Five Ways to Create an Optimal Learning Environment

Inspire INSPIRE 11 Comments

Open the doors to learning with a school and classroom environment that reflect inclusion and relevance.  These five classroom doors give insight to each teacher’s vision while concurrently focusing on the students.  This five part series on “Optimal Learning Environment”, begins with these five classroom doors.  They show five ways to create an optimal learning environment.

On each of about 180 days, for around 13 years, our students spend around six hours in school, ten hours at home and in their communities, and about eight hours asleep.  This computes to about 30 percent of students’ waking time spent under the roof of our schools and behind the doors of our classrooms.  The classroom learning environment is the student’s first experience of school when they walk into the rooms at the beginning of the school year.  Former teacher and now educational leader, Eric Jensen says, “A teacher’s climate must be rich in affirmation, rich in relevancy, rich in engagement and rich in relationships”.   An optimal classroom environment has a classroom climate full of energy, participation, movement, spirit, respect, learning, sharing, reflecting and big goals for everyone individually and collectively.  Let’s open these doors and discover how to create an optimal learning environment.

  • Door #1:  Show optimism that all students will reach your high expectations.  As Evette Jackson says in her book, The Pedagogy of Confidence, start with students’ strengths and push students to the frontier of their intelligence.  Take time to write down strengths that you see in each of your students.  Build your units from these strengths by making connections before, during and after lessons.  Provide advance cues, questions or organizers for each and every lesson that will either link the new content to something they already know or will provide some background knowledge as a foundation so that students feel more prepared for the new content.  Never just start with the textbook, start with the student. Believe in the strengths and intellectual abilities of your students.
  • Door #2:  Engage students in a sense of wonder and curiosity.  Why would your students want to open your classroom door and enter your room?  Is there something there for them?  Do they have a sense of wonder and curiosity for what will happen each day?  Sometimes we let the responsibilities of the content we must teach bog us down and limit our lessons to rote learning.  Merissa Ramantanin inspires us with these words in her Brilliantly Made blog, “You are the one to set the tone, teach with passion, and ignite again a sense of wonder in learning, while ensuring the content is taught!”  She says to make a “Curiouser & Curiouser” board to post student questions.  Use the “Notice and Wonder” protocol when analyzing texts, problems or situations.  Step out of your comfort zone and learn along with your students by providing shots of awe.
  • Door #3:  Create a sense of belonging and a unique classroom bond.  Notice that most of these doors display either students’ names and/or faces.  Initial sense of belonging in school depends on whether or not students perceive pictures, symbols, and other visual representations as an extension of their homes, communities, and values.  A teacher can show respect for students’ history and culture by purposefully displaying artifacts that recognize and celebrate their culture and intentionally engaging each student’s voice (speech) and vision (perspective through their eyes).  Become a culturally responsive teacher who builds a classroom community where students feel they matter and belong.
  • Door #4:  Relate to the interests of your students and the trends of their generation.  Design bulletin boards that generate dialogue about current events.  Engage discussion groups on topics that concern your students.  Keep up to date.  Welcome digital tools and give time for socializing. Use on-line, open source textbooks.
  • Door #5:  Involve students in choices, plans, and decisions.  Make it visibly evident that this is your students’ classroom.   Change your mindset from “my class” to “our class”, to give your students a sense of ownership.  Create jobs with titles related to the real world, this will increase their relevance and foster responsibility. Institute morning meetings to empower students.  Students feel respected when teachers understand and value their opinions and apply that understanding to decisions for their learning.


Comments 11

  1. Great ideas. I think with the older grades creating safe learning environments is critical to engaging our teenagers. By “safe” I don’t simply mean physical safety, but I am really referring to creating a safe environment so that this age group does not feel judged or a risk of failure. This is a tricky balance that middle and high school teachers work with every day.
    Check out this great TED Talk…

  2. This is a great resource, these five ways are action steps to creating an optimal environment for our students. I connected with #5 and love the importance of giving choice to students!

  3. Thank you for sharing these five ways to create an optimal learning environment. Starting with that central idea of high expectations and capability of all students is key. The second door for me speaks to student ownership and acquiring of knowledge by hooking them through curiosity and wonder. Creating that sense of belonging and unique bond reminds me of strong classroom cultures that develop mission statements and truly strong inclusive cultures. Doors four and five speak to knowing our students and connecting with them on deeper levels as well as empowering them (shared values). I look forward to reading the next blog posts in the series. Thank you again.

  4. I love this! I especially like the ending where it talks about the importance of a morning meeting. I think this is something that really helps build a strong classroom community.

  5. I love this ! I especially think Morning Meetings are important and set the tone for the day ahead. I also love the idea of making it a community. I speak to students all the time about how their classmates are like family and that they need to treat each other as such.
    Thank you for sharing.

  6. I really like Door #5! “Change your mindset from my class to our class, to give your students a sense of ownership.” This is so powerful. Students need to feel they are part of their classroom environment and play a role in what happens there each and every day.

  7. I love the idea of shared decision making and changing the mindset from “my class” to “our class”. I don’t think I’ve made a decision by myself for our classroom since October.

  8. Crazy about the doors! I want to do door #2 right now. I have always been a big believer in making a place where we spend so much of our time as cozy and inviting as possible. I really like the idea of having the door reflect that mindset.

  9. There are some really good points about using the classroom door as the initial space of sense and wonder as the kids come in every day. A blank door does not invoke excitement or learning. I also like the doors that are based on student input, choices, and decisions. They will feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when they see their work every day as they walk into class.

  10. I thought that the doors were impressive and had valued meaning to the classroom. I wanted to see what was behind the door and what activities could be found. I like the idea of making the classroom “our” classroom instead of “mine.” That might be a hard transition for me. Push the comfort zone. My students enjoy, as do other staff in the building, my library/reading area. It is lite up with soft light and has a curtain top and beaded entrance.

  11. I have adapted my learning to the times. Learning our letter sounds is more of a hip rap. I ask the students to repeat the answer to my question twice so that everyone has the chance to answer with a correct answer. When the instruction is geared in the kiddos favor it makes the day that more enjoyable and understandable.

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