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Tips to Instantly Improve Classroom Learning Environment

Don’t Overreact

Students do not like when adults overreact. I can hear my students now asking me, “are you big mad or little mad?” This was their way of telling an outraged adult that things weren’t nearly as serious as they were making them out to be.

When adults overreact to classroom disruptions, students become frustrated because they see your reaction as condemning them instead of correcting them. Take for example the mistakes you make in your teaching career. If your principal started yelling, hyperventilating or just keeps going on and on about something that you could fix with a reminder or slight admonishment, wouldn’t you feel pretty upset? Worst yet, what if she called the district administrator to deal with you being 5 minutes late? This is what it feels like when we either threaten to or actually call parents for something relatively small that our students do. If you overplay your plan, students begin to care less and less each time you correct them. Why? Because they become dull to your constant sniping.

Instead, if you can go and whisper to them or even tap them on the shoulder (or even tap their desk), they feel respected, and react in a more positive manner. Plus, when you do become “big mad” (as they say), it will have a bigger impact. They think, “For my teacher to react this way, we must have really crossed the line because this isn’t typical.”

Allow Students Into Your Life

I resisted for the longest time, in a way, letting students into my personal life. And I still firmly believe you can let them too far in. I found a good balance between maintaining my personal life and allowing them to know enough about me that they feel like I am a part of their life, like I am a friend or an uncle and some students have even told me I’m their dad. Yes, it’s “cringy,” but believe me those students performed me like they did for no one else.

So how did I let them into my life just enough to build a good working relationship. I shared small bits of my life in two ways: in the middle of instruction or before class began. Let’s talk about instruction first. When I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument in Washington, D.C., a place that most of my students will never have the opportunity to visit, I took a pic of myself and my family in front of it. Then, when we got to the MLK part of our curriculum, I shared the picture and read the plaque in front of the monument. Or, when we talked about entrepreneurship, per the standard, I talked about how my father only started his own business as an example of a free market economy. These stories enthralled them because students are thirsty for knowledge- about you! They asked questions like, why is your wife wearing that coat or how old is your son? I answered their questions and went back to the material at hand, but I had just gained a little of their loyalty because in a way they felt like they took a family trip with me. It is small but effective. Also, I had a tradition where we shared our lives at the beginning of each week. We did a weekend update every Monday, and students would have time to share things from their weekend. I would share what I’d done, or at least the parts I wanted to share. I might say, “#1 I went to church and ate dinner at my mom’s, #2 we went for a hike on Stone Mountain and #3 I had to do a lot of lesson plans.” These are small things that I didn’t mind them knowing, and they were always excited to hear. Don’t ask me why. They just were, and again, it helped build community.

Put and Keep Procedures

Students are nothing if not consistent. If we are consistent, they feel secure. If you have procedures in place, students know what to expect if they are following guidelines and what to expect if they are not. Nothing is more frustrating than to be given three verbal warnings one day, and the next day, there are severe consequences without one verbal warning. That’s when we start hearing the deafening cry of “That’s not fair!” Also, procedures will save you from their wrath when they feel like only they are being punished and their classmates get away with murder.

But there are more procedures to put in place than handling misbehavior. You need procedures for how students are to do just about everything. We can’t assume that they will know how you want things done. To that point, every teacher they’ve ever had has probably had a different way he wanted things done. They could be doing what they’ve been permitted to do from the previous school year or at home.

More importantly than establishing procedures is following them consistently. This is one area that I struggled with. My students would often remind me of my class’ procedures. Yikes! But that shows how much they relied on them to maintain their feeling of safety and stability.

Think Outside The Box

Be creative because there are ways that you can create a positive learning environment that only you can think of. You know your students best, and you know what they like and resist. Nothing is too silly to do, if it allows students to become happy in your classroom. As I often say, happy kids are kids that are ready to learn.
Furthermore, you are unique. Wasn’t it The-One-And-Only Dr. Seuss that wrote, “There’s no one alive that is youer than you”? I have seen teachers create a fun, learning environment in ways that I couldn’t. One teacher had a song for everything, and her students loved her for it. That was a part of her classroom culture, but not a part of mine. And you know what? Students were ecstatic when they found they were assigned to either of our classes. There is always time to start improving the classroom environment in your class.

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