Building Culture: Strategies for Starting
Lesson Objective: Create a class culture that supports learning
All Grades / All Subjects / Engagement

Thought starters

  1. How does Ms. Wessling develop authentic and purposeful experiences for her students?
  2. What is the relationship between culture and engagement?
  3. How does Ms. Wessling model her expectations?

Ms. Wessling develops an authentic experience by using real world examples and engaging personally at ground level with her students. She states that this kind of learning encourages engagement with students. I find that personal examples in the classroom model the learning process so that students are more willing to try, make mistakes and try again. 

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Ms. Wessling's modeling is reinforced by her presence in each small group. She is part of the conversation, "learning right along with them." How long is she at each table? Does she go to each with a specific idea/question? Is this proactive or reactive. How does Ms. Wessling maintain engagement at the tables behind her? What went into choosing those groups?

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I agree with your approach to the classroom environment 100%. I also feel that it is what makes teaching so hard! I've been teaching for 22 years, and I'm still trying to figure out how to sustain this type of environment daily. It takes me hours or days to develop colorful, original, engaging activities. Sometimes, I find myself relying on the standard English class structure of journals, questions, written responses, think-pair-share, etc. Is there a way to encourage my brain to come up with more engaging lessons that encourage students to feel invested in learning?
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In high school students are more organized and calm. Would be better to be incorporate if I get some videos dealing with primary students
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Please post some videos how do we do this with primary students.
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  • Building Culture: Strategies for Starting Transcript

    Speaker 1: So how is everybody? Good? Oh, I can tell it's Monday.

    If there is

    Building Culture: Strategies for Starting Transcript

    Speaker 1: So how is everybody? Good? Oh, I can tell it's Monday.

    If there is not a culture of learning, where students fell energized, and valued and worthwhile, the learning's not going to happen. It's just not going to matter.

    What does your prototype need? Does that make sense? Okay?

    I want to empower them to become autonomous thinkers.

    Speaker 2: Why do you think that they're starving?

    Speaker 1: I want them to be asking questions. I want them not just to be fulfilling a task, but having a very clear purpose to making sure that this experience, and the culture, can support it.

    Okay, your challenge for today is to be a reality TV show producer.

    One of the things that I've learned, when I think about creating culture in the classroom, in terms of designing lessons, is giving the students an experience to dive into.

    Google has hired you to help them figure out how to devise a prototype.

    The more authentic that experience can be, I think the more rigorous it really is, the more purposeful it is. So, there's an intersection for me between authenticity and purpose.

    In a lot of ways, the Hunger Games is trying to tell us a lot about ourselves, without coming right out and saying it.

    I think having an authentic experience for them, or as authentic as possible, absolutely contributes to them being engaged.

    So, would you like to make a version of Hunger Games where Katniss controls the narrative?

    Speaker 3: Not necessarily, because that wouldn't be as interesting for the reader. Because the whole government controlling is a big thing.

    Speaker 1: Is part of it, okay.

    When I would interview students about which experiences would teach you the most, I continued to see over and over again, that there were these moments when they dove into something. When I created something authentic for them.

    On these cards are different scenarios.

    The more they told me that, the more I realized, that had to shape what learning looked like, and the standards were going to have to fold into that.

    Speaker 2: She's not the only person starving, so why do you think he burnt the bread to get the [?].

    Speaker 4: Because the bread is food in general.

    Speaker 5: It's food in general, and they're hungry.

    Speaker 1: You have a good point though.

    The most important way that I am establishing expectations, is by living them. That I am living the expectations.

    My brain cannot remember all of those standards when I'm teaching, so I boiled them down to these six categories.

    I am the geek in the front of the classroom, or the geek at the table with them. Wherever I'm at, who is just as excited, well, who is frankly more excited, than they are. Who is giving them high fives when they come up with a really insightful read, or a great point.

    Speaker 2: You have to be two-faced in the game.

    Speaker 1: Oh, you have to get that in there somehow.

    I have to teach them what it means to be a member of this club, and I want them to know that in this club, your value comes from being authentic, joining in, taking intellectual risks, and the only way I can teach that is by living it.

    I had this plan, and then I realized my plan was not going to quite work. Which sometimes happens, with me. So, we're going to do this a little bit differently.

    When you design a project where you get to be the coach, and you get to be the facilitator, and you get to learn right along with them, I dive in in a different way.

    So is there any part of this prototype that's then connected to the crowd?

    It's very different than running a classroom, or knowing the right answer.

    Speaker 2: How do you explain passion?

    Speaker 1: All right, so what is passion?

    I'm taking notes about their questions, and I am asking questions, and they're making me think about what they came up with in different ways. So, it's so much more collaborative. I'm a learner too. I'm learning right along with them.

    Speaker 6: So, do you have any questions for us?

    Speaker 1: I do have a question, though.

    So, I know that I have designed a good project, when I feel as invested as a learner, as they are.

    In order to get out of class today, I want you to right on the front, something new that you learned.

School Details

Johnston Senior High School
6501 Nw 62nd Ave
Johnston IA 50131
Population: 1541

Data Provided By:



Sarah Brown Wessling


TCH Special

Grades 6-12, All Subjects, Civic Engagement

TCH Special

Grades 6-12, All Subjects, Civic Engagement

TCH Special

Grades 6-12, All Subjects, Civic Engagement

Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Subjects / Collaboration