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.