Students take greater academic risks in a classroom in which they feel emotionally safe, motivated and that their thoughts and opinions matter. In order for a child's self-confidence to be nourished, he must trust his environment and feel that his opinions are valued and protected.
A teacher creates the foundation for a positive learning environment and should set the tone at the start of the school year, however it is the responsibility of the students and teacher to maintain it throughout the school year. The schools in which I've worked, the children were cruel to one another and had to be taught how to give and receive praise, one technique to fostering a positive learning environment.
Here are some additional ways to promote student success by fostering a positive learning environment:
Build a strong class community
From grade level to grade level, students typically build friendships with one another, they may be placed in the same class, sit near one another during lunch, ride the same bus, or see each other throughout the community. As a result, on the first day of school the teacher is technically the only "stranger" in the classroom, although it may not seem this way to the students. I use this time to create a sense of family and connectedness with the students. This may be done indirectly through icebreakers, games, and role-playing, and by explicitly teaching the students that while they are in the same class together, they are family. I use this as an opportunity to teach them that we allow other "family members" to skip in front of us in line, we respect the opinions of our family members, even when we don't agree with them. If needed, I use this time to work through any known conflicts between the students or the girls vs. boys.
Build self-confidence and self-efficacy
Students require praise to believe that they can be successful, and the necessary amount of praise varies from student to student. In my classroom when a student gives an incorrect response, I find some way to connect their response to the correct answer, or explain to them in a positive way why their response is not correct. Replying to a student's incorrect response, with a simple "no" is never acceptable.
Presenting students with lower level material prior to introducing them to more complex tasks gives them a sense of accomplishment and in turns builds their self-confidence. I also teach students how to celebrate the successes of their classmates. By nature, students are competitive, and usually show signs of jealously when others receive praise for doing something well, this is when I teach comradery, and how it's okay to be happy for others and encourage each other when needed.
Motivation is a large contribution to student success. I come across so many parents that tell me that their child doesn't read well, and lacks motivation to read. As much as I can, I try to involve students in the teaching process. For example, I ask them to tell me what they believe their deficits are. This way I've got their "buy in" before we start working on a task. Finding ways to connect skills to real life is also a good way to motivate students. For example, use the names of the most popular sports teams or players in word problems or have them to read or write about recent news stories. Additionally, it is imperative to vary your teaching style to meet the needs of the different learners. Most students learn by creating, making, designing, debating, role-playing etc.. gone are the days of worksheet learning.