Monday, September 1, 2014

Environment DOES Matter

                As promised, this blog will be about the atmosphere we set in the classroom. Our attitudes, our acceptance, our demeanor, our greeting, our looks will all determine the atmosphere we establish daily. Is this important in students achieving success? I think it’s more valuable than the physical space students come to each day.
                Why is it so important? Think about your own work atmosphere. Do you teach in a place where the principal is demanding, lacks positive feedback, criticizes all you do and is so moody you never know if Principal Jekyll or Principal Hyde is showing up? If that’s not the environment we’d like to work in, why would we create such an uncomfortable setting for our students?
                Tomorrow is the first day of classes and, frankly, I’ve spent hours thinking about, devising, revising, and planning how my first day and subsequent days will look. What do I want to communicate to my students? How can I best relay my positive feelings towards my job and them? What can I do to set the stage for a comfortable, inquisitive and risk-taking classroom?
                For me, the last point, risk-taking, is key. By nature, I’m more of a sit-back-and observe type person. However, to engage my students I know I need to be outside my comfort zone.  As uncomfortable as that may be for me, I believe it will make the transition to a new school easier for students.  It will model for the tentative students the benefits of taking risks and encourage that behavior in my kids. So I plan to start my year off in a way that is uncomfortable for me but will, hopefully, appeal to students.
                How do we make our classroom inviting? Would music playing make a difference? Standing in the doorway greeting students? Smiling and welcoming back returning students? Would learning students name and one fact about them convey the message we cared? What about the decorations? Have we taken the effort to put up new bulletin boards that are age specific? Do we treat students with respect they have to lose rather than respect they have to gain? Be creative in thinking about comfortable spaces. Dialogue with students and ask them what type of room they'd like to see.
                One year staff at my school surveyed students to see what they most wanted in a principal. Hands down the number one answer was someone who made the students feel safe and provided a safe learning environment. Safe to study, to express themselves, to question, to be the person they really are and safe to fail. When I learned that, I took it to heart. Not only did we look for and find a principal who offered a feeling of security to students, but my staff also realized how important safely was to students. So what did we do? We tried to modify our learning environment to reassure student’s they were most important.  Once the changes were implemented, I did notice an increase in more heartfelt discussion.  Students laughed more as I laughed more. The less uptight I became the more relaxed they felt. Everything to determine the atmosphere in my class centered on me, I realized. And that was a sobering thought.                     
Photo courtesy
                If I want students to be successful, I first must establish a safe zone—my classroom. As gatekeeper and security guard, I need to ensure the safety of my students. When they feel safe, they feel free to express opinions and ideas that may diverge drastically from the conventional school of thought.  As long as those thoughts are appropriate, I allow them. It doesn’t mean that I may approve of their ideas, but I let them express them. Others may agree or disagree and discussion ensues.
                Classes may become a bit raucous at times, but don’t quell your students. Go with the flow while maintaining control, allow students freedom and watch how students blossom into people who aren’t afraid to express opinions and share their ideas. As we learn together, we grow individually.
                So as the school year begins put some time into making your class environment as accepting and safe as possible. When kids feel safe, they can concentrate more on learning. We control the atmosphere in our classes. Let’s determine to make those classes kid centric and provide a safe environment for our young people.

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