Promoting a positive study environment by adapting classroom management

This meta-review is a compilation of systematic reviews that have analysed research about how teachers can encourage a positive study environment in the classroom. Work on promoting positive study environments is one element in creating conditions that are conducive to pupils’ learning and development. Classroom teaching is often described as classroom management, and the focus of this meta-review is working methods that are not tied to a specific school subject. The meta-review intends to answer the following research question:

What characterises classroom management that encourages positive study environments in schools?

The focus is on the teacher, but this does not mean that we believe the teacher is solely responsible for creating a positive study environment; instead, we have chosen to focus on what the teacher can do in the classroom. Our starting point for this meta-review is that work to promote a positive study environment is an integrated part of the teaching profession, and that increased knowledge about what may encourage a positive study environment can support teachers in their work.

Results of the review

Encouraging a positive study environment in the classroom is a complex task, which requires active leadership from the teacher and includes proactive and reactive working methods. The results of the included systematic reviews have been compiled in six themes which, together, provide an overarching image of what characterises the teacher leadership that encourages a positive study environment. These characteristics are presented below the relevant heading.

Build positive relationships by knowing your pupils’ needs

If work to promote a positive study environment is to be effective and affect every pupil, it must be adapted to the needs of individual pupils and the group as a whole. Therefore, our starting point is that teachers need to get to know the pupils and their needs. The results in the meta-review show that teachers’ relationship-building with the pupils is a prerequisite for a positive study environment. The teachers’ supportive work and positive relationships with pupils contribute to the pupils’ learning. Similarly, relationships that have a negative character have negative effects on pupils’ learning. Although there is more research about relationship-creation with pupils in younger age groups, it is apparent that relationship-creation continues with older pupils.

Classroom management is also important in supporting pupils’ relationships with each other and in supporting individual pupils who have emotional and social difficulties.

Choose and adapt teaching strategies

One overarching conclusion from the included reviews is the importance of analysing the needs of the pupils – as a group and as individuals – and reflecting on them in teaching. This may involve awareness of what difficulties a pupil is experiencing – are they associated with learning, relationships with the other pupils in the class, socioemotional skills, events in their home environment or something else?

Several reviews have problem descriptions that feature disruption in the classroom, but there are also mentions of how passive or withdrawn pupils can be problematic. Distinguishing between having a quiet classroom and when pupils are working on-task is therefore important; in itself, peace and quiet is inadequate for pupils’ learning and development.

Flexible working methods are a success factor in being able to adapt classroom management, so it suits all the pupils.

Proactive and preventive practices

Several of the included reviews emphasise the importance of clarifying expectations and having a clear teaching structure that involves rules and routines for the classroom as well as, for example, for transitions between different activities. This could also mean that lesson planning needs to take account of the way the classroom is furnished.Choosing the furniture arrangement depending on whether the activity requires individual work or cooperation between the pupils allows the teacher to increase the potential for a positive study environment.

Increase pupil participation

There are various ways to create conditions that encourage pupils to be more active during classes. This can help extend the time that the pupils work on-task, and to reduce distractions. Several reviews have looked at different ways of increasing pupils’ opportunities to respond and react during classes. Another way of encouraging participation is to offer choices as part of the teaching.

According to the included reviews, participation is especially important for pupils with various types of difficulties. Pupil participation is essential for making the adjustments necessary to meet pupils’ different needs.

Active supervision and behaviour-specific praise

Several of the reviews highlight teacher’s classroom management in relation to behaviour in the classroom. This primarily deals with supporting and encouraging behaviours that contribute to a positive classroom environment and confronting those behaviours that are not expected. Work on supporting and responding to behaviours includes proactive and reactive leadership.

The reviews show that various behaviourally focused strategies and programmes may promote a positive study environment, but this does not mean they will work for all pupils. Teachers therefore need to have a range of different tools and strategies for reaching out to all pupils. Similarly, it is good if working methods are flexible, so the teacher can adapt them to the needs of can be individual pupils. Additionally, working methods that have been developed in contexts other than Sweden need to be adapted to Swedish circumstances.

One approach that is described as successful in the reviews is providing praise that directly targets classroom behaviours.

Other strategies focus on how the teacher can encourage a positive study environment by supporting the pupils and predicting difficult situations. One example is exercising active supervision in the classroom by scanning the classroom situation and responding to pupils’ actions based on clear expectations.

Teacher self-evaluation

Considering that several of the reviews discuss how a particular strategy rarely works for all pupils, one element of classroom management is to evaluate the outcome of a selected strategy. To continually adapt classroom management to the pupils’ needs, teachers may find it a good idea to think about how they can continually evaluate their classroom management and the strategies they have chosen to use. Active reflection on one’s own teaching provides opportunities to prioritise what needs further work.

Utilising the results

This meta-review is primarily aimed at teachers in compulsory schools and upper secondary schools, but may be beneficial for other professional categories in schools, such as school management.

The hope is that this meta-review will bring teachers increased knowledge about some research-based instructional strategies and ways of exercising classroom management. The results of the meta-review can provide inspiration or form a basis for discussion when teachers are working on developing their classroom management. Based on reflection upon, and an analysis of, the needs in their own classrooms, the results may provide support in assessing what is needed for further work on a positive study environment.

Selection of research

The meta-review is a compilation of 39 systematic reviews that were systematically selected after extensive searches in national and international research databases. Together, the reviews cover a significant body of research on different aspects of positive study environments in classrooms. The meta-review collects research about what the teacher does in the classroom and in ordinary classroom teaching at compulsory schools and upper secondary schools. The majority of the studies were conducted in an English-language context.

The systematic review is available as summary, information sheet and full report (in Swedish).

Project group

The project is carried out by a project team consisting of external researchers (specialists in the field) and employees at the Swedish Institute for Educational Research.

External researches

  • Annika Lilja, Senior Lecturer, Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies, University of Gothenburg
  • Marcus Samuelsson, Associate Professor, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, biträdande professor, Linköping University

From the institute

  • Elín Hafsteinsdóttir, PhD (project manager)
  • Alva Appelgren, PhD (assistant project manager)
  • Eva Bergman (information specialist)
  • Catarina Melin (project assistant 2020–2021)
  • Maria Bergman (project assistant 2019–2020)