Last week’s article provided several ideas to assist you with your planning and preparation as you embark upon a new school year. In the Danielson model for teacher evaluation – that many school districts in New Jersey have adopted – planning and preparation are part of “Domain 1.” However, other districts that use different models evaluate their teachers on this domain, even if the names and language vary.
This week, let’s take a closer look at Domain 2 of the Danielson model – the classroom environment. More than the physical arrangement of your room, this domain encompasses rapport with students, engendering a culture of learning in the classroom, and more. Like Domain 1, it’s possible your district uses a different evaluation tool; however, even with a different name, administrators will certainly be commenting on the atmosphere in your room.
Below are three simple ways you can begin to maximize learning by creating a positive classroom environment:
One component of Domain 2 resides in the area of “Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport.” To that end, it is important for you, as a teacher, to not only encourage a level of reciprocal respect between the student and teacher but also between the students themselves. But, how do we get students to experience that friendly camaraderie that will make everyone in the classroom feel that he or she is a valuable contributor?
Praising genuine positive rapport between students is one way to start: simply note and celebrate instances in which you notice students treating each other respectfully. For example, if a student claps for a classmate, encourages someone who’s “down”, or engages in other types of pro-social behavior, be sure to let that student know that those actions and words made a positive difference in the classroom. Of course, depending upon the interaction, some of this praise may not be appropriate to give in front of the whole class; however, even students who privately hear from you are likely to be motivated to continue to be altruistic, and we all know that just as misery loves company, positivity can be contagious, too.
Explicitly “teaching” or modeling ways for students to encourage each other is another possible idea. For instance, you can use Socratic Seminar times to model questions that support and encourage: teach students how to use comments like, “I see your point, thanks!” and “I thought that ____’s comment was interesting because…” Or: “I’ve never considered that idea before! Thank you for helping me see this from a different viewpoint…”
You could even make it a “game” to collect and post positive comments that make students feel good about themselves. By asking students to be alert for these comments, the students and teacher alike will continually try to “catch” others being good!
What are your students’ attitudes towards learning? Is hard work and intelligence “cool” in your classroom? Or do students hesitate to take pride in a job well done?
As students get older, the pressure to fit in becomes more pronounced, and in some situations, the best way to blend in with the crowd is to downplay one’s smarts. Unfortunately, some students ridicule others’ desire to do well, and if left unchecked, this can quickly spiral into a classroom culture that squelches a love of learning.
Be aware of this insidious attitude, and do your best to take measures that encourage valuing education. Some simple ways to engender an appreciation for learning includes:
? Include real-world connections. When students understand a real-life application for what they’re learning, they’re much more likely to value the content than if they’re simply learning it “for the test” or “because they have to.”
? Build their confidence. Students who fear failure – or have a history of not succeeding academically – may shut down, and instead of demonstrating perseverance, become negative about any schoolwork. In fact, they may even use disruptive behaviors and put-downs as way to take the focus off what they perceive as shortcomings. To combat this, be sure to include team-oriented language: “Let’s work on this together; it’s hard, but you all will be able to do it well” (from Danielson’s Framework for Teaching) or, “I know you can do this…let’s work through it together.”
? Value education yourself. Share your love of reading…your excitement over solving math problems…or your delight in discovering new findings during a science experiment. Students tune out teachers who drone on and on, but you’re sure to get at least a spark of interest from your class if you’re bursting with enthusiasm about your subject matter. Of course, don’t fake it or overdo it – students are rather adept at spotting phony behaviors. But students also sense genuine excitement, and it’s difficult to completely shut out someone who really loves what he or she does.
Having clear policies and procedures prevents many problems, helps your classroom to run more efficiently, and discourages misbehavior. How? Think about all of the times students get into trouble, and I’m sure you’ll agree that unstructured or “down” times have the greatest potential for bad behavior – especially from those students who have difficulty with self-control. By thinking through routines such as distributing and collecting materials, getting a drink, going to the bathroom, and other general transitions, you’ll maximize instructional time and prevent the inevitable problems that occur when students have too much time on their hands. Some quick ideas:
? Have students help hand out and collect papers to allow you to continue teaching (and to monitor) the class.
? Have clear times to use the lavatory, get a drink, etc. that won’t interfere with instruction.
? Be consistent. For example, if you require students to raise their hands to speak, don’t acknowledge those who shout out the answers. Or, if you tell the students they have five minutes to finish, set a timer and (within reason) stick to that time to demonstrate that you mean what you say.
? Arrange your room in such a way that movement between activities is safe and easy. The more time students have to climb over cords or move furniture around, the less instruction taking place – and the greater opportunity for misbehavior or injury.
? Ensure that students have unobstructed views of the board to eliminate the constant cries of, “I can’t see…”
? Use proximity and one-on-one discussions with misbehaving students to allow them to “save face” while still addressing inappropriate behavior.
? Establish a signal or gesture for quickly regrouping students and/or gaining their attention (examples – lights out means “freeze and listen” during station work, three claps means “look at me”, etc.).
This article is just a jumping-off point, as you probably already realize: establishing and maintaining a positive classroom environment involves many different strategies, ideas, and systems. However, careful thought and reflection within this domain can go a long way, as a respectful, caring atmosphere can result in motivating students to not only act appropriately but also to enjoy learning, support their classmates, and learn valuable interpersonal skills about how to interact with others in a spirit of compassion and empathy.
How do you create a positive classroom climate? Share your ideas below!