I believe that the most important aspect in a positive learning environment is the rapport between a teacher and her students. When the students are convinced that their teacher cares for them and wants them to do well, they feel relaxed to open up and ask questions. They no longer hesitate in making mistakes and taking risks. In order to build such healthy relationships, the teacher should take interest in each of her student's strengths and passions, as well as their struggles and frustrations. When the teacher is humble enough to learn from her own mistakes and can laugh even when she is annoyed, the students feel much more comfortable and emulate the same good behaviour. The teacher should also celebrate their achievements and act as an inspiring role model for them.
Fostering a safe learning environment is important for a classroom. It is the teacher's job to create such a community where all the students get along well. To develop a thriving social culture, the students need to be aware of what they have in common with their fellow classmates and value each other’s differences. Strong classroom communities can be formed in various ways.
For example, a teacher can begin with allocating several responsibilities to the class. Team-based responsibilities can give the students some necessary window to show their merits and overcome each other’s weaknesses. These activities require them to count upon each another, and thereby become more interdependent. When the students start enjoying each other's company, they become more accepting of each other and gel well in during their classes. Cracking funny jokes, talking about their families and households, and having interesting conversations around pets can give children exciting opportunities to socialise. Eventually, it all becomes a part of a collaborative learning effort, which we are aiming for.
Apart from developing strong classroom communities, a teacher must also nurture a motivational learning environment. By framing the relevant rules, a teacher can encourage her students to do the right thing and develop good behavioural traits. It is important that she emphasises upon ‘intrinsic’ motivational factors apart from the ‘extrinsic,’ to keep the students interested and invested in their goals. These factors—praise, positive reinforcement, and rewards for exceptional behaviour, etc.—help the students understand the boundaries and expectations of their classroom.
Having said that, a teacher's management plan also plays a very large role in shaping the classroom community. Students cannot learn effectively when their instructor has lost control. Therefore, the teacher should make her targets very clear. When she is fair, consistent and organized, the students take responsibility for their limitations and make wise choices thereafter. Each aspect of a classroom management plays a pivotal role in evolving a healthy learning space.
For my classroom management and community-building, I formulated a chart of activities. When I facilitated a discussion on these activities among my students, they came up with a lot of ideas showing what awesome students groups can look like. So, I used this chart to enable them to work well together, to motivate them internally, and to make them take responsibility for their actions.
Firstly, I decided to conduct a very interesting community-building activity. I asked my students to undertake some projects individually. Then I instructed them to walk around and appreciate each other’s work, and creatively report about them in their notebooks. But before we could begin, I briefed them on what a kind or a critical feedback would sound like. Then, I offered every student some yellow pieces of paper, to maintain uniformity and confidentiality, on which they had to scribble a specific feedback on their classmate’s project. I was surprised to learn that my students did an excellent job in this activity! They generously complimented each other on what they found well in a project and most students felt great after reading the kind words they received from their classmates.
Cooperative Lesson Plans
Next, I used some interesting lesson plans to encourage cooperative learning in my classes. Following a lesson plan, I asked my children to make a model farm, as a group activity, and divided its different sub-tasks among them. This inculcated teamwork and partnership skills among them. I always incorporate such group activities to promote social learning in my classes.
A Mystery Person
Finally, in order to motivate my students from within and otherwise, I pursued a ‘mystery person’ activity. Every morning, I picked a student to be our ‘mystery person’ and didn’t disclose the name to anyone. At the end of the day, if that person behaved well and stayed focused throughout, I announced her name as the ‘mystery person’ and gave the whole class an incentive of five marbles in an ‘incentive jar’. However, if the mystery person did not do well, then he or she remained a mystery, i.e. I would not reveal the student’s name. This activity was a great incentive for my students to behave well throughout the day. Within a few days, I noticed a lot of change in their individual and community behaviour. In fact towards the end of this activity, which was during the closing of our semester, a student even wrote to me a note saying how much she enjoyed the idea of the mystery person.