What happens when an educator blends warmth, empathy, and genuine connection in the classroom? On this episode of Teaching with CLASS®, we have the pleasure of hosting Crystal Allen, an experienced educator and instructional specialist from Louisiana. Crystal opens up about her remarkable journey from teaching young students to supporting adult educators. She passionately emphasizes fostering a positive climate in educational settings, where trust and respect can flourish among students and teachers alike.

Crystal Allen is a mother of 3 and a native of Louisiana with 18 years of experience in education. She’s served as a classroom teacher, school-based instructional specialist, mentor coach, district instructional specialist, and session facilitator. Crystal is currently the Early Childhood Coordinator for the EBR Ready Start Network. She has worked with the early childhood department since 2018.

Today, Crystal shares invaluable insights about how educators, even those who aren't naturally extroverted, can create a positive atmosphere through small yet impactful actions. Authenticity is key, and Crystal underscores how being genuinely interested in students' lives can foster a sense of value and trust. Whether it's attending a student's event or simply noticing the little things, these actions build stronger relationships.

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Kate: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Teaching with CLASS podcast, the podcast that gives you quick, actionable tips to easily implement in your classroom. I’m your host, Kate Cline.

Today, you are in for a treat. We are visited by Crystal Allen. She’s in Louisiana, and she is going to visit with us to talk with us about positive climate, what it is, why it matters, and how it helps not just the children in your classroom, but how it helps you as an educator too. Let’s get started.

All right. Here we are with a brand new opportunity to connect with a brand new person. Today, we’re talking with Crystal Allen. Crystal is here to talk with us about positive climate and how building a positive environment for children also will benefit us as educators. I’m so excited. Crystal, how nice to meet you. Welcome.

Crystal: Very nice to meet you, too. Thank you so much for having me on today. 

Kate: Yeah, it’s going to be fun. First things first, we want to know, why does this matter to you? What are you bringing about a positive climate from your heart to us today? Tell us your story.

Crystal: I’m an educator of 17 years. I’m just completing year 17. I’ll be starting year 18 in the fall. Positive climate is just really near and dear to my heart because in working with teachers, it’s so much easier to get the work done when you can build those warm relationships, and it starts with having that positive climate.

I have been an elementary school teacher. I have always believed that people learn best from people whom they like and who they respect. Whenever we think about those things, we just think automatically about a positive climate, just having those warm, nurturing relationships with respect. It just totally helps out.

As I transitioned from working with young learners to working with adult learners, that resonated even more, just building those strong foundations and they were able to trust me. As I would go into their classrooms to help them out, they’re not afraid to make mistakes. They’re a little bit more open to admitting when something didn’t go quite right because we built that foundation, and it’s all because that positive climate was set in the very beginning. Very, very important work that needs to be done with working with our teachers. 

Kate: Yes. That’s enough said right there. We want to dive in deeper. Tell us a little bit more about who you are. You were an educator, and now you support educators. Tell us a little bit about your background.

Crystal: My background is I have a Bachelor’s with Science in Elementary Education, and then I have a Master’s of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction. As I stated, I’ve been in education for 17 years. I taught second grade, third grade, and fifth grade. Once teaching paused for me, I became a school-based instructional specialist. I did that for five years.

In 2018, I do believe it was, I started working as a district instructional specialist for the early childhood department here. I’m in Louisiana, so we have parishes, not counties. I started working for the early childhood department for my parish here. Just this February, I was promoted to the coordinator of our early childhood programs.

During my time as an instructional specialist, lots of time doing professional development, lots of time I spent coaching, and then I coached. I was coaching mainly the child care side of our population, which is very interesting because this population of teachers who often see that turnover rate in child care, so very, very important there to definitely establish those relationships, because many of our teachers don’t have a formal post high school background.

It’s just really, really important to make them feel very valued, to let them know that you do consider them a professional, that the work that they do is important. Again, just by going in, being warm, being respectful, hearing what it is that they have to say, all of those tools are amazing tools to have in your toolbox to just help the work get done. 

Kate: No matter what our background, our education level, or any of that, we’re people first. Connecting as people, feeling respected, and valued as a person, is—

Crystal: Very important. 



Kate: Yeah, that’s key. We’re going to dive into a conversation about all of this. It sounds like it’s going to be from both sides. How does it affect the children in the classroom but also the climate that the teacher is in, that the educator, that positive climate is not just for children. It’s for adults too. Any other things we want to make sure we touch on as we go?

Crystal: I think that if we just keep the ball rolling to exactly what you said, and we’ll just see where it goes, any nuggets, jewels, and gems that we pick up on the way, definitely we will go ahead, bisect them a little more, and talk about them. I’m just so excited to be here today.

Kate: It’s going to be awesome. Let’s just maybe define, what is a positive climate? What is that all about? How do I build that in my classroom as an educator?

Crystal: If I use not the Teachstone definition of positive climate, but if I use my definition of positive climate, it is just being very positive, being very optimistic, being open, being warm. Just nurturing really, really good relationships with people. I am truly one of the individuals who I believe in having positive relationships with the people that I work with.

When I say positive relationships, it doesn’t always mean that you’ll be friends with everyone that you work with, but just having a really good relationship to where people know that they can depend on you, they can trust you, they can rely on you, and all of those things. It all matters. It all matters because if someone that I’m working with is dealing with a problem, they may not have to go into the full disclosure of what that problem is.

I would like them to be able to just be open and to just tell me, hey, maybe not a great day for our coaching session, I have some things going on, just being able to be empathetic to whatever it is that they may be going through, and just being able to be someone that they can trust to just open up and share that with, because we have just so many people going through so many things. I think just having that empathy and just being respectful to that individual, I think it all matters. 

Kate: I’m hearing a lot of really important words there around warm, about building relationships, about having respect for others, having that positive outlook about how we’re relating, and a sense of enjoying our time together. Even though it wasn’t the technical CLASS definition or whatever of positive climate, all of those things you’re mentioned really are related to that technical definition of positive climate. The other thing that I picked up on is that positive doesn’t mean perfect. We’re not perfect.

Crystal: We’re not perfect people. Even though sometimes we strive for perfection, and we try to put our best foot forward each and every day, things may not always be perfect. Sometimes things just happen, but I do believe it’s your outlook on it, and it’s the way that you bounce back. That helps to make perhaps a poor situation a better situation. It’s all in your outlook.

In my time as a coach and even as a coordinator now because my role has shifted a little, it’s an interesting shift because I now supervise my peers. That’s a bit of a change, but I just pride myself on just continuing to be someone who has high standards for our team and just someone again they could depend on, rely on, and just keeping that positive outlook. With all of that, of course, communication is key.

Kate: For sure, definitely. If I’m thinking about a positive climate, how does this benefit children in my classroom to have these warm relationships, respectful and positive communication, and all this? How does that benefit children? What you’ve also experienced, how that benefits the adults that you work with too?

Crystal: How it benefits children is just in the best way possible. Something that I learned one day just sitting in one of my classes way back when I was in college before I knew anything about this because again, my background is elementary and here in my state, CLASS is only used for infants, toddlers, and Pre-K, so we don’t use CLASS past Pre-K. It wasn’t until I got into the early childhood world that I started learning about positive comment, teacher sensitivity, and all of this CLASS lingo.

One thing that I will say is it benefits children, because we never know what our children are coming from each day when they come into the classroom, and we don’t know what they’re going home to. 

Just being warm, giving them that affection, be it the physical affection, a high five, a hug, giving them that verbal affection, telling them, I’m so happy to see you today, I’m so happy that you’re here, just being respectful, eye contact me or talking to them, just calling them by their names, and just the normal things that we just think to do, sometimes in some of their situations, this isn’t their norm. Just being that amazing person in their lives, it can make a world of difference. That’s how I think it benefits the lives of our children.

I almost want to say the same thing for some of our adults. Being an adult, I have a friend, she always says, oh, my God, adulthood, who put us here? This isn’t great. Why going on here in adulthood? Adulthood is so many different things. You may have a sick child that you’re taking care of, sick parents that you’re taking care of, and just a variety of things. Just so many different challenges that come with being an adult. 

Just being in a space and place where you can work with people who are very positive, who are very warm, who can be very empathetic, that, again, can make a world of difference to someone that maybe is really going through a lot. 

Kate: That’s a place you want to go to every day. Children go to school rooms every day and so do educators. Why would you want to spend all day in a place that wasn’t this? You want to be where there’s warmth, connection, people want to do fun things together, and they feel respected, valued, and seen for who they are. That’s a fun place to be every day. 

Crystal: That’s a fun place to be. You want to be there. There’s nothing worse than you wake up in the morning and it’s like, oh, God, I have to go there again. You want to get up and it’s like, oh, this is fun. I have an opportunity to make today even better. I have an opportunity to touch even more children, to touch even more teachers, and just make their lives, make their experiences even better. So pretty exciting, pretty good stuff. 

Kate: What have you seen? How does this set either children, adults, or both? How does this warm, positive climate set people up for learning? What’s the effect you feel on the learner?

Crystal: I believe that the learner becomes a little bit more excited. I just feel like people learn best from people that they like. When teachers are just warm, they’re fun, and all of these great things make learning fun. If you look like you are having a great time as a teacher, your children are going to want to learn.

I remember when I was teaching and we used to do DEAR in the afternoons, drop everything and read, and I remember one year I was reading the story of the Wizard of Oz, which happens to be one of my favorite movies, but this was the actual first time that I had read the book. 

As I’m reading the book, I’m having these think-alouds as I’m reading like, oh, my goodness, I didn’t know, and so forth and so on. By the time we got to the end of the story, there were so many of my kids who wanted that book. After you finish, can I read it now? No, I want to read it.

Because of my think-alouds and how excited I was with it, they all wanted to read it, which I thought was either a pretty awesome thing, but it was because I set the tone for it. If it were a book and I was like, oh, we have to read this book again, oh, I can’t wait until we finish, that could have possibly been their attitude toward it. Because I just had such a passion for it and such a love for it, they too became passionate. It’s contagious.

I truly believe we set the climate for our classrooms. We set the climate for your classroom as a teacher. Whenever you are that coach, you set the climate for that coaching session. I truly believe that before you step foot into that classroom or before you step foot into that coaching session, you can decide how it is you want it to go. I believe that if you just lead with that positive intent and you just are like, you know what? It’s going to be a great day, we’re going to have a great time. They are going to leave with lots of jewels, gems, and little nuggets from our time together. I think that it can happen, it’s all in the mindset. 

Kate: There are a lot of different people in the world. What if I’m the kind of teacher who is not as bubbly? I’m more quiet. For me to be like, woohoo, everybody up, it’s going to be really hard for me to do. It’s going to look weird. My kids are going to be like, what is wrong with you? If I come in one day and I’m totally not acting like myself. How can I be assured that even with my more reserved nature that I’m creating this environment that’s still warm and connected? How will I know when I’ve done that even though I’m not a bubbly person?

Crystal: I’m very happy that you brought that up, because I actually remember a time when I was coaching a teacher and I was giving her some strategies. She says, but Miss Crystal, I’m just not like you. I am naturally very bubbly. I am the woohoo type of person, if you haven’t guessed. I was just letting her know.

I said, well, you don’t have to be like me. You don’t have to do it like me. Teaching is not one size fits all. You just have to be you. In being you, even if you’re not the woohoo and all super duper excited, you can still show warmth and compassion for people. You don’t have to be super bubbly to make eye contact. You don’t have to be super bubbly to use positive communication. All of those things can come through.

You can be very warm and very nurturing just in the way that you may pat someone on the shoulder. You may give a child a high five. It doesn’t have to be a, oh, my God. It could just be, oh, hey, I love the way you did that, give me high five, real calm and real subtle. I believe your true intention shines through. 

Kate: Yeah, the genuineness of the interaction. Children pick up on adults. We all pick up on the genuine nature of someone’s communication. If they’re forcing it or if they’re really coming with their true selves.

Crystal: You can always tell when someone is forcing it. I’ll tell my teachers all the time, if you do things every day, this is your routine, and you do it with fidelity, no matter if it’s that time for you to have an observation, if your principals in your classroom, or whatever the situation may be, if this is your day-to-day routine, it won’t matter. It’ll flow. But if it’s not something that you do all the time and you do try to force it, it doesn’t feel natural.

I always use the analogy of shoes. I tell my teachers all the time, I like wearing sandals. I like tennis shoes. I like wedges. I’m not a high heel girl. When I put on wedges and I walk in them, I’m great, I’m good. No problems there. But when I put on high heels, I’m not as comfortable as I am with my wedges. I paint that picture to relate it to the classroom, their teaching, and all of the things.

You want your teachings to feel comfortable, you want that climate to feel comfortable. You don’t want it to feel like you’re wobbling in those high heels where it’s not comfortable. You’re not sure, you’re grasping so to speak. It’s like, wait a minute, I’m wobbling here. You want it to be something that’s really really, comfortable, something that when your students look at you. Again, if you’re a coach, adult learners look at you and they know that it’s real, it’s genuine, and it’s something that they can trust. It’s something that they can trust, and it’s something that they can rely on.

Kate: Like you said, we’re more open to learning from people that we feel a connection with, that we feel that we can trust. Just like there’s every kind of educator, there’s every kind of child. As an educator, I look at all of the kids in my classroom. I’ve got some that are more outgoing, some that are more reserved, and some that maybe have a lot of challenges going on in their life that they’re trying to deal with.

I get it. It’s really important for me to connect with these kids, because I know that a warm environment will help them be ready to learn. And yet I’m wondering, some of them are easier and some of them are harder to connect with. How can I reach every child in my classroom to make sure everyone’s benefitting from the positive climate in my classroom?

Crystal: Those relationships are going to be important, and establishing them is the first step. Once you establish that relationship with your young learners, and you’re finding out different things about them, you’ll know how maybe talk to them when they do feel a little more reserved. Do they pull back a little bit? It could be something as simple as, hey, I remember when your mom picked you up, she said that you guys were going to the zoo this weekend. Did you go? Just showing them that you care.

I remember when I was teaching, I had a group of kids, and everyone was in a sport. I just remember I had this one little boy. He asked me one day, would I go to his game? I said, okay. I said, well, let me know when it is and if I can go, I will. He was one of my busy students, I’m going to call him back. He was one that kept me on my toes.

Kate: Thank goodness.

Crystal: My little busy bee. I went to his game. By me going to his game, showing up, and I just waved when the game was over so that he could know that I was there, made all the difference in the world because he knew that I took time out on the weekend, and I showed up for him. He knew that I cared. 

Sometimes with our kids who do have a lot of things going on, or they’re a little more busy than maybe some of our others, I think just finding out little things about them that you can just talk to them about, maybe when they’re in the center. Or as you’re in line, as you’re packing up for the end of the day, just noticing things.

Hey, I like your new backpack. Did you go back this weekend? Oh, my goodness, I see that you’re reading such and such, that was one of my favorite books when I was in school. You got new shoes today. Those are really neat. Just noticing those little things, making them feel valued.

Even if maybe they are normally ones who maybe caught up a little bit more in class, I noticed you had a really great day today, making that a big deal of phone calls home to parents, not just when things are a little bit crazy in the classroom, but whenever they’ve done something right, a note home, all of those things make a huge difference. Just help your learners to feel a little more valued, and that is where those relationships begin. 

Kate: Yeah, finding out something special. What’s important and special to them? Who’s in their life? What do they like? All of those things really go a long way. I was thinking too, in a lot of early childhood classrooms, adults work together. There are co-teachers, whatever the setup might be. There’s more than one adult often in a classroom.

The adults might have various roles. They may work together often. It may be someone who just comes in periodically to support a particular child in the classroom, support those kinds of things. I was thinking about the adult aspect of this positive climate. What are your thoughts about that? How can we make sure that as adults, we’re relating well? The children are witnessing how we relate to each other too. Pointers, thoughts?

Crystal: I’m happy that you asked that question because I have gotten that question a lot. I definitely think that your principals, if you’re at a school site, your directors, your administrators if you’re in a child care setting, play a very, very important role here, because I do believe that it’s up to those individuals to ensure that proper team building takes place. Just doing those check-ins, making sure that your team knows how to work with each other.

Sometimes you get into those situations, especially if it’s maybe an older veteran teacher and they’re paired with a newer, younger, more spunky teacher. I’ve seen situations where those veteran teachers can be a little bit resistant. It’s like, wait a minute, this is my classroom, I’ve been doing it this way for however many years. It can be a little intimidating for someone who is just starting. 

I think it’s important for the individuals who are those principals, those directors, those administrators, to consistently do pulse checks and have those team building opportunities, those positive conversations for working together and again, just continuing to check in to be sure that that learning environment is good.

Again, if their relationship is sour, it will trickle down. It will spoil the overall climate of the classroom. You don’t want the children seeing a divide in between the teachers, because it becomes good cop, bad cop. I asked you if I could go to the center. You said no, but I’m going to go ask.

Kate: Exactly. They figure that out real quick.

Crystal: And they let me go. You want it to be just a great environment, an environment where two people can just work together as a team, and just remembering the goal. I think if that is established what the goal is for the learning opportunity for the children, not just for that day, but throughout the time that they are in those individuals’ presence, I think just reminding them of that goal and their why, is super important.

Kate: Yeah, staying connected as the adults that we were creating a special place for these children to come to every day and for each other. I don’t want to go to a place where it’s difficult every day.

Crystal: Right. Like, I don’t like this person. No. Again, you may not be friends. Your time together if you work from nine-to-five, that may be it, but you want that nine-to-five experience to be a great experience. 

That’s why I always tell people, those good work relationships, they don’t have to extend to friendships outside of the building. When they do, it’s a plus. It’s just that you have a wonderful work relationship with someone during the time that you’re there, that’s you’re teammate, you work well together, you can get the work done, what more could we ask for?

Kate: Exactly. We want to make sure that our life runs smoothly too. We’re enjoying a positive climate with our co-workers, the children are experiencing that, they’re feeling the warmth, and this is a nice, fun, kind place to be. Everyone’s benefiting from that. We’re more open to trying new things, learning things, and all of that.

Okay, down to the nitty gritty here. If I’m a teacher and I’m going, all right, I think I could try something new. My eyes are a little more open, but I need to pay attention to how warm, connected, kind, and caring this classroom. What are a couple of things I could try tomorrow when I go into my classroom?

Crystal: All right, so we want to go for the low hanging fruit first.

Kate: Okay, let’s do it.

Crystal: That’s a great way to start, honestly and truly, because if it’s something that you have not been doing, I wouldn’t start big or give someone a whole bunch of things to do. I would give them something that they can do quickly.

Affection. Again, everyone is not a hugger, but we can show affection in different ways. We can do high fives, we can pat on the back. You may do some type of fist bump or something like that with your children. 

Eye contact. It’s so super important with your young learners, just getting down on their level, making eye contact with them to make sure that you hear what they say, and smile. I think that’s something that’s really easy, easy to do.

I always tell people, I say, whenever you’re speaking, try to think of something that makes you happy. As you’re talking, think about that happy place or that happy thing, and your smile will normally come out of your voice. I think they’re very helpful. 

I would just tell them about making that eye contact, getting down on their level, and smiling. I think all of those things are just easy, quick wins to go ahead and begin the journey to create that positive climate in the classroom.

Kate: Yes, because so much of our communication is nonverbal. What we communicate through, our presence, I’m here with you. Yeah, I’m here with you, I’m not like thinking about other things. I’m here with you, I’m not preoccupied. Children are experiencing a lot of that these days with the adults around them, always on their devices and all of that.

Crystal: It almost feels like the disconnect sometimes because of the devices. Technology for us tends to be like a gift and a curse as well, because it does cause divides sometimes. Sometimes your mind can be preoccupied because you’re on your phone. You’re trying to pay a bill, you’re trying to make a reservation, you’re trying to book a flight, or you’re checking an email, whatever it is that’s going on. Yes, our children do need our full attention. An eye contact, getting down on their level, and really focusing on them and listening, huge steps.

Kate: Yes, because we don’t know, like you said, outside of the classroom, how much connection children are getting. Building confident, curious learners starts with that connection. Knowing that someone in my life cares about me, is glad I’m here today, and all of those things. Wow, this has been such a fun conversation. So many things people are going to take away from this.

Crystal: I’m so happy to be helpful. Thank you, guys, so much for having me on. This has been really fun. I’m very, very passionate about each thing that I said. These are just real tools for the toolbox or jewels and gems that I try to share with the teachers and the coaches now that I get to work with every day.

Kate: In parting, your parting jewel to us, if you could say one thing straight to the heart of the educators listening, what encouragement would you offer to them?

Crystal: Be yourself. Just put your best foot forward every single day and just be yourself. What that positive climate looks like in the classroom across the hall, it may look, it may sound a little bit different for you because again, it’s not one size fits all. Just be your true authentic self and just put your best foot forward every single day. 

Kate: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for your jewels and gems today, Crystal.

Crystal: No problem. 

Kate: Your name’s Crystal, and you gave us jewels and gems. That’s amazing. 

Crystal: Thank you. This has been very, very fun. My pleasure. 

Kate: Thanks for joining us.

Crystal: Thank you so much.

Kate: Well, that was such a fun, energizing conversation with Crystal. I hope that you heard that message loud and clear. Positive climates for everyone. We talked a lot about building a positive environment for your children that will also benefit you and leave you more energized as an educator.

Crystal’s suggestions were to start small. You can start with something like a smile, a kind word, or a simple connection when you’re building that warm, connected classroom where you and the children can enjoy spending time together each day.

When you find out what’s important to the people around you, they know that you care. And when they know that you care, they’ll be more open to learning with you.

So until next time, remember: thriving educators create environments where children can thrive. Remember to take care of yourself because what you do matters.

You can find out more about today’s episode and get the transcript on our website, teachstone.com/podcasts.