No Series: Building Culture: Strategies for Starting

Building Culture: Strategies for Starting

Lesson Objective: Create a class culture that supports learning
All Grades / All Subjects / Engagement


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

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?


  • Private message to Julie Sorensen

Ms. Wessling makes her classroom assignments authentic and purposeful. She learns with students and congratulates original and insightful thoughts. In working with adult learners, the "teacher" should be as invested in the process as the learners are.  When the student is comfortable enough to open up with ideas for learning or suggesting a  method that would work for them, the teacher has succeeded in building an exciting environment for moving and exploring. We would all like to be in Ms. Wessling's class!

Recommended (1)
  • Private message to lauren albury

Ms. Wessling develops authentic and purposeful experiences for her students by making the content relevant to them. I love the way she takes a topic and makes it real world to them and makes them resposible for completing their business venture or whatever it may be that day. Culture and Engagement go hand and hand in her classroom. She has a fun, positive attitude that radiates to her students. She makes her role in the classroom as they have a project and she is there to "coach" them or offer guidance while they ask questions and come up with their own soultion. Ms. Wessling models her expectations by living them.  She speaks nicely with them and treats them with respect, modeling what she expects in return. 

Recommended (0)
  • Private message to Chistopher Bryan

Ms. Wessling develops authentic and purposeful experiences for her students by making her lessons and projects relatable and choosing activities that her students are already interested in.  This makes her lessons inherently engaging for her students.  She is aware of current cultural trends and uses these trends to hook the interest of her students.  She is a great example for her students because she involves herself in the learning process and her students see that she is learning along with them and not just disseminating knowledge she already has.

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  • Private message to Kara Wigger

In Mrs. Wessling's classoom, the students are actively engaged because the content is relevant to them.  They are interested in the assignments because they can relate it to thier own world.  in addition, Mrs. Wessling does an amazing job of making each student feel valued and recognized.  She has great questions which really have her students thinking about the project.  Right at the end, one of her students asks if Mrs. Wessling has any more questions for the group, and Mrs. Wessling says she does. This in itself creates an environment of value between the students and the teacher. It also models critical thinking for the students, and the point that there are no questions which are not valuable. 

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  • Private message to Naiviv Rodriguez

Ms. Wessling develops interest in her students by indulging them in authentic and role playing assignments. I recall loving those types of assignments and getting the most out of them while I was a student. I love that she mentions that she knows she has designed a successful project if she's learning alonside the students. Teaching, to me, is a learning experience. You learn from your students as you learn from them. I admire the fact that she interviews her students about their feelings toward her lessons. That is something I will be incorporating in my classroom. The learning culture in her classroom is positive becuase she approaches everything with positivity, even her mistakes, as she indulges herself in her students work and thought processess. 

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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 Northwest 62nd Avenue
Johnston IA 50131
Population: 1548

Data Provided By:



Sarah Brown Wessling


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