There exists a direct relationship between the learning environment of a classroom and a student's achievement. A teacher can significantly affect a classroom's environment and foster a great learning experience. Given below are some specific strategies for developing the optimal classroom climate and culture.
1. Take care of student needs
Students have vital psychological needs for security and order, love and belonging, personal power and competence, freedom, and fun. When teachers intentionally address these needs in the classroom, students become happier, behavioral incidents occur far less frequently, and automatically student engagement and learning increase.
2. Develop a sense of order
Every student needs a structure and wants to know that their teacher not only knows the content area but also knows how to manage their classroom. It is the teacher’s responsibility and capability to provide clear behavioral and academic expectations right from the beginning. It is crucial to teach students how to:
- Enter the classroom and become engaged in a learning activity
- Distribute and collect materials
- Find out about assignments due to absence and how to make them up
- Get the teacher’s attention without disrupting the class
3. Greet your students every day
As students enter your classroom, greet each one at the door. Greetings are an important part and you can explain that you want students to make eye contact with you, give you a verbal greeting or a high five, fist bump, or handshake, depending upon the age. This way, every student has had positive human contact at least once that day. It also shows students that you care about them as individuals.
Students may enter the classroom with preconceived notions about the teachers. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it can be an obstacle. Your students must perceive you as a trustworthy person and the classroom must feel like a safe space.
Students also enjoy learning about their teachers, and so you can share with them who you are, what do you stand for,
Think of other ways you can share with your students: what you will do for students and what you won’t do for them, what you will ask of your students, and what you won’t ask of them. This is a great exercise to become cordial with your students.
5. Know your students
The more you know about your students’ cultures, interests, extracurricular activities, personalities, learning styles, goals, and mindsets, the better you can reach them and teach them. Some of the interesting ways of getting to know your students are:
- Educate yourself about their cultures
- Talk to them
- Assign journal prompts and reads and respond to them
- Attend extracurricular activities
- Have students complete interest inventories or surveys
- Have students complete learning style and personality assessments
- Hold regular class meetings
- Play team-building games with students
6. Try to avoid rewarding
Many years of research have shown that incentives, gold stars, stickers, monetary rewards, A’s, and other bribes only serve to undermine students’ intrinsic motivation, creating relationship problems, and often leads to students doing nothing without a promised reward. The human brain has its own rewards system. When students succeed at a challenging task, whether it’s academic or behavioral, their brains get a shot of endorphins. Instead of devaluing their successes with stickers or tokens, talk to students about how it feels to achieve proficiency and praise the effort, strategies, and processes that led them to those successes. Then talk about what they learned this time that will help them achieve their next successes.
7. Don't judge
When students feel like they are being judged, pigeonholed, or labeled, they often distrust the person judging them. However, It’s difficult not to judge a student who just sits there doing no schoolwork after you’ve done everything you can to motivate him/her. It’s easy to see how we might call such students lazy. And it’s easy to label the student who is constantly provoking and threatening peers as a bully. But judging and labeling students is not only a way of shirking our responsibility to teach them but it also completely avoids the underlying problem. Instead of judging students, try to be curious. Ask why. Once you uncover the underlying reason for the behavior, that issue can be dealt with directly, avoiding all the time and energy it takes to cajole, coerce, and give consequences to students.
8. Incorporate class-building activities
It’s important to develop positive relationships with your students; it’s equally important to develop positive relationships among them. One of the best ways to help shy or new students feel a sense of belonging is to engage students in non-competitive games and cooperative learning structures. Another benefit of bringing play into the classroom is that it gives your students a very powerful reason to come to your class as it’s fun.
9. Be vulnerable
Being vulnerable is a great way to develop trust. Admitting your mistakes shows that you are human and makes you more approachable. It also sends the message that it’s okay to make mistakes in this classroom because that’s how we learn. We learn from those mistakes and grow. We embrace mistakes rather than try to avoid them at all costs. Make a simple mistake, like spilling a glass of water or misspelling a word on the board, and instead of making excuses, talk about how you’re glad you made that mistake because it taught you something.
10. Celebrate success
At first, this part may appear to contradict strategy six about avoiding rewards. It doesn’t. A celebration is a spontaneous event meant to recognize an achievement. It is not hinted at or promised ahead of time like an “if-you-do-this-then-you-get-that” reward. Instead, try to set a class goal, such as the whole class achieving 70 percent or higher on an assessment. Chart students’ progress on a wall chart (percentages, not individual names). After each assessment, discuss the strategies, or study habits that students used to be successful and what they learned and might do to improve on the next assessment.
Once the class has achieved the goal, hold a celebration. Showing some funny or interesting (appropriate) online videos, bringing in cupcakes, or playing some non-competitive games would suffice. The next time you set a class goal and students ask if you’re going to celebrate again, tell them not necessarily. It isn’t about the cupcakes, it’s about the effort and learning.
A positive learning environment is pivotal to ensure student success and efficient outcomes.
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