This is my husband’s favorite story from last week:
Two students are working on their fairy tale research project.
K. says, “How do you spell your name?”
M spells it out.
K responds, “I thought your name was Student M.”
And M says, “It is. In every other class. In here, my name is M.”
My husband likes this story because he says I’ve created a comfortable space for students to be themselves.
Creating the classroom environment is arguably one of the most important tasks a teacher must do before any students can engage in learning outcomes. As teachers, we spend a large portion of the day in this room and students come to love walking through the door (or hopefully, not the reverse). Over time, one’s ideas shift and this is mirrored in the classroom. Here are my current thoughts on how to create an effective and safe learning environment in the SDC English classroom.
C-Cultivate a Routine
Over the years, I have found that the best classroom management strategy is to have a routine that the students understand. This is comforting. Obviously, I change how things are done, but it is in a structure that the students can then tackle.
L-Look for Moments to Connect
I know, I just said that routine is the most important strategy, but now I’m saying that connecting to students is your number one job in the classroom; otherwise, why teach? Initially, I thought this would be challenging because each year the students seem to get younger, and I light one more candle on that vegan cake. But the secret is: be present and see who is in front of you.
One student comes to mind as the perfect exemplar. A fashion diva, he reminds me of Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing Truman Capote at a New York soiree. When I commented on his Guns ‘N Roses t-shirt one day, he ever-so-patiently explained, “Mrs. Lee, it’s fashion.” Now I’ll tell him stories about Axl Rose and he’ll sigh-in-dramatic-fashion, “I thought he was dead.” This is a very small moment, but in the day of a student, I’ve read that sometimes a teacher, throughout the ENTIRE day, may never say the student’s name.
A-Anticipate Problems with Assignments and Technology
Almost every time I’ve planned to show a video–there has been some technical problem. Either the internet is down at that moment and it won’t stream, or I can’t get the subtitles to work for my students who are deaf and hard of hearing, or the bulb in the Smart board goes out; there’s always something. If students have in their mind that they are watching a video, you can’t simply turn around and say,”Well, it looks like it’s time to write our three-paragraph-in-class-timed-writing-response to August Wilson. If there is a chance that something can go wrong, have a back-up plan that is EQUALLY engaging to the students!
S-Supply Engaging Content that Allows Students Control
I think this is one of those Giant Hairy Scary rules that teachers may not actually do for a couple of years. It takes time to learn HOW to give the students control of their learning, but a prerequisite goes back to Looking for Moments to Connect and knowing your students.
S-Supplement Student Interest by Allowing Choice
At first glance, this may look like a repeat of the above, or that I have become lazy with my acronym. However, not all students understand content in the same manner; therefore, it only makes sense to restate that not all students should produce the same end product.
R-Reward Desired Behavior
As a teacher of students with special needs, I constantly have to remind myself that positive behavior support is the best prescription to keep classroom management as close to the only-in-my-head “dream classroom” that I want for myself and my students.
I think every teacher has that ONE class that makes her challenge everything she knows to be true about teaching in high school. I have one almost every year. This year, the students were piling in just as the bell rang and there was this playful bantering bouncing around the room. I knew if I tried to start the independent reading, it would be unsuccessful and I would only end up frustrated. As I stood in front of the class, I said, “It looks like everyone needs 5 minutes talk-time.” A student responded, “For real? Yes, I kind of do.” So I set a timer for five minutes and the students talked. When the timer went off, we started class and everyone got what they needed that day.
O-Omit Negative Comments!!!
O-Observe Behavior and Make a Plan
I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been teaching, there will always be one or two students who find ways to get to you. I have one of those quick minds that instantly thinks of five things to blurt out when a student engages in whatever the behavior is that I don’t like in the classroom. Instead, I don’t say anything. I talk to friends and other teachers the student has–or maybe a counselor. I make a plan. I stick to the plan. If the plan doesn’t work, I make a new one. Behavior specialists always say that all behaviors serve a purpose and I have found this to be true. The only way to understand why a behavior is happening, is to observe it and understand it.
M-Make Learning Fun
Finally, the end result, if you can create the ideal classroom environment, learning will be fun and it will (look) effortless!
Running a PD? Think of using the CLASSROOM acronym and have teachers pair-up and create their own classroom culture. Sometimes we get so bogged down with testing, grading, and implementing new curriculum, that we forget the most important aspects of the job!
What’s important to you when creating a classroom environment?