How do we create the ultimate classroom atmosphere in the school…and maintain it? The world is inundated with boring, traditional classroom spaces. Teachers seem to put little or no energy into the aesthetic appeal of their classroom that fosters deep thinking, relationship-based teaching and a sense of belonging.
Excuses as to why classrooms look as if they were designed in the 19th century range from blaming school policy, tradition, multiple classroom users or the unwillingness to change.
Why not be a pioneer at your school? Why not look to innovate the thinking space? Why not be the change that your school needs?
I applied the FIVE simple steps below, in my Grade 7 classroom.
- Greet every child at the door, and have music playing as they enter
The brain loves to feel connected. After all, we are warm blooded mammals. Therefore engagement is at the heart of ensuring students feel that they have value and that they belong in my classroom. Too many students spent days at school where the teacher did not even know if they were present.
So, stand at the door of your classroom with a smile on your face and greet every single student as they enter your Thinking Space. A High 5 or a Fist Bump is a simple way to connect with a brief check in. I love the idea of a 1 – 4 Check In where students rate themselves on entering the Thinking Space.
1 – I’m not in a good space today
2 – I’m okay, but a little down
3 – Good, I’m in and ready for the lesson
4 – AMAZING
Although you are not a social worker, it is essential for a relationship-based educator to not only connect, but to have an understanding of where the students in your class are on an emotional level. The knowledge will determine how you interact with them throughout the day.
As they enter the class, have some ‘vibey’ music playing in the background. Not only does this engage the auditory senses on an otherwise quiet morning, but it shows the kids that you care and that you’re feeling positive about the lesson about to commence. I call this – Getting the Thinking Vibe right.
2. Find out about each child, their passions, their strengths and their goals and TAP INTO THEM
After teaching a unit of work or a lesson, the majority of teachers sit down at their desk and begin marking or completing an administrative task. This is not what teaching is about.
Use this time to walk around and engage with students in a relaxed manner. Find out what they absolutely love and TAP INTO IT. There is nothing better than a teacher referring to something you love. “Ethan, how did that cricket match go yesterday?” “Rebecca, how’s that beautiful poem coming along?”
As the year goes on, delve into their goals and aspirations. Now, you’re really making students feel loved and secure. Students seldom remember WHAT you taught them – but they will definitely remember if you LIKED them.
3. Contact the parents early in the academic year, and FIND SOMETHING POSITIVE to share
Some schools limit teacher-parent contact while others design a highway of communication which provides demanding access to the teacher in the form of emails and text messages. Nothing puts a teacher in a bad mood with adrenalin pumping through their veins than an email from ‘Parent Painful’. I will never forget a conference speaker telling me that just one negative email will leave traces of adrenalin in my bloodstream for 8 hours. That means every students I engage with after the mail will be having to deal with effect that the adrenalin had on my reaction. Rather, negotiate a balance with the school leadership where there is a clearly defined policy regarding professional liaison. Formalise it to be through a scheduled phone call, an email or a simple note in the diary.
Early on in the year, it should be one of your greatest tasks of a Deep Thinking Space Teacher to look for the positives in every student and use the correspondence channel to communicate with the parents about their amazing son or daughter.
I loved using the Daily Diary as a place to write a short 2 – 3 line comment. “Dear Mr and Mrs Jones. I am blown away by Brandon’s kindness and respect he shows to his group. You have raised a wonderful young man”.
Not only does Brandon read this and realise that I looked for the good in him, but his parents are thrilled and they congratulate him and often share it with the broader family. This causes the circle of optimism to grow which has an amazing effect on the atmosphere in your classroom and begins the process of hardwiring happiness.
4. Questions, Questions and more Questions
A classroom where the teacher is the sole source of information is a classroom that is outdated. Create a Deep Thinking Space which encourages students to ask one another questions. There should be the freedom to ask the teacher any questions and a sharp teacher needs to respond with another question. Why and how questions make the brain ponder. Thinking is not regurgitation.
This creates a curious space where there aren’t right and wrong answers, necessarily. Rather the Deep Thinking Space becomes home where debate and different opinions are encouraged and respected and where digital devices are leveraged to research and find possible answers.
This is a space that I would want to be part of. A space that inspires true curiosity.
Teaching is not just a job, it is a calling. Whether you’re teaching in a private school with 20-25 kids in the class, a rural school of 40+ students or a home school parent working with one or a few children, there is one key principal, and that is LOVE.
Every single child has a desire to be loved and appreciated. The brain must have a sense of belonging to allow data to be processed in the Thinking Brain.
Body language, facial expression and smiley eyes are all crucial when it comes to making sure that your students sense this. Taking time to show that you care, spending a few moments hearing about their weekend, letting them know that you are available/present for them, are all critical ways to develop a sense of belonging in your class.
At the start of every year, I would say to my students: “It is my job to love you and there is nothing you can do this year that will change that.”
Colleagues, I encourage you to take these five steps and integrate them into your routine. They do not take a lot of time and very little equipment is needed. All it requires is YOUR willingness to change.
I challenge you to create the BEST classroom climate ever witnessed in your school and share pictures, a responding blog post or simply some feedback with us on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us via our website.
Never go to battle without your weapons, and if you want to win this battle, take these FIVE along for the ride!