Creating Positive Learning Environment in Schools
It has often been believed that the stricter and more authoritative a teacher is, the better disciplined the classroom would be and more learning can happen in the classroom. This is true only when compared to a classroom where the students are not effectively monitored. Many school leaders therefore advise teachers to not get ‘friendly’ with the students for fear that students will stop being afraid and will not take the teacher seriously or ‘respect’ them. This is also the case for a school leader – the tendency is to stay serious and not too approachable lest the teachers and students do not ‘respect’ them. What we need to be aware of is that fear is not an indicator of respect. Students and staff do not need to be afraid of a school leader to respect them. On the other hand, creating fear merely creates a space less conducive for learning.
Classrooms where there is a positive relationship amongst students and with the teacher, is a safe place for students. This sense of security and belonging will help students be more confident and also lead them to respect each other. Such a space nourishes learning by creating a positive environment and promoting collaboration amongst all. To create such spaces, two ideas that can help are building strong teacher-student relationships and setting agreements.
We all want to feel cared for and valued by those around us, and students are no different. This knowledge is a powerful tool to use, that will help form a classroom discipline plan. When students know that the teacher values and cares for them as individuals, they are more willing to comply with the instructions. A few simple actions that can help build relationship in the classroom are:
1. Getting to know the students. Trying to understand them on a personal level, their interests, their family backgrounds, etc. will help understand why each student behaves the way s/he does and also let the child know that the teacher cares for her/him; that they are not just another name on the register.
2. Appreciating students for their work both personally and in front of their peers. Appreciation needs to be genuine, specific and is more effective if the next steps are suggested. For example – instead of saying ‘It is really good to see that you have improved in Mathematics’, try saying, ‘You have improved in doing division of 3- digit numbers. Now, let’s work on doing word problems too. You can surely do it.’
3. Protecting their self-esteem – Teachers have the responsibility to protect their students’ esteem and ensure they are never humiliated in person or in front of their peers – no one likes to be in that position. Instead, having one-on-one conversations when required and letting the students know that they can always do better can go a long way.
Setting up effective agreements in classrooms ensures discipline and positive learning spaces. Few things to keep in mind while doing so are:
1. Agreements need to be set in collaboration with the students. These are not rules, they are mutually agreed expectations.
2. Consequences – In case of students not following agreements, there need to be consequences that are accepted (while setting agreements), fair and varying in degree as per the severity of the infringement of the set agreement.
3. Consistency – The key to setting up a successful practice, habit and culture is to be always consistent and fair. Agreements need to be followed at all times and each time it is not, it needs to be addressed. Students will know that this is important and also that the teacher is just, fair and alert.
These are a few ways that will help build a better relationship and safer environment for all stakeholders within the school. The above tips and perspective on creating a safe space that help build teacher-student relationships and create positive environment in a classroom are also applicable in creating positive school leader-teacher relationships and helping in making a school more positive overall.
No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship
– James Comer
Sapna Fathima Saleem began her career in education as a teacher with the Teach for India Fellowship in Hyderabad. Here she had the opportunity to work in a low-income community and engage largely with the parents, which enabled her to run successful community empowerment projects. Post completing her fellowship, she worked as a Program Manager with India School Leadership Institute (ISLI). ISLI works in developing skills and mindsets of school leaders in order to impact whole school development and student learning outcomes. Sapna coached and mentored 21 school leaders on an individual basis to build capacity within these schools. Currently she works as the Curriculum Manager at ISLI, and is responsible for creating training modules for the school leaders. This gives her the opportunity to work with teams from 5 cities to deliver content that is relevant and necessary for whole school development.