Maintaining a Positive Learning Environment
Investing the time at the beginning of the school year to cultivate a sense of community, is well worth the effort. With expectations in place, the rest of the school year can be devoted to maintaining and strengthening this positive learning environment to ensure each student’s sense of belonging and academic achievement.
There are a number of strategies that you can use to strengthen the foundation of your positive learning community.
- Create engaging lessons that address a variety of ability levels and learning styles. This ensures that students’ needs are met and demonstrates that you value their participation in the learning community.
- Provide many opportunities for group interaction, discussion and exploration of concepts. This ensures that all students are challenged and increases student achievement. It also provides opportunities to practice their team-building skills. Learning to work collaboratively and respect the opinions of others builds a sense of belonging and community in the classroom.
- Teach students to provide meaningful and constructive feedback to peers. This ensures that students are supported by their peers in their efforts to understand concepts taught. It also builds students’ sense of their value in the learning community. Peer assessment can be structured in a way that offers appreciation for achievement, and a challenge to strive for the next level and to reflect upon a new application of knowledge. For example, a framework for feedback could look like this:
- I liked the………
- I wish you ………
- I wonder…………
- Provide support regularly through formative assessment. Formative assessment is ongoing and timely. It provides feedback about achievement and next steps for improvement. Just as a basketball coach provides feedback and next steps often during the acquisition of a new skill, you can lead students in the acquisition and refinement of an academic skill. When students see that you are regularly interested in their progress and that they are consistently improving, they will be confident that they can continue to improve their learning.
- Establish routines for transition times. Student engagement in learning can be maintained, and behaviour issues minimized, if transition times are handled in a way that does not allow for extended unstructured time. When students are clear about your expectations and are busy following the routines, there will be less chance of off-task, inappropriate behaviour.
- Provide positive feedback, even when a student has given an incorrect answer. Students will be encouraged to try to answer questions if they are not made to feel that they failed to answer correctly on their last attempt. They must be made to feel that their contributions are valued, even if they have missed the mark. Perhaps you can comment on the appropriateness of their logic in coming up with the answer that they gave.
- Provide positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviour. Positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviour will encourage students to strive for that behaviour. However, students are not perfect. They will make mistakes, both academically and behaviourally. You can teach your students that mistakes can be corrected with good problem-solving skills. In this way, students will be more inclined to take a risk without fear of failure.
- Respond to classroom situations in a fair and consistent manner. With the students help, you have created classroom expectations. When a student fails to behave in a manner that meets these expectations, you must deal with the situation in a fair manner that is consistent with your response in other similar situations. Consequences for failing to meet expectations must be proportionate and instructive. Consequences must also be applied in a manner that preserves the dignity of the student. Remember, you are making memories. How would you like to be remembered by your students?