I believe that the first days and weeks of school are critically important for establishing the foundation and expectation for a safe learning environment and a highly functioning classroom. In The First Six Weeks, the authors suggest that teachers need to set the stage for effective classroom safety:
It is critical…that children have a clear understanding of our expectations and boundaries from the moment they enter the classroom… to feel secure and successful because they know the rules of the culture… In the early days of the school year, we need to break down the steps for each classroom procedure… [in this way] we alleviate anxieties about not knowing [what to do]… (Denton, P., Kristen, R., 2015. n.p.). The key words for me in this passage are “expectations” (high expectations for students), “boundaries” (effective classroom management by the teacher), and “secure and successful” (intellectual security of students which is key to academic success).
A safe learning environment means to me an environment where students feel safe to take academic risks, where diverse backgrounds, strengths and challenges are respected, where there is learning equity among all students, where a variety of classroom management and instructional strategies are used effectively, where the physical environment is appropriate for a wide range of activities, and there is a classroom culture of respect between the teacher and each student, as well as among all the students.
In addition to the safe learning environment points suggested by the authors above, I believe that it is also important to establish with the students an expectation for an engaging educational experience. Again, according to Saphier:
Focusing student attention on the learning experience is perhaps the
most fundamental challenge a teacher faces…Unless the students are
[engaged and therefore] paying attention to the instruction, it does not
matter how good the instruction may be…It [engagement] is a
precondition for instruction…” Saphier et.al., 2008, Cht 3, n. p.).
In like manner, the student/teacher relationship is critical to a safe learning environment and the relationship building must start on day one, and include an understanding of each student’s academic strengths and challenges, socio-emotional needs, cultural background, as well as family and community dynamics.
How Can Teachers Build a Positive Classroom Community
My philosophy of how to build a positive classroom community is also based on a strong, mutually respectful relationship between the teacher and each student, among all students, and between teacher and family. It is based on equitable learning. I also believe that building a positive classroom community is a shared endeavor, a collaborative effort between the teacher and students, and that it must be a student-centered classroom community. A student-centered classroom community is one in which all students are invested and feel a sense of ownership. It is a safe learning environment in which taking academic risk is valued and encouraged and instruction is differentiated to meet the needs of all students. It is a culturally representative classroom reflecting the diversity of the students.
I believe that giving all students rotating leadership roles is very important. For example, these roles might include subject discussion leaders, book club discussion leaders, transition leaders, and morning and afternoon meeting leaders. In addition, I believe that having students participate in the development of class routines and values, classroom layout, and class rituals and celebrations. Classroom rituals and celebrations might include, for example, Fun Fridays, All-About-Me activities, 1:1 teacher/student conferences for whatever the student wants to talk about, and active reflection where students have an opportunity to reflect and share each day.
These statements, quotations, and reflections represent my philosophy for how I will build a positive classroom community.
Denton, P. and Kriete, R. (2015). The First Six Weeks of School. (2nd ed).
Saphier, J., Haley-Speca, M.A., Gower, R. (2008). The Skillful Teacher. ( 6th ed.). eBook.