Students start the school year at differing levels of excitement. Some are ready for the year to begin; others are reluctant to return.
It’s important to encourage all excitement levels by creating a welcoming, flexible classroom environment that supports consistency and active learning. Channel the active energy of the new school year into a positive learning environment with the following tips:
- Promote positivity. After the first week of school, do you continue to greet students in the morning? Are you upbeat about the day ahead? The mindset you model contributes to the overall atmosphere. Respect each student, listen to them, and take time to learn and incorporate their interests. These actions create a community of students who can grow both academically and personally.
- Teach students how to carry out classroom procedures and routines, such as attendance, lunch count, office notes/messages, and supply collection/return. Introduce, practice, and role play each procedure step-by-step so students are well-prepared. Learning and completing these tasks teaches responsibility and leadership and comes in handy when you’re absent. Effective classroom organization (labels, file folders, storage bins, mail stations, etc.) enables students to easily follow through with their tasks.
- Arrange the classroom for optimum student engagement. Every student has his/her preferred way to learn. Some can easily work in groups or pairs; others thrive independently. Set up classroom areas where students have options to work alone or in groups. Allow them voice and choice in selecting what works best. Active student engagement and participation can take many forms. Author Susan Cain explains, “If you think more broadly about it, a student who’s a good listener or who gives one really great, reflective comment is just as valued as the one who’s always raising their hand.”
- Focus on progress, not perfection. Mistakes are good! Help students learn self-direction by providing feedback that helps them reflect on what they have learned. Recent research notes how effective feedback should link to learning objectives and be specific in nature. The best feedback is not a letter or a numerical grade but clear directions on how to improve. Feedback specialist, Susan Brookhart, suggests “that teachers think very carefully about the learning target and the success criteria for a specific activity and only give feedback on that target. Students want to learn and they want feedback that will help them improve, but they also want to know why it matters. When a teacher can connect the feedback to an important future skill, students have a reason to incorporate it and can see the transfer process more clearly.”
- Add some procedural fun. Get and keep their attention with fun cues and signals. I had a variety of procedures/signals/choral chants to call the students to attention or to call on them for a response. A paper plate spinner with all the students names on it prevented me from calling on the same students. My oversized “magic” pen, which had a bell attached to it, signaled when to stop working and look at me. As an anonymous teacher once said, “A class that plays together obeys together.”
A positive learning environment is a productive learning environment. What strategies do you use to create a positive learning environment?