By Denise Fawcett Facey
Now that the school year has been underway for several weeks everywhere across the country, how’s it going in your classroom? For some, your classrooms may be humming along. Both you and your students are enjoying the learning that occurs in your classroom. Fortunately, you’ve infused it with the right balance of ingredients that work for your students.
However, that’s not everyone’s story. Right about now, the struggle has become real for other teachers. Sometimes it seems that nothing is going right, and, even worse, that it never will. Keeping students on task, getting them actively engaged in learning and maintaining even a semblance of order, all at the same time, can seem like the impossible dream. In fact, it can be quite daunting. But there’s hope!
It all begins with building relationships. Creating an atmosphere of mutual respect, of valued students and of safety — physically and emotionally — is the underpinning for everything else that occurs in your classroom. These elements enable you to begin creating the sense of adventure that real learning encompasses. To get you started, here are a few tips:
- Greet Students at the Door
It’s such a simple act but one that makes a big difference to students. Standing at the door and greeting them as they enter sets the tone for what awaits them. This tells students that you’re happy to see them and eager to be with them. In short, your greeting says, “welcome.”
- Learn Students’ Names
Names are integral to students’ identities. That’s why learning them quickly and accurately matters so much. Yes, some names are truly complicated. However, asking, “Miss Johnson, would you pronounce your name for me, please?” enables you to learn the name and means so much to the student. It’s your second show of respect for your students. On the other hand, mangling students’ names serves only to publicly humiliate them, just as not addressing your students by name says they aren’t worth the effort. By learning their names and saying them correctly — and often — you reveal your value of their identity and individuality.
- Make Few Rules
No one wants to feel that everything they do is wrong. Yet, that’s essentially the atmosphere created when a long list comprises your classroom rules. Let’s cut to the chase: what really matters to you? The answer to that question forms the basis for the rules in your classroom. Respect for everyone else in the class and a willingness to work every day are the essentials. If you need more than that, be sure that it’s only a couple more and that they get to the heart of what really promotes learning and camaraderie in your classroom.
- Create Continuity
Having fresh, new learning experiences each day is part of what makes learning exhilarating. Yet there’s something to be said for structure. Students need to know what to expect in your classroom, basic parameters within which activities are carried out each day. Having procedures and an overall order to tasks and learning provides continuity from day to day. It ensures the structure and safety that students crave — even those who seem to rail against it — and allows creativity to thrive.
- Be Authentic
While there’s plenty of advice from educators, telling you to be stern from the outset, inflexible about rules and never to smile, forget all of that. Being your authentic self resonates with students. And, yes, they definitely know the difference. Being who you really are, sharing tidbits about yourself in an appropriate manner and being unafraid to be vulnerable, to admit mistakes goes a long way toward building a strong rapport with students along with trust and respect. Of course, all of these are ingredients for an authentic relationship as well.
Teaching is not an easy profession, regardless of how many people seem to think anyone could do it. But a few key understandings can transform the entire experience. The bottom line is that students want to learn and want to enjoy doing it. Creating an atmosphere for both makes all the difference for you and your students.