In Australia a new school year is about to begin. From the perspective of a classroom teacher, the prospect of a new school year incites a range of emotions and feelings. I usually feel tremendously excited by the prospect of getting to know twenty something students who are new to me and overwhelmed by the responsibility of ensuring I assist each one of them to reach and achieve to their academic potential.
Each year I spend hours in the last week of my holiday break, ‘dressing up’ my classroom to ensure it looks visually welcoming and appealing to both students and their parents. I strive to ensure each student ‘wants’ to come in to their classroom each morning, and feels stimulated and excited by their learning environment.
Whilst the physical environment in a classroom is important, the emotional environment of the learning spaces created by teachers is perhaps even more important. Learning new skills, as we expect students to do daily, requires a certain amount of risk taking on their part-so how can we as teacher’s create an environment that feels emotionally safe to children, to encourage them to take risks in their learning, and feel confident to take on unfamiliar challenges.
My top five strategies for setting up a safe, supportive and positive emotional environment in the classroom are listed below. I have tried and tested these strategies over time, and whilst they might not be new to you, they are effective strategies and will help to create a safe, supportive and positive emotional climate in any classroom.
A STOP, LOOK & LISTEN SIGNAL: Whilst the type of stop, look and listen signal you use will depend on your preference and the age of your students, if used consistently this strategy will help you to quickly gain your student’s attention when you need to, with a minimum of fuss and without creating a power struggle.
CLASSROOM AGREEMENTS: In the first few days of a new school year I ask my students what they would like their classroom to feel like and sound like. Together we establish a list of guidelines, (I try not to use the word ‘rules’), that if followed will ensure our classroom feels and sounds like we have decided we would like it to. Once the guidelines have been decided upon, each student and the teacher, signs the agreement. A copy of the signed classroom agreement is given to each student and displayed around the classroom. You may want to provide a copy of the classroom agreement to the parents of your students too. If a student does not follow a guideline, you can remind them that they had input into developing the agreement, and they have signed off on it. Also an agreement, makes ‘explicit and visible’ a code of behaviours that students have agreed to abide by, and is more likely to create a positive, safe and supportive emotional climate, than a list of rules telling students what they cannot do.
* To remain effective, classroom agreements need to be revisited regularly throughout the school year and altered if necessary
MORNING GREETER: The task of the morning greeter is to stand just inside the classroom door say a bright and cheery “Good Morning’, to each student as they enter the classroom at the beginning of the school day. I encourage the morning greeter to look each student in the eye, and say the name of each student when greeting him or her. Recent brain research has revealed that to optimise the potential for learning, a student needs to be feeling positive and confident. Having a member of your class greet each student intentionally and warmly as they walk into the classroom each morning, will help each student to feel more positive and happy, regardless of their mood upon arriving at the school gate.
MORNING MESSAGE: Writing a morning message or letter for your students to read each day has a range of benefits. It gives your students an authentic reading opportunity, can be used to remind students of organisational routines, can include words your students are finding tricky to read and can include challenges to get your student’s minds working as soon as they arrive in the morning. I use PowerPoint to display my morning messages on the whiteboard. My Monday morning messages usually include a short video clip of something I did on the weekend. I refer to this clip when modelling writing a recount. Other morning messages may include mathematics challenges, spelling challenges, messages for the birthday girl or boy or any other exciting news that is relevant to the class. I find that most students race in to the classroom to read the morning message, which helps to create a positive sense of fun at the start of each day.
TOKENS: A child psychologist once said to me, “ Give the behaviour the attention is deserves”. I follow this advice, and try wherever possible to notice positive behaviours demonstrated by students and ignore their negative behaviours. Ignoring negative behaviours isn’t always possible, but where appropriate, this is what I strive to do. My class behaviour management system is underpinned by the child psychologist’s advice. Students receive ‘tokens’, (my classroom tokens are coloured ice-cream sticks) for demonstrating positive behaviours. Each week, student tally their tokens and are given the opportunity to trade a number of tokens for a ‘prize’. Past prizes have included a lunch date with the Head of the Primary School, free time in the classroom with a friend, or choosing from the ‘lucky dip’ basket. Last year my brilliant teaching partner introduced a class shop, and students were able to trade a number of tokens for an amount of money. Shop items were priced, and students could purchase items from the shop using plastic coins. This behaviour management system helped to develop a positive emotional environment in our classroom. Also by the end of the year, our student’s understanding of money and place value was excellent.