Extracurricular school initiatives are an important part of providing a holistic educational experience to our students. Schools have the ability to providing additional programming (outside of curriculum documents) that students would benefit from. I’ve seen many great programs run in schools, such as games clubs (develops social skills and critical thinking), knitting club (a new skill), and art club (visual art classes run by a professional). Each extracurricular program seeks to engage students on a new level and take their learning to a place that traditional classroom learning may not.
During my second practicum experience, I worked alongside my fellow Teacher Candidates and my Associate Teacher to implement an intramural program at our elementary school. This initiative was beneficial for all students (in more ways than one) and helped to foster a stronger sense of community within the school. If you haven’t introduced Tchoukball to your students, YOU MUST! It is such a fun and interactive game that helps to foster teamwork, collaboration, sportsmanship, and strategy without the requirement of too much athleticism.
A surface benefit of our intramural initiative was to promote health and well-being in our students. Giving a space to participate in or try various sports would ideally encourage the continuation of these activities outside of school. In the school yard, it is a reality that some students may be excluded from participating in physical activities they enjoy because of limited space or age barriers. Our program sought to provide a safe and supportive environment for students of all ranges of athleticism. Our program aimed to instill characteristics such as teamwork, sportsmanship, communication, and perseverance. These are useful skills that we hope for all students to carry into the future, whether in classrooms, at home, or in the working world.
Our proposed program was not only advantageous to our students, but it also allowed for personal growth amongst myself and my peers. Throughout this process, I gained valuable experience in coaching students, fostering sportsmanship, and facilitating an extracurricular activity. I worked with my Associated Teacher to set rules for safe-play, enforce the rules of the game during intramurals, organized the teams, and created a schedule of games. In this environment, I found myself more able to relate to students outside of the classroom setting, making interactions less formal and building a stronger, more holistic rapport with each student.
The driving force behind the initiation of our intramural program was a “healthy body, healthy mind” philosophy, where improving the students’ physical health will in turn increase their academic performance. This initiative also proved to diversify the students’ social circles (the teams were assembled with students from Grades 4, 5, and 6) and encouraged respect for each other, as evident in their cheering for one another. Being utilized at a Catholic school, this program was intended to guide students towards the fulfillment of specific Catholic Graduate Expectations. Examples of such expectations would be to develop students as collaborative contributors, caring community members, reflective and creative thinkers, as well as a self-directed, responsible, life-long learner.
Being in an urban school, many of the students do not have the means or access to extracurricular sports and activities. As such, our program allowed the students to participate in organized sports while at school. Ideally, attracting students to school through sports will make them more motivated and excited to come to school, giving them something to look forward to. We found that having intramurals also contributed to creating a deeper sense of community within the school; between classmates or individuals.
I truly enjoyed the process of creating and implementing an extracurricular program, especially one that fosters school community, student well-being, and ultimately fun! I hope to be able to engage in similar initiatives throughout my career and to be the driving force behind new and innovative ways to enhance our student’s educational experience.
Just like that, the final week of my evaluated practicum has come to an end! It has been a long journey getting to this point, full of long nights of planning and marking, and many visits to the online world of education. I guess this is what being a teacher is all about!
The week started off with a bus cancellation… Welcome to Ottawa! We joined two classes together and worked on some language throughout the morning. The first thing the students did was read an article and answer some comprehension and inference questions using the website readworks.org. This is a very neat tool in that it lets you assign a specific article and the teacher gets to view the responses and success rate for each student.
Later in the morning, we gave each student a chromebook and had them begin writing a story about the Christmas/winter season. In 5 minute intervals, the students would write and then pass off the chromebook to someone else. That person would continue the story and so on and so forth until we’ve had about 5 students write on the same story. We wrapped up the activity by reading some of the final products and it was fun to see how the story took a different turn with each new contributor.
This week in particular was full of culminating tasks. I had the students work on a descriptive writing task that had them creating and describing their own robot, something which I had modeled for them a week or two earlier. Their creativity was definitely flowing and their robots turned out really well. I made my way around the classroom and allowed the students to read me their descriptive writing to see whether or not I could draw their robot, which proved to be a great way to enforce editing and revision in their work. Here is the task description and the success criteria that I provided to the students:
Another culminating task that we worked on in Science was a hands-on, inquiry-based experiment. We surprised the students by taking them out of the classroom and visiting the “secret science laboratory” in the school: the staff room! The students were so excited to enter into the staff’s territory and conduct their own messy experiment. I had step-by-step instructions, a P-O-E chart (predict, observe, explain), and materials set up in stations around the room and the students worked in groups of 3 to create Oobleck Slime. I found this task to be very intuitive for the students, since the slime is a solid when pressure is applied and a liquid when there is no pressure. THIS is what science is all about!
This week was filled with advent-related activities! I facilitated an advent lesson where students in groups of 4 read one of many advent stories from the bible together as a group. They discussed its meaning and at what point during advent it took place. As a group, the students created a placemat with 4 sections: re-tell the passage, God’s meaning, a Catholic Graduate Expectation that is present, and a picture of the scene.
Students also performed for their parents in a wonderful presentation of Once Upon a Starry Night. There were lights, costumes, actors, and a choir… It truly felt like we were at a theatre performance!
We also had a advent mass in our gymnasium, which was beautiful and set the mood for the advent season.
On the last day of my placement, I was given a wonderful gift from all of the students that I had taught throughout my placement: my morning grade 5s, my afternoon grade 5/6s, and my after school grade 4/5/6s! They gave me a copy of my all time favourite book “The Giving Tree”, which had lovely messages written inside from the students and my associate teachers.
Reflecting back on my final practicum and feeling thankful for all of the opportunities, relationships, and learning that I experienced! pic.twitter.com/p8hnl8fQyy
I am very thankful for every experience that I had at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary School. There were some tough days and many good days. There were some moments where I felt down-and-out, and some moments where I felt incredible, like I was making a difference in the lives of others. There were some days where I experienced some tough situations of bullying, and some days where I laughed with all of my students. This is growing up. This is education. This is teaching.
To think that these next two weeks will be the last evaluated teaching experience I’ll have until I’m actually employed… I’ve come a long way as a teacher and have learned so much about education over the last year and a half. I’ve had my high points, where I have made a personal connection with a student or have seen a student exclaim, “ I GET THIS NOW!”. I’ve also had my fair share of lows, with periods of self-doubt, with phone calls home, and with personal prayer and reflection. Teaching is like a rollercoaster: the climb is nerve-wracking, the twists and turns will make you second guess your decision, but the thrill is something that you cannot find elsewhere.
At the After School Program, we had the Junior and Primary students team up again, but this time they were going to make festive decorations for the hallway. We gave them lots of paper, objects to trace, glue, and scissors, and they came up with some amazing creations. Now our hallway feels like a winter wonderland, complete with snowmen and reindeer.
We put a lot of emphasis on patterning this week so that we could wrap up that stand for now and move on to another concept. The students reviewed everything that we had learned in preparation for the assessment. On the morning of the test, we had a interactive activity that had students working in teams to identify a pattern rule and extend it as far as they could in a 2-minute period. After the 2 minutes were up, the timer rang and the students rotated to the next station and extended the previous team’s work. They had a blast collaborating and seeing how far they could extend each pattern.
This week in Phys. Ed., I was exposed to a new game by my Associate Teacher. She spoke about this massive ball that the kids could throw around and immediately I was in. The game is called Kin-Ball and there are a number of different variations of what you could do with this (trust me, it came with an activity manual). To get the students used to the ball, we had them lay on their backs and pass the ball to the next person around the perimeter of the gym. There were some kinks with students getting to excited and throwing or kicking the ball, but that was all part of the process of getting them used to accomplishing a task with the ball.
Next, we had the students work together in teams to move the ball from one side of the gym to the other without using their hands. There were some very interesting strategies, but nevertheless, the students had to work together to accomplish a goal which always makes for a beneficial Phys. Ed. and life lesson.
Challenge: Work together to move the Kin-Ball across the gym without using your hands.
In Science, I wrapped our lessons on matter and its changes by demonstrating some chemical and physical changes. I started with the typical baking soda and vinegar experiment, but I put a balloon on the top of the bottle to show the students that a chemical change did occur, since a gas was created and inflated the balloon. Next, I did a demonstration of elephants toothpaste, which had the students very intrigued. I made sure that my ingredients were a little calmer than called for in the recipe so that I wouldn’t have to mop up the classroom, but then I showed them the video of what it could look like:
The next class, we discussed physical changes and how they differed from chemical changes. We talked about crumpling up paper and cutting it into pieces and how this depicts a physical change, since the paper is still paper. Next week, we will move into a culminating task where the students will conduct an experiment on their own. I can’t wait to see the student-directed, inquiry-based learning that takes place!
I still cannot believe that next week will be my last 5 days of practicum… I am thankful for these experiences and the practical learning I’ve been exposed to. Seeing other teachers thrive in their element is inspiring and I cannot wait to be in their shoes one day.
This week was busy, busy, busy! Let me jump right in to my weekly reflection…
The Primary and Junior students in our After School Program teamed up to decorate for the winter season. The room that we run this program out of is used by a number of different programs and clubs, so we wanted to make sure that it was nice a festive, especially leading up to the Christmas holidays. All of the students did a wonderful job creating intricate snowflakes that we hung around the classroom to make it look like it was snowing inside. Such a simple project with such wonderful results!
A week or two ago, our staff had a professional development session about coding, courtesy of Dr. Flinn from the Ottawa Catholic School Board. This week, she spent her days instructing our students on how to use the various coding equipment that we have available to us. And let me tell you… THEY LOVED IT! I’ve never seen a library so energetic and vibrant in my life! Our students rotated through stations and as a team, they worked together to code Spheros, build robots, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks. I am really looking forward to seeing how far their learning will go with the use of coding.
Our alcohol unit is coming along nicely. The students have learned the important vocabulary and have sorted through the various short-term and long-term effects of alcohol. This week, we explored to topic of peer pressure and how it related to alcohol. The students knew what peer pressure was, but have never really thought of how it could influence someone to make a bad decision and drink underage or irresponsibly. I gave each student a piece of paper that read, “Have a drink!” and then gave a different reason, such as, “Everyone else is doing it!” or “No one is going to find out!”. The students paired up, and for 2 minutes, tried to pressure their partner into drinking alcohol. The other partner had to listen to the arguments and respond to them so that they could get out of the situation. After two minutes, the roles reversed. The discussion afterwards was rich and a lot of deep learning took place.
Teaching students about healthy living and alcohol awareness! We’ve explored the important vocabulary and the short- and long-term effects. pic.twitter.com/KxLmGvYd6K
For the first time this year, I got to watch my Grade 5/6 students read with their reading buddies in Grade 2. They were enthusiastic about the opportunity and I was impressed at the bond the pairings made. Every student engaged in some great literacy development, especially when the older students encouraged the younger students to read on their own. It was an all-around great experience.
Supporting literacy through reading buddies! The grade 5/6s love reading with the grade 2s and watching their improvement week after week 📚📖 pic.twitter.com/1Sd8FfYVje
For our descriptive writing unit, I created a slideshow presentation of my student’s writing from a task they completed last week. I kept the students’ work anonymous and typed it up so that they all looked uniform. We read each of the descriptions, which was of the same scenic picture, and discussed how each piece of writing could be improved. We correlated this information with our hamburger rubric that we used when discussing the difference between a Level 1, 2, 3, and 4. This exercise produced some valuable learning for the students, especially since it was personal for them (being their own work).
I followed up the evaluative portion of my descriptive writing lesson with an interactive component. I had created a descriptive paragraph of a robot I found online. I read the description out loud to my students and, without showing them the image of the robot, had them draw it based on my writing. Afterwards, I revealed the image and we critiqued my descriptive writing based on how similar the robots looked. The students LOVED this activity – they got to draw AND critique the teacher’s work! Hopefully they keep their critiques in mind as they continue to work on their own descriptive writing.
The highlight of my week was our Friday assembly. Our class had the task of creating and delivering an assembly to the entire school introducing our Catholic Graduate Expectation that we will be focusing on in December. The difficult part about this was that, unfortunately, my Associate Teacher was absent for a lot of the planning, due to an illness. That meant the supply teacher and I would accept the task with open arms and do the best that we could.
I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I was really happy with the way that the assembly turned out! Our students had scripture reading about lifelong learning, having trust in God, and fulfilling our potential. We also had students sharing their own goals and aspirations, showing that you are never too young or old to want to accomplish something. We taught the school about adopting a growth mindset and welcoming the power of “yet” into our lives. The big finale was a video that our students recorded and put together! They went around the school and asked students and staff about something they would like to learn one day and something that they have learned recently. This truly made the assembly feel like a school community, shining light on everyone’s goals and dreams.
Another week in the books! This week will be a memorable one for me for many different reasons. Firstly, my Associate Teacher had to get an operation done, meaning that yours truly is the full-time teacher for a two week period. While this came with some added apprehensions and stress, I feel like I transitioned well into the role and truly became a classroom teacher. And the best part is that the students have started to view and accept me in that role too!
This week, my Grade 5s have delved deeper in our patterning unit by identifying, extending, and predicting term patterns and numbers. I put together a patterning Kahoot that the students absolutely loved! Even with so much learning taking place, Kahoots always seem to bring out the fun and excitement in the lesson. The students are happy because they get to use technology and they also feel a sense of competition, which in my opinion furthers their overall performance.
On Tuesday, Our Lady of Mount Carmel started their intramural program, which is something that the student teachers at our school are taking the lead on. For the Grade 4-6 students, we’ve created a Tchoukball league. Tchoukball is a team sport that involves balls and trampolines… In other words, the students have a blast! I am looking forward to continuing the intramurals throughout the rest of my practicum.
In my health unit, our class has put together a lovely anchor chart that defines the key terms we have been working with. The students have had some really great input during our class discussions, which has furthered the learning in our unit. An engaging lesson that I facilitated involved giving each student an effect and having them decide (with the help of their peers) whether the effect was a short-term or long-term effect of alcohol use. They did a great job differentiating between the two types of effects and together we created a lovely visual to refer back to. Next week, we will explore the concept of peer pressure, as it pertains to alcohol use.
In preparation for an assembly that my Grade 5s will be facilitating for the entire school, we explored the Catholic Graduate Expectation of being a “lifelong learner”. The topic of lifelong learning opened many opportunities for learning in our own classroom, including introducing “growth mindset” to the students. We watched some online cartoons, courtesy of Edmodo, that spoke about concepts like grit, the power of “yet”, and learning from your mistakes, all of which tie in wonderfully with lifelong learning. As a way to assess the students’ knowledge of the Catholic Graduate Expectation, I created a placemat activity that the students used to display their understanding. The results were impressive, so I had to take a few pictures to share:
Classroom and behaviour management is definitely something that I am getting a lot of exposure and experience to this practicum. For instance, there was a student in the hallway during class time that was clearly upset. He was walking from hook to hook, pulling off jackets and dumping the contents of backpacks on to the ground. Naturally, I stepped in, getting down on the student’s level and asking him what was going on. When the student didn’t respond, I asked him if the cartoon on his shirt was from Minecraft. Suddenly, the student’s eyes came back to life, and he explained that his shirt had superhero characters that were animated as if they were in Minecraft. Immediately, you could tell that the student felt remorse for the mess that he had made, but also knew that I was not going to get him in trouble or yell at him for what he had done. Together, we started to clean up the hallway and put things back where they belong. The principal and resource teacher, who were called to help out with the situation, saw that it had been deescalated and felt comfortable with me continuing to address the situation. This will definitely be a moment that I remember where I chose to first pay attention to the person before I made attention to the action.
Here we are again… How is it that weekends take so long to come, yet seem to be over before you know it? However, Sundays are for more than just rest and relaxation. Sundays are a time to reflect on the week you’ve had and prepare (mentally and spiritually) for the week that is to come.
I am officially at the halfway point of my practicum at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School. The teaching staff is incredible, welcoming, and compassionate. The learning occurring within and outside the classroom walls is top-notch. The students are unique, energetic, and provide the spark that fuels the entire school. This school community truly is a wonderful place.
The community extends far outside of our immediate school as well. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is an urban school and has some needs that other schools may not necessarily have. For example, as I am sitting here writing this post, it is snowing like crazy outside (can someone please tell the weather that it is still November…). For some students, snow creates a sense of excitement – something they look forward to playing with. For others students, snow causes stress. When your family is unable to provide you with a new winter jacket because your current zipper broke off… When you have to choose between buying a winter jacket and snow pants because you are unable to afford both… When your boots and clothes from the day before remain wet and cold because you have no drier to dry them…
This is where the community plays a large role. This past week, the local Knights of Columbus donated a large number of winter jackets to our school. These jackets were brand new and of varying sizes, a gift that will provide comfort beyond belief to our students this winter. I still get goose bumps when I think back to the moment when these jackets were delivered to our school. In a world where we hear more bad news stories than good, its kind and generous gestures like these that shine light on the loving and compassionate people that truly care for others.
Now that I’ve opened up my heart, let’s talk about curriculum! This week, I launched a few units that seem to be off to a great start. Firstly, we started patterning in Math and the students truly caught on fast. At first I wasn’t sure if my class had all-of-the-sudden become a group of child protégées, but after speaking with their teachers from last year, I quickly learned that they had lots of practice before coming into my class. We’ve explored letter patterns, number patters and shape patterns, identified pattern rules, extended patterns by 5 or more terms, filled in the missing terms in a number pattern, created and solve problems using a t-chart, and even solved word problems… all in a week’s time! I am hoping to do another day or two of patterning next week and then administer a short quiz to use in addition to their culminating task.
In Science, I launched our unit on changes and properties of matter. Despite having to do some classroom management, the lesson when over fairly well. The students jotted down things that came to mind when they heard the term “matter”, watched a video introducing them to the topic, provided examples of solids, liquids, and gases found within our classroom (written on sticky notes and posted on chart paper), and completed a K-W-L chart about “matter”. The K-W-L chart in particular brought to my attention some misconceptions about what matter is and what constitutes a solid, liquid, and gas. I’m glad I started with this activity as a form of formative assessment so that I am able to clearly assess where their learning is at and how I should proceed with my unit.
Even in a school that has a great sense of community, bullying will always seem to surface. This week, we had a situation of bullying that involved a large number of my students. After dealing with the situation and having the students talk it through with the principal, my Associate Teacher showed the class this incredible spoken word poetry video that led to a great discussion. The opportunities for discussion are endless and, truly, the video speaks for itself:
On Friday, we had an in-school Professional Development day that was jam packed. We had a staff meeting, delved deeper in to the Mathematics curriculum, and explore the areas of Math that should be deep- and light-study for each of our grades. While all of this was a great learning experience, I had THE MOST FUN learning about coding and using some robots! Check out my twitter explosion about these cool gadgets:
On Monday, I transformed back into “Mr. Burton” as I started my final 6 weeks of practicum. Excited and anxious, I walked back into that classroom, prepared to accept the opportunity to teach the Grade 5 and Grade 5/6 classes at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary School. For my first week, my goal was to reorient my mindset from student to teacher and establish strong connections with each of my students. In both of my classes, there is never a dull moment… never an end to the moments of learning.
Over the last two months, I have led my students in a Genius Hour Project for one hour a week. Now that I am in the classroom full-time, we have begun presenting our projects and teaching each other the innovative and passion-filled lessons we have learned. The students created projects about how to create origami, everything you’d want to know about the Stanley Cup, how video games are made, what the strongest animal is, explosive science demonstrations, and how to play the piano… And we still have more presentations coming! I truly enjoyed facilitating a Genius Hour; the students were engaged in their learning and they were passionate about presenting that information to their fellow classmates. Not to mention, there are SO MANY curriculum expectations that are met throughout the project!
Slideshow presentations, science demonstrations, and origami sunglasses… OH MY!
After two full (and admittedly tiring) days, I was fortunate to join the Grade 6 students on their trip to WE Day! This conference brings together world-renowned speakers (Paula Abdul, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Tragically Hip, Rick Hanson…), A-list performers (Hedley, Classified…), and tens of thousands of youth to celebrate a year of action that transformed communities and changed lives. WE Day is something that I always wished I could have attended as a student, but that opportunity has come full circle for me as a teacher. The speakers were inspiring and their messages were motivating:
I began a Health unit on the topic of alcohol for my Grade 5/6 class, which is off to a great start. We stared by watching a video, which helped us to understand the mindset of addition. The students really enjoyed analyzing the video and they came up with some interesting ideas of what the yellow blob could represent (we linked it back to alcohol for our unit).
The students demonstrated some great inference skills when they were presented with a number of alcohol-related terms, creating some mind maps and drawing some pictures of what they knew. This served as a great jump-off point for our unit, ensuring that each student understood the vocabulary that we will be using throughout.
Not only am I taking on this 6-week practicum, but I am also running the After School Program for a great group of Junior students. On Mondays and Wednesdays after school, we have a snack, enjoy a read-aloud (we’re reading one of my favourite books – “Wonder”), have 20 minutes or so to work on homework, and then we have some fun. This week, we had some low-energy games, such as board games, magnet centres, and puzzles, as well as some active time in the gymnasium.
Although I know that I am in for a challenge, I am looking forward to the next few weeks. I’ve already learned so much by working with my students and from the wonderful teachers at our school. This feels like the beginning of something great!
Every classroom is full of students that are at different places in their learning, have varying learning styles, and display interest for different subject matter. It is for this reason that differentiation isn’t just another thing that teachers “have to do”; it is the very essence of teaching every student. Differentiation allows us to cater to a wide variation of learners, taking into account their:
Readiness to learn
There are many ways in which we can differentiate our teaching. However, I believe more important than the content of our lesson, we must ignite an interest in our students. I can think back to a number of times in my own learning when I was so unmotivated to try harder or think deeper. The underlying cause of this was that I felt no connection to what I was learning. I could not see myself using this content in my future and nothing about it excited me.
Now, as a teacher, I think critically about how I would respond to the “when am I ever going to use this information” question. Sometimes, I have an accurate answer for the students; a way to explain to them that they will, in fact, use this learning at some point in their lives. Most times, I encourage my students to discover an answer to that question on their own. “How can we apply what we’ve learned to our own life?” “What’s the takeaway?”
While these approaches to the dreaded “when will I use this information” question may lead to further learning, I much prefer to prove how awesome the content is to my students before it gets to that point. Motivational hooks, personal connections, and modern day social media references get the students to open their minds and persist with the learning to see how it all relates. Last year, I took a poll with my students about their favourite genre of music, which ended up being rap. The next day, during our poetry unit, I had a “poem” that we all read through. The students, as I expected, were bored because it was “poetry”. It was in that moment that I blew their minds. Without explanation, I turned on a song… Which just so happened to be a rap song… Which just so happen to be the “poem” that we just read. The students were fully engaged in the poetry unit from then on, once they saw that the music they listened to every day was, at its essence, a poem. Not to mention they thought I was pretty awesome for knowing modern rap music.
In some of my readings this year, Tomlinson (2004) spoke to the power of “change” in regards to differentiation:
“Change the content, change the process, change the product, change the environment, and change the assessment. Change the content, using varied text or media; change the level of complexity to be concrete (hands-on), representational (visual), or abstract (language); change the product (performance or project); change the environment (inside/outside, lab/classroom, and so on); change the assessment (oral, written, shorter, more complex, simpler, digital or not).”
In my own teaching, I am going to put a larger emphasis on thinking critically through my lessons, contrasting my approach with the ideas that Tomlinson presented. Additionally, I have started implementing more open-ended questions in my teaching, which allow the students to achieve a level through their answer, rather than by simply being able to answer a “level 4 question”. To accompany these questions, I am going to provide an “Idea Menu” that the students can refer to.
This approach allows students to focus less on how they are going to answer the question and more on actually answering the question. This also serves as a differentiation tool by allowing students to answer the same question in a variety of ways, or just by choosing the method that the student feels most interested in.
Differentiation encourages teachers to look beyond the content and focus on the students that will be learning it.
As someone who is just beginning my career as a teacher, I often wonder, “What is the most important thing that I can offer my students?” Can I provide them with an innovative educational experience that prepares them to become super geniuses? Can I ignite a sense of curiosity in my students that will later translate into the next best invention? Can I model for them what it means to be a responsible citizen that treats others with dignity and respect? Perhaps… But none of this is possible unless I first create a safe, supportive, and healthy learning environment for each and every one of my students.
I believe that creating a positive, safe and supportive classroom environment is one of the most important aspects of teaching. The one thing that I can guarantee for my students is an environment in which they feel safe, as we know not all students have a stable home life. Students want to feel comfortable to express themselves freely and not have the fear of rejection by their peers or their teacher. This not only benefits their self-image, but it allows them to take academic risks, which enhances their overall learning.
The way that I view a safe, supportive, and healthy learning environment is like a family. You may not have chose your siblings (your classmates) or your parents (your teacher), but you are all in this family together. As a family, you have each others backs in the hard times and always have each others best interests in mind. You support one another and want to see everyone succeed.
But how do we build the classroom community that houses our family? It is my belief that a safe learning environment must be based on mutual trust and respect and provide social and emotional support for students. This can be achieved by implementing practices that fosters support. Firstly, students strive on routine and stability. Most people are privy to the classic classroom guidelines, but it is important to take this one step further. As the facilitator of the classroom, teachers must take a step back and allow the students to create the classroom guidelines. Rather than telling the students what they ought to do and why, this approach allows students to collaborate in the process and feel a sense of responsibility and ownership. The teacher can prompt students throughout the process by asking questions like, “What helps to you learn while you are in class?”, “What stops you from learning?”, or “How should we respond if someone fails to keep these agreements?” but ultimately, the students should take ownership of their guidelines.
Another way to build classroom community is by developing personal relationships with each and every student so that they are understood as an individual and the teacher is aware of each student’s needs. I never liked it when my teachers or professors introduced themselves and shared all of their amazing life experiences and then never asked the students to share about ourselves. It sets the precedence that the teacher matters and the student doesn’t. It is important to provide students with the opportunity to discuss or share their backgrounds and cultures, expressing exactly what makes them the person they are.
I like to think of myself less as a ‘teacher’ and more as a ‘facilitator of education’. I do not transmit my knowledge to students; I learn far too much from my students to not have the learning be reciprocal. Rather, I provide students with learning environments in which they have responsibility for their own learning. Teacher facilitated, student-driven learning allows students to learn by doing, writing, designing, creating, making and solving, not just by listening.
Ultimately, when it comes to building a classroom community, believe in your students and they will begin to believe in themselves. It may take a while for you to instill this understanding in your students, but once students realize that we genuinely care for them, we know we are on the path to creating a positive and healthy learning environment.
Throughout my Bachelor of Education, I have come to learn that there are so many philosophies behind each teaching practice. Whether it’s about implementing the curriculum, student learning styles, classroom management, or student discipline, each teacher has the task of evaluating the many philosophies and adopting their own that guides their practice. When it comes to classroom environment and culture, I truly respect the idea of restorative practice. Although restorative practice gives the impression of being a reactive approach, when implemented properly and regularly, it has many proactive benefits.
As Bob Costello, Joshua Wachtel, and Ted Wachtel explain in The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians and Administrators, teachers must do things WITH students, rather than TO them or FOR them. By implementing a learning environment that uses both “high control” and “high support”, students will be both safe and supported in their learning.
There will be times in every classroom when conflict arises. However, the way we view and approach this conflict is very important. Conflict is simply a challenge that allows the opportunity to develop, learn, and grow through an exchange of different views and perspectives. As teachers, we have nothing to gain and everything to lose by arguing back and forth with a student, especially with other students as an audience. Even how we approach conflict between two students is important. The Restorative Continuum in The Restorative Practices Handbook provides insight for teachers about the various ways to respond to harmful behaviour.
Small impromptu conference
Group or circle
Rather than scolding the student for inappropriate behaviour, it is important to give the student control, allow them take responsibility for their actions, and rectify the situation. This is a different approach for many teachers, and I can tell you that it feels a little awkward at first, but prompting the students with questions like, “What happened?”, “Who has been affected by what you have done?”, and “What do you think you need to do to make things right?” will give students the opportunity to take ownership of their behaviour. It is important to remember that just like how students can make an error on a math test, students can also make errors in their behaviour. They are not “bad kids”, but they simply made a mistake.
I find that I remember to give the student ownership of their behaviour is by providing them with choice. I don’t believe that any student wants to misbehave; sometimes, students just don’t know how else to respond. By giving students choices, we allow them to take ownership of their response while also sending the message that we respect their decisions.
The main thing to remember when approaching harmful behaviour is to remain calm at all times. Students know when you are not happy, and they know when they can take advantage of your mood. When a teacher responds negatively to a student, it breaks down the trust that has taken so much time and work to build. It also disregards the concepts of a safe and supportive learning environment. Take a breath, smile, and set a positive mood for the learning environment.
There have been a number of practices that I have seen during my practicum experiences that help to contribute to positive learning environments. A restorative practice that I’ve seen is circle time at the beginning and end of each week. This time allows students to express their thoughts and ideas, share their feelings or apprehensions, build deeper relationships with their peers and teacher, and practicing collaboration. These circles, when implemented correctly, establish the classroom as a safe space and help to maintain emotional safety.
I am also a strong believer that collaborative learning is a practice that supports a safe and supportive learning environment. In my own teaching, I try to use pair work, as well as small-group and whole-class activities throughout the learning process. It is important to start this during the first week of school to help students get acquainted with one another and provide opportunities to from connections with students they don’t interact with as frequently inside or outside of the classroom. As I learned in the documentary #bullyPROOF, it is less likely that someone will bully a person that they know well. Therefore, group work supports both relationship building and academic achievement.
Within the walls of the classroom, we can engage in many actions that create supportive learning environments. Something as simple as displaying student work on the walls promotes student ownership of the room. When students look around and see their work and achievements, they feel comfortable and proud to be where they are. As I’ve said before, circle activities promote that everyone is equal and valued, and that we are all able to express feelings or solve problems. Circle guidelines such as a talking stick and the right to pass instill a greater sense of safety. When students need time to themselves to self-regulate, a predetermined safe space can provide that extra sense of safety.
The school itself can contribute to the overall essence of positivity. Initiatives such as “Caught You Caring” where school staff recognize students for their contribution to creating a safe and healthy school environment will encourage students to adopt their own positive actions. Assemblies that recognize student character and achievements sets the precedence that this is ultimately what the school values, not just marks or grades. Even something as simple as spirit points during intramurals or sports gives value to what is expected for everyone to win.
Safe and supportive learning environments can also be developed by extending the walls of the school to include the surrounding community. Engaging in community initiatives give students a chance to feel that they are doing something good, not for themselves but for others. This is especially important for students that feel they are being viewed as the “bad kid” at school.
Every teacher should create a safe, healthy, and supportive learning environment, but they cannot do it alone. Students must drive this movement and know that the classroom is their environment to create. I am just starting my teaching career, but if I continue to explore ways in which I can promote a positive learning environment for my students, then I know that I am doing what matters most for our next generation. I have a lot to learn and a lot to practice, but students are my focus and I will do what needs to be done for each of them to feel valued and successful.
“Motivated students can conquer all; unmotivated kids on the other hand, who hold back because they think they can’t change themselves are destined to a long and tedious trail through their school years.”
Today’s generation of students are very different than the last. Children experience a number of different influences each and every day, such as friends, family, and teachers, and when you combine all that with celebrities, social media, and advertisements, students have no choice but to look inward. Our self-talk is an important part of our well-being; are we confident with the person that we are and the talents that we have, or are we inadequate in the standards that others put on us? The stories you tell yourself and the things you believe about yourself can either prevent change from happening or allow new skills to blossom. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between a growth and fixed mindset.
As teachers, we must look at each of our students and identify the potential that they have, even when they do not recognize it in themselves. Students can think that they’ll never be as smart as ____, or as athletic as ____, or as popular as ____. But this inability to even consider or explore their potential is extremely damaging. The worst part is that teachers all too often play into this mindset for their students. We assume that a student will perform well on a test because they always do, but we never acknowledge how much they study or pay attention in class. Alternatively, we assume that a student will act out in class because they always do, without wondering about why the student is not engaged or distracted. To combat this trend and help instill a growth mindset into our students, we must focus on praising student work habits, encouraging effort, and supporting students’ potential rather than focusing on natural talent and abilities. In other words, we must believe in each and every one of our students and their potential to be amazing.
“When a teacher has an astonishing impact on a student’s life, it is because of one and only one thing: his or her complete belief in that student.”
In my own teaching practice, I often find myself seeking opportunities to compliment or acknowledge a student’s work ethic, especially those who I often find do not get the final answer correct. For those students, it could feel as though they are never going to get the final answer correct, but by making an effort to compliment them on an aspect of their process or their work ethic in general, these students will begin to internalize their efforts as positivity.
During my first practicum, I did an activity with my students that centred around self-image. You can read about it in detail HERE. Essentially, I wanted my students to figuratively throw away all of this external, negative rhetoric that is spewed at them and focus on their internal, positive self-talk. This leads students to feel more in tune with their intrinsic motivation; the drive behind why they do anything at all.
I really like the idea of the TESA Studies: Teacher Expectation, Student Achievement. I believe this concept find a good balance between teacher’s having expectations of their students, with that of student achievement. Yes, students are expected to do certain things, but the students are also acknowledged for complying. Here are 15 TESA expectations:
Equitable opportunity to respond – Ensuring every student has equal chances to respond
Affirmation or correction, coaching, and feedback comment
Proximity – Nearness to students for managing behaviours
Individual helping – One-on-one tutorials
Praise – For the learning performance or effort
Courtesy – Polite manners, good etiquette
Latency – Wait time, let students think
Reasons for praise – Why, not just what
Personal interest statements – Notice
Delving, rephrasing, giving clues
Listening – Attention to student comments
Touching – Hand on a shoulder to encourage or affirm