Creating Culture in the Classroom!

Mark HornerBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Manage Better, Teach Happier


  • Three strategies for building culture in the classroom: (1) Play music in the hallways (2) Positive greetings at the door through touch at the beginning and end of class (3) Decorate the entrance doorway.
  • Relationships are important and the key.

Creating Culture in the Classroom!

A few years back, I played in a golf tournament hosted by our local police department. My foursome and I had a blast losing golf balls, telling stories, and hacking up the course. Honestly, the real reason we were there was because this outing always has the best food and prizes around. Our golf that day was “sub par” but the opportunity to win some incredible prizes was promising.

After our round, I roamed the table of baskets and placed my tickets in as many boxes as I could. The goal was to win at least one basket that day to justify the cost of the outing and the large number of mulligans I had purchased. Well, I ended up winning a basket that day. What I won ended up being a game changer for my classroom and for my students. That day, I walked home with a portable, water proof, Bluetooth speaker made by JBL. Who would have thought that this little speaker would be the catalyst for positive change in my classroom? 

My WHY for This Post

The WHY for this post is to share three strategies that I have used over the years that have really helped shape and define the culture of my classroom. Each of you reading this desires your classroom to be a safe haven for all students, a place where your students feel at home and comfortable. Certainly this has always been important, but I believe it is even more important now as we deal daily with issues surrounding SEL, teacher retention, and general feelings of fatigue and lack of purpose. Purpose and belonging are basic needs essential to our growth as human beings. Creating an environment where our students feel these two essential qualities begins in the hallway. It is that first interaction that sets the tone for the rest of the class and for the rest of their day.

Every moment is an experience. We are tasked with the calling to create moments that build, inspire, and motivate.

Relationships are key. Without a relationship with your students, it is impossible to have the impact you truly desire. Click To Tweet

MUSIC: Blare the Tunes as They Walk the Hallways

Back to the speaker. As I mentioned, this little speaker became a game changer. I love music and I have always played it in the classroom. I play music as the kids enter, as they work, and as they transition between activities. But this speaker changed my entire outlook on the importance of greeting kids at the door. One morning, I decided to bring the speaker with me out into the hallway. I sat it on a desk in the hallway and cranked up the tunes. From that point on our hallway has never been the same.

Music in the hallway changes everything. Suddenly school wasn’t “school” anymore. It was fun, energetic, and inviting.

The first channel I decided to play was created by one of my former students. She shared it with me a few years earlier for me to play in the classroom. It had all the classics…The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison, and so many more. You know, those songs that make you dance, smile instantly, and sing along to.

Check it out here:

Here is what I saw that first day I played music in the hallway. It was simply AWESOME:

As My Girl by the Temptations played loudly, every teacher in the hallway began dancing, smiling, and singing. The music was like a magnet drawing everyone out of their rooms. I overheard a few of our seasoned veterans talk about this song being played at their high school dances. We teachers were happy and enjoying the mood.

Then came the students…

Now, keep in mind that this was at 7:15 in the morning. No high school kid wants to be at school. Yet, as they turned the corner to enter our hallway some magic happened.

Our kids started dancing and singing. Honestly, it was enlightening to see so many students singing and appreciating the “oldie but goodies.” Kids laughed, smiled, and danced…just like their teachers.

You and I both know that music triggers emotion. Why not use music to our advantage and set the tone for the day? Is there a better way to start a period or block than with laughter, movement, joy, and smiles in the hallway! Like I said…game changer.


I have always been a firm believer in greeting kids at the door. It sets the proper tone from the onset. A few years back, I attended a camp hosted by PGC Basketball, and they shared with me their number one rule of basketball practice: the HI/BYE Rule. Since then, I have adopted it for the classroom.

The rule is simple: you don’t enter the classroom, nor leave the classroom without saying hi or bye to the teacher. For me, it also involves a fist bump, elbow bump, or high five above the shoulders.

“To touch can be to give life.”

– Michelangelo

I don’t have all the technical data to throw behind these findings, but I have personally found the following to be true for me and my classroom:


Greeting each student and looking into their eyes gives me the opportunity to see where they are at that day. The eyes reveal where their heart is. I cannot even begin to tell you the number of times I have been able to pull a student aside and ask about what is going on because when I greeted them at the door and looked them in the eye I could tell they were hurting. Not only do you see pain, but you see joy, you see hair cuts, you see new color and highlights, you see new tattoos, you see distraction, you see nervousness—you see it all if you take the time to look and then to ask.

Physical Touch

The fist and elbow bump and the high five. These types of touches aid in getting a good read on where the student is, or how you want to send them off for the rest of their day. Every kid is greeted with a fist bump. They are part of the team and they are to be celebrated. As they leave my classroom I try to give each a high five above the shoulders. Interestingly enough I once heard that when the high five is above the shoulder it releases serotonin and you feel just a little bit better. What a great way to send them off for the rest of their day!

Fist Bumps

First bumps with me encourage fist bumps with others. More than once I have seen kids mimic their greeting with me with other classmates as they walk into or leave the room. I find it so cool that students will imitate what the teacher does and reinforces. For some students, that fist bump is the only positive touch they get throughout the day. It’s a great way to create community, security, happiness, and comfort.

[scroll down to keep reading]

Decorate the Entrance

A while back I had a couple of students pull me aside and ask if they could decorate my door. Of course, I said they could. I had no idea what was in store for me. These two students are amazing artists. The transformation my doorway went through that day was mind boggling.

This is the newest strategy that has really helped create a positive classroom environment. Below are a few other things that allowed me to create the best possible classroom for my students:

  • It has allowed me to showcase the talents of some of my students.
  • I have the opportunity to praise my students publicly.
  • There is an aura around my classroom that has made other students curious. Students walk by and wonder what goes on in that class?
  •  An attractive entrance holds me accountable as their teacher. It puts the pressure on me to have a lesson prepared that matches the attraction of the entrance.
  • It created a sense amongst my students that this was THEIR classroom and they took ownership of the room.


In conclusion, playing music, throwing out fist bumps and elbow taps, and decorating the room are simple strategies that so many educators do on a daily basis. We cannot dismiss how important they are. These gestures help establish relationships with our students.

Relationships are key. Without a relationship with your students, it is impossible to have the impact you truly desire. Like me, I know your driving desire as an educator—and your WHY for teaching—is to impact your students’ lives, not just in the academic realm, but also for the rest of their lives. You want to see them become people of influence—change makers. The tone set for your classroom as they enter is the first step towards creating an environment where your students will want to become the best versions of themselves.

The challenge for you is this: try one of these strategies, or all of them, if you aren’t doing them now. Test it for yourself. If it works keep doing it. Feel free to reach out and share how it’s going with me.

Thanks for serving our kids. Thanks for changing lives.

About Mark Horner

Mark Horner is a proud husband and father. He has been married to his college sweetheart, Jennifer for over 20 years. They have two children: Kelsie, current aspiring teacher at Kent State University and a son, Noah, a student at Tallmadge High School, Tallmadge, Ohio. Mark received his undergraduate degree from the University of Akron, and his Master’s in K-12 Leadership from Kent State University.

He’s spent his entire teaching career within Tallmadge City Schools. He student taught at the MS, and then stayed on for 5 years as an 8th grade American History teacher. He was then moved to the HS where he has been teaching US History and Psychology for a lot of years! When not in the classroom you can either find him on a basketball court coaching basketball, at Crimson Cup drinking coffee and reading a good book, or walking his Golden Retriever, Teddy, (yep, named after President #26) around town.

Mark is an aspiring blogger and podcaster. You can check out his writing at and his podcast, #Between2BlueDevils, at, or on any other podcasting platform.