions. Negative and positive emotions are contagious. Kindness is a decision one makes... a sign of grit, strength, and resilience. It's what good humans do.
3. Tone of Voice
In communication, your voice is the most powerful tool. The tone of your voice can foster courage and bravery or eliminate self-worth and authenticity. Use it wisely.
Adults who use harsh tones can cause trauma through shame. “…consider whether you are unwittingly replicating a trauma… yelling at somebody who is already out of control can only lead to further (emotional) dysregulation… we humans respond to harsh voices with fear, anger, or shut down, and playful tones by opening up and relaxing.” - Bessel van der Kolk
Patience is a necessary social emotional skill. Leadership of any kind requires us to hang on to patience, hard. Modeling for others how to manage emotions is an important functional trait for healthy environments. Notice frustration coming on, stop, and regroup. Breathe. Remember that whatever you are trying to get across may not stick the first time around… or the second, or third, or sixth.
Adults who cannot manage their emotions create students who cannot manage their emotions. “We teach who we are.”
Talking fosters connections and relationships. Humans are social creatures. Face-to-face interactions are an important part of our mental health and well being. In the classroom, talk is critical. When given frequent and organic opportunities to talk, we learn to process, reflect, internalize, respond, encourage, communicate, consider others, and grow... together.
Touch is the "most natural way that we humans calm down... It helps us feel intact, safe, protected, and in charge." Human touch promotes trust, safety, and security. This important human behavior can occur in the form of a handshake, fist bump, hug, or my favorite… a high five.
Listening is the key to all effective communication and all positive human relationships. Effective listening develops neurol residence skills, or the ability to adapt successfully in the face of stress and adversity. All it takes is for you to… stop, watch, notice, and not speak.
“People won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” We don't have to tell people how we feel about them, they can feel it.
"The brain and the heart both have electromagnetic fields..." The brain's electromagnetic field can be measured a distance of about two inches away from the body. The heart's electromagnetic field can be detected 10 to 15 feet away from the body. "Because the electromagnetic field carries with it an emotional content, we all quite literally effect one another's vibrations―good or otherwise."
Set people up for success. Always. Young humans learn more by our actions than by our words.
Children and adults affected by trauma function with a different nervous system. “(E)very new encounter or event is contaminated by the past…” Take purposeful time to teach, guide, and model. Be the example.
"Energy goes where attention flows." We are the cultivators of our own environments; we grow what we nurture most.
Expectations lead us. Nurturing, supporting, and encouraging others while expecting greatness, creates opportunities for different outcomes. Whether we expect those around us to rise or whether we expect them to stumble and fall, they will.
It’s okay to apologize when you are in the wrong. We are human, and humans make mistakes. Show your students what it looks like, authentically.
Often, students are told to apologize. Forced apologies are inauthentic. According to Dr. Fredric Neuman, Directory of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plans Hospital, “Forcing the person to pretend to be sorry does no good. It makes that person less likely to feel sorry.”
Be honest with students. Trust happens when we practice honesty.
Trust first. Keep expectations clear, and put yourself out there. Show students how to trust by trusting them first. Take time to reflect and use student feedback to guide the learning. Honoring student feedback and using it to make change builds trust.
Keep your promises―follow through is hands down the most important component for building trust.
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde. Making decisions congruent with what you value, teaches others to do the same. If you believe kindness is important, be kind to others. Life is easier when the most important person you have to impress... is yourself.
Grace is... politeness, poise, honor, respect, dignity. Whatever word fits, become it. Rise. Gift grace as a symbol of who you are, not as a reward for others to earn. You are a better teacher when you practice what you teach.
How does grace appear when you are alone; when you are with those you love; or when you are with those you don't?
Hope is a dynamic cognitive motivational system; a crucial human survival skill. It is a doorway to courage, self efficacy, and happiness. Emotions that come from a place of hope allow us a wider vantage point; a place where we can consider possibility. Where we see possibility, we see intense need for creative problem solving. This is an important 21st Century skill.
As teachers, ”(o)ur mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope… the place of truth-telling… the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be...” Hope, by Victoria Safford
"We are what we believe we are." -C.S. Lewis. We teach who we are. The greatest indicator of how much our students or others are impacted by what we do is what we believe. If those around you do not yet believe in themselves... believe in them first, until they can begin to believe in themselves. Every person deserves the opportunity to reach for the stars and someone who believes they can.
Learning requires vulnerability. Vulnerability is the center of love, belonging, and joy. Without it, we cannot have courage, empathy, trust, innovation, creativity, accountability, adaptability, hard conversations, feedback, problem-solving, or ethical decision making.
“The greatest casualty of trauma is vulnerability.” – Brené Brown. Environments where shame, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty are allowed, vulnerability cannot and will not exist.
Empathy is the ability to recognize the perspective of another person. It is a matter of neuroscience and human development. Pay attention to what others feel, ask what they are feeling, and make a commitment to understand.
It is the most powerful invisible practice a teacher can perform in a classroom environment. It is what drive us… it is what should drive us. Notice your impact. What you feel is contagious, whether it is positive or negative. And whether you do or do not love working with children (or other humans), it shows.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa
Positive cultures lead by purpose, inspire humans to learn, thrive, and grow. These environments nurture creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Here, humans are driven to their fullest potential.
When every human experience shapes the brain, environments that practice mindful positive human interactions do more than help us feel good, they change us.
"We don't have to offer some grand gesture to students to make our interactions memorable and meaningful." We can begin with one small positive interaction at a time.
How will you begin cultivating positive culture in your environment?
References & Resources:
The Power of Positive Leadership, by Jon Gordon
Daring Classrooms, by Brené Brown (YouTube): Click here.
Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth, by Aaron Hogan
Culturize, by Jimmy Casas
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
Enlighten Up, by Lynell Burmark & Lou Fournier
Scientific American, How You Feel What Another Body Feels: Click here.
Marina Rodriguez (@mrodz308) is a California native, dual language teacher, National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project Teacher Consultant, Kidblog Ambassador, and co-author of Two Writing Teachers.