Mondays with Molly – Creating Classroom Culture!

Mondays with Molly – Creating Classroom Culture!

So we’re back to school!

Yes! Today is the first day for many students. Some started last week, some will start next week, but everyone is getting back to the full swing of things!

It’s always exciting, a fresh group of students, with different personalities and characters that are going to be with you for the entire year. That must be exciting!

Yes. Perhaps nervous excitement, but exciting all the same. And the same feeling goes for students too… new teachers, new curriculum, etc.

So what is the most important thing happening right now? Getting everything set up?

Well, I would say over and beyond that is creating the classroom culture for the school year. It can truly change the entire trajectory for the year… and you want to set the tone from the get-go.

Sounds like creating the learning environment during the first days of school is crucial.

It is. Teachers want to set the tone for the year and that happens in the first days of school. How these first days go help determine how the year will go. This is true for both teachers and students. The first day is so important. Students of all ages are anxious. They want to know who is in their class and who their teachers will be. Will it be a good year?

So what’s the most important thing for students?

I’d say their internal dialogue sounds like… Will my teacher like me? Will I like my teacher? That relationship is key to get students comfortable to make mistakes, be risk takers and truly learn.

I never really thought about that likability relationship… it always seems to be classroom organization, etc. But that makes sense, the more comfortable you are, the more you are willing to stretch yourself.

Exactly. We want children to be able to try things that are hard for them, and that means failing sometimes the first time they try something. Building a culture where it is ok to try and not succeed the first time is important. Analyzing ideas, being open minded and persevering when it gets hard are the life skills that are going to help students succeed in school and beyond.

I can remember a teacher who intimidated me and I never raised my hand… but can think of another one who I truly loved and I was sitting at the front of the room, hand raised, willing to risk it! That must be a tricky thing to manage though…How do you set up this culture?

Really it breaks down to respect and time. Teachers care about students, they want them to succeed. When students feel that support they are more likely to respond and risk being wrong. It means taking some time to build that relationship, talking and listening when things are on and off track to help students learn. The focus is on learning, not simply getting through work to get a grade.

How do teachers do this?

The first step is to give students ownership over their work. Support students. Really listening to what they have to say. Probing with questions and providing the opportunity to revise their answers. Let them fail (see the failure) and guide them with questions to find the right answers. And if you jump in too early with the answers, it cuts off that metacognitive disequilibrium that helps students realize they are wrong and develop the skills needed to find solutions.

Yes, to be patient and let them figure that out themselves. It’s really true. It also strengthens them for life too, not just in the classroom…

Agreed. Actually, I was reading an article in the NY times this month about college students. (My eldest is off to college next week), and found this interesting for parents, but also for educators, strengthening students to take challenges, fail, persevere succeed. I have it right here, can I read an excerpt?

Oh please do!

“Children “deserve to be strengthened, not strangled, by the fierceness of a parent’s love,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims wrote in a 2005 op-ed piece for The Chicago Tribune. If by adulthood they cannot fend for themselves, she asked, “shouldn’t we worry?”

..Troubled by the growing number of parents who not only stayed in near-constant cellphone contact with their offspring but also showed up to help them enroll in classes, contacted professors and met with advisers (illustrating the progression from helicopter to lawn mower parents, who go beyond hovering to clear obstacles out of their child’s way) …. robs children of opportunities to develop independence and resiliency, thereby crippling them emotionally later in life.”

Well then, the opposite question must be asked…. how do you set up a classroom culture for academic risk takers? Those who are extra comfortable?

First, show students you care about them. Realize you have individuals that like to learn different ways. Some kids hate being in the limelight, others live for it. Expecting each child to get up and introduce themselves can add stress. There is no one way to do this. No one way that works great for every student. Providing opportunities to have personalized learning helps.

Then how can you create something that works with different styles?

Well, we talk a lot about open ended projects. That can start on the first day of class. Set criteria.  Instead of stand up and tell the class about yourself …   It could be a project that is more open ended.

What would that look like?

An example would be generating criteria together.

Project:  Introduction

Goals:  Get to know each other, Incorporating Language Arts into the project,  Due tomorrow.

Having an open ended project permits students to meet the criteria and at the same time tailor it to their personal style. Possible examples, but certainly not limited to these could be a poem, posters, collages, videos, interviews, blogs, etc.

This is a nice way to build a culture. Day 2 could be revising projects for more details…  It makes the project more engaging when students can own it and by making it a work in progress takes stress off of the first share and reinforces a culture focused on revision and learning.

Gotcha. So if I had to sum up your perspective on culture, I would say 1. the first days are paramount to setting the tone for the year, 2. be intentional about creating a culture that encourages engagement and risk, being ok with failing, and 3. create long term projects that can allow different students at different paces to go as wide and as deep as will challenge them.

Wow! That’s perfect. Yep. I think that is a great overview.

Ok, until next time… have a great morning!

You too.

Additional Reading: Top Tips to Set a Positive Tone for the New Year

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