The start of a new school year always brings the hope of new beginnings and infinite opportunities for learning. While each teacher and administrator might have a different perspective of what the first days of school entail, most educators can agree that these first days and weeks are crucial to setting the tone for the school year.
Early on in my career as a Language Arts and English as a Second Language teacher, I spent the summer worrying and fretting over bulletin boards, colorful signs, and seating arrangements for my classroom. As an elementary school principal, I was primarily concerned with the cleanliness of the building and the landscaping of the school. During my tenure as superintendent of a state-wide system, my summer was consumed by school renovation and construction projects for 20 district facilities. These efforts all focused on the infrastructure and environmental aspects of education. Inarguably, these are all important pieces to consider. However, beyond the classroom and building walls, teachers and administrators must reflect on the day to day practices that ultimately have a long-lasting effect on the memories that students have of their teacher, their classroom, and their school.
In preparation for the ringing of the school bell, here are 5 reflective questions on classroom climate to consider:
Does my classroom create a safe and nurturing environment that makes students feel they belong?
Take the time to know your students, ask questions to former teachers about their social and emotional needs, and create a classroom environment that celebrates their differences and makes them feel welcome from day one.
Try this simple exercise of sitting at a student desk. Does the physical setup and overall environment make you feel safe and welcome? What feelings does your classroom trigger? What memories of your own learning come to mind?
Do I acknowledge every student’s presence several times throughout the day?
Students will respond to a teacher who knows their name and can pronounce it correctly. This is particularly true of English language learners and new arrivals. Knowing a student’s name and pronouncing it correctly shows a student that his/her teacher respects them as an individual and cares. This marks a critical step in helping students establish a sense of belonging.
Do I model, teach, and practice with students the daily schedules, routines, transitions, and behavior expectations throughout the day?
Practicing and modeling schedules and routines should take place throughout the day and for the entire school year. Revisit your routines and expectations by having a student read aloud the social contract. Take the time to explain the transitions to lunch and recess and then have a student model for his/her peers. Present instructions to complete a task or activity in a step-by-step manner, preferably accompanied by a visual representation or demonstration of what is expected.
Take the time to create a learning community before rushing into content. It will pay off!
Do I teach, model, and practice social skills such as greetings, conflict resolution, sharing, kindness, and tolerance during scheduled time and at teachable moments during the day?
Make sure that your actions and words are clearly aligned with the behavioral expectations you have shared with students. Promote a climate of sharing resources, exhibiting kindness, and practicing tolerance for all. Help students resolve conflict with peers by providing sentence starters and words that enrich their social skills. In many cases, you are the best model that students have for these core values.
Do I provide my students with meaningful opportunities to contribute to the well-being of their peers their classroom, and the school community?
Students should have positive and respectful relationships with each other, their teachers and the school community. Incorporate an awareness of volunteering as a natural part of student learning. Help students understand that volunteering is the responsibility of citizens. Contributions made by volunteers represent positive social action for the good of the community, which will impact the well-being of their family, friends, and peers. Ask students for ideas of local causes that they would like to support. How can our class help?
Finally, make sure you take the time to have fun with your students and remind yourself every day that YOU are making a difference in students’ lives!
Have a great school year!