Creating a Positive Classroom Climate
- Grades: 6–8
"If you have a child's heart, you have his head" - Flip Flippen
On the day I was hired at Randolph Jr/Sr High School as a special education teacher, the principal, Bill Caldwell, informed me that part of my professional development for the year would be to attend a three-day training titled "Capturing Kids' Hearts." The name alone had me hooked, and to hear him speak so passionately made me extremely eager to find out more about it. However, he didn't divulge any more information, other than to bring a personal item that held meaning for me and a lot of Kleenex. Little did I know that the magnitude of those three days would continue on in my teaching years later.
I learned so much, but a few memories especially stand out. On the first day of the training, we completed an activity to encourage name memorization through matching it with a word that began with the same first letter as our name, thus I became known as "Artistic Addie." Pretty soon I was surrounded by "Caring Christy" and "Proud Patrick" and many others. Already, I was having the time of my life. On Day Two, we were brought together in small circles to discuss our personal items. I was shocked to hear so many candid and heartfelt stories being shared so freely amongst us, but silently dreaded my turn. My beloved grandmother had passed away several months prior, and as I clutched her favorite jewelry box, the tears came down endlessly while complete strangers comforted me in my anguish. Day Three was a cathartic release of the intense nature of the training, each of us leaving different than when we arrived.
By helping us create trusting relationships among the group, "Capturing Kids' Hearts" (CKH) truly showed me that building trusting relationships with our students is paramount to their achievement within our classrooms. Therefore it is vital that we as teachers create a climate which promotes risk-taking and gives opportunities for kids to let their guard down. Working with tough kids has proven to me, over and over again, that when you create this loving environment for them, they will in turn move mountains for you. I'd like to share with you a few of the ways in which my knowledge from CKH helped me cultivate a positive atmosphere within my classroom, and hope that it provides you with some insight into yours.
Know and Notice All of Your Students
I make it a point to acknowledge every student that walks through my door, knowing that this might be the only time during their day when someone "sees" them. I also shake their hands and provide them with a warm welcome and a smile as we begin the day. Even such small gestures can make an enormous impact; you wouldn't believe the number of students who respond positively to a physical connection. These steps also show mutual respect, making it less likely for negative behaviors to occur later.
As teachers, we don't know the hardships and experiences our students carry around with them as they arrive at our classrooms each day. Make a point to know something meaningful about each student and don't ever forget it. I cherish the look on a student's face when I remember, perhaps many months later, something he or she mentioned to me in the fall. I also try to occasionally abandon rigidness about expected behavior if it is clear there may be more going on than meets the eye. I'll never forget the guilt I felt for sternly warning a student to stop nodding off in class, only to find out later that he had been kicked out of his home and had spent the night wandering around looking for friends to take him in. We just never know.
Create Care Packages
Towards the end of the first quarter, I distribute a brown paper lunch bag to each student. The students write their names on the bags, then pass them around, and each student must write something positive that they appreciate about the person represented by the bag and place the note inside. I love to see so many beaming faces after they read what their peers have written. Former students visiting me sometimes say they still have some of those slips of paper in their possession, and that it changed the way in which they viewed their classmates.
Evaluate your own behavior
Last year, a colleague of mine forwarded to our staff an amazing blog that has stuck with me ever since. I often reflect back on my favorite questions posed, and hope that you can use them throughout the year to assess your own contributions to your classroom climate.
1.) "If everybody where I work was just like me, what would this place be like?"
2.) "If my face froze in my most common expression, what would it be?"
3.) "If as many people helped me today as I helped others, how much help would I get?"
4.) "If today was videoed for my peers, what would be their criticisms? What would be their accolades?"
5.) "If I became just like the two people I choose to be around the most at work - what would I become?"
How are you "the change you wish to see in the world"? (Mahatma Gandhi)