Creating a positive classroom environment in which students feel welcome, accepted and respected is probably high on the agenda for most teachers. It certainly was for me during all my years of classroom practice.
Students require an environment in which they feel comfortable and supported, as well as encouraged and challenged to stretch beyond current levels of skills and knowledge, to step beyond their current comfort zones with confidence in the knowledge that, while learning anything new can be a risky business, they will be supported in the process.
But this does not just come from a “feel good” place in teachers’ dreams and imaginations. Research provides evidence that it is true. Professor John Hattie, a researcher in education, undertook a very ambitious project, synthesising data from over 800 studies involving more than 80 million students. He published his findings in two books called Visible Learning and Visible Learning for Teachers.
Hattie says that
“It is teachers who have created positive teacher student relationships that are more likely to have the above average effects on student achievement”.
This article, which summaries some of Hattie’s findings about teacher-student relationships, states that
“the quality and nature of the relationships you have with your students has a larger effect on their results than socio-economic status, professional development or Reading Recovery programs. It is not that these things don’t matter, but rather that your relationships with students matter more.”
It is wonderful to find that what I have always believed and practiced is now firmly backed up with research.
I have written before about my use of affirmation songs and of connecting literacy learning to children’s lives and interests. In this post I will share just a few of the physical attributes of the classroom that contributed to that overall positive and supportive environment I worked so hard to establish.
From the very first day of any school year I ensured that children not only felt welcome in the classroom but knew that it was their classroom, that they had part ownership of the space and its environment.
I would prepare a large welcome chart for the door with my name and photograph and the words: “Welcome to grade one.” Children’s names and photographs would be added by the close of the day.
In our school each child was allocated an individual desk with a tidy tray underneath for storing belongings. I would arrange the initial seating of children in groups based on what I knew of their friendship groups from the previous year. For each child I would place on the allocated desk:
- A desk name (to identify the desk, to use as a model for writing, to assist children in learning to read each other’s names)
- A welcome letter
- A name badge (to identify them and their class at break time)
- A small gift e.g. a pencil or keyring
During the day I would photograph each child and print two of each.
One of each child’s photographs would be added to the welcome chart with the child’s name. (see above)
The other would be added to a self-portrait and displayed on a classroom wall.
I usually asked the children to complete these during the first session so that I could have them on display when the children returned to class after first break.
This was just the start. Throughout the year my classroom was a constantly changing display of children’s work. Children love to see their work displayed. It gives them an immediate sense of belonging, of being valued, and of ownership. Parents love to see it too, as this (unsolicited) letter written by a parent to the principal at the end of a school year testifies.
This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a place of comfort that is a refuge.
My classroom welcomed everyone: children, parents, volunteers, aides and administrators. It was a comfortable place to be. Fortunately it was not often required to be a refuge in the true sense of the word, though allowing me to experience over and over the joys of being six certainly shielded me from many less pleasant situations that may have been met elsewhere.
While Marnie of my stories is a fictional character, sadly there are many children suffering as much as or more than I portray for her. It is for children like her that a warm, caring relationship with a special teacher can be empowering and life-changing, the one bright spot in an otherwise difficult life. I wish for all children a loving place of safety, acceptance, trust and respect. Marnie found it in a special teacher, Miss R.
Marnie loved art classes with Miss R. She loved art, but she loved Miss R. more. The days when art class was last were best; had been ever since that first time when she’d dallied, nervously, reluctant to leave, and Miss suggested she stay and “help”.
Miss R. understood Marnie and Marnie trusted Miss R. Sometimes they would tidy in silence. Other times they’d chatter lightly about distracting things like television, music or books. But sometimes, when dark clouds loomed, Miss R. would gently ask, “What would you like to tell me?” Today the clouds looked about to burst.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.