Ninety Nine Percent Culture and Climate, One Percent Content
Schools define success in a number of ways including: results of standardized testing, students meeting academic goals and achievements, and the future educational and professional accomplishments of graduates of the program. Some of these analyzing short-term results, and others look at long-term implications. Based on the perspective of the educator, a classroom environment can be the breeding grounds for turning children off from learning or inspiring them to become lifelong learners, the difference depends on the culture of learning within the room. The success measures that only look at short-term results may result in students learning information; but if we don’t focus on the wider, long-term perspective we run the risk of turning them off of education.
An educator once visited a high school campus on its last day of school and saw a group of students burning their textbooks in a bonfire. When he entered his meeting with the principal he asked if those students were the underachievers; assuming that they were not happy with their achievement and were releasing their frustration on their textbooks. The principal looked out the window to see the small textbook bonfire and responded that those students were actually the straight A students. He turned to the principal and responded, “in that case, you have achieved nothing but short-term success with these students.”
The students may have succeeded in learning due to extrinsic manipulative factors, however, the moment those factors were removed, they disengaged. They burned their textbooks because they were celebrating the end of a prison sentence, instead of embracing a journey of learning.
As educators, it is our primary task to turn our classrooms into learning zones where students come to connect. We need to be constantly thinking about the bigger picture – how the learning today will affect the student’s journey of lifelong learning.
Home Schooling — Feeling at Home in School
The first step in creating a comfortable climate for learning is to make space for the students to feel at home. The old-school autocratic style of leadership deprives students of feeling comfortable in their own learning environment; creating what appears on the outside to be a well-managed classroom, but within each student, there is a feeling of resentment which is growing each day.
Obviously, rules and regulations play an essential role in the process of managing classroom behavior, and allowing the students to get away with misbehavior will destroy the opportunity for learning. However, what many people forget is that allowing students to feel at home in the classroom by giving them space they need to grow, will lead to a greater level of success with classroom management since engaged student make less trouble. Children are more likely to love learning and discover their individual talents, abilities, and limits when they feel empowered by the process of education.
When asked which method I prefer to use to manage my classroom behavior I answer – the “effective lesson design” method. If students feel “at home” in their class they will approach the learning from a healthy place, if they feel imprisoned they will learn to hate to learn. When the lesson engages the students – both as individuals and as a group – there will be less and less of a need to “manage” behaviors of students who are in all likelihood acting out due to a sense of boredom or frustration.
Often times we deal with children in our classrooms with behaviors that seem to be beyond our control. Although I believe ADHD is a real thing, its symptoms are also enhanced with ineffective teaching. Think about the last time you were stuck in a bad lecture for an hour, I’m sure you started to feel ADHD symptoms including fidgeting, difficulty focusing, problem paying attention, boredom etc. Yes, some students in a classroom will have learning disabilities, attention issues or mental health struggles. And while those must be addressed by all the professionals involved, intervention starts with effective implementation of classroom lessons.
When investing in our students’ success we tend to place a disproportionate focus on skills building, forgetting that without getting the students excited about the learning we are fighting an uphill battle. At the end of the day, the goal of the educator is to teach the child skills that will help then succeed in life. This is only possible in an environment where students are happy. I heard a story where a teacher told his principal that he doesn’t need his students to like him; he’s not looking to be their friend, only their teacher. The principal responded by saying, “yes, but children only learn from teachers they like.”
We need to remember, a teacher’s success is measured not by what the student learned in the classroom, but rather by what the student continues to learn outside of the classroom and how they implement the lessons learned in school throughout their lifetime.
Rabbi Schneur Hayes M.Ed.