6 ways to create positive learning environments in your classroom

Uncategorized Oct 05, 2020
Today I had a great chat with Atama @teachers.trove on Instagram, all about how to establish positive learning environments (you can watch the full video here). He is a primary school teacher in Auckland, New Zealand, and feels very strongly about this topic - it was a great discussion. 
Positive learning environments are critical to effective teaching and learning. I am reminded here of the saying ‘kids need to Maslow before they can Bloom’. In other words, we need to ensure that our student’s basic needs such as safety, security, belonging and self-esteem are met before any effective learning can take place (this is something that we explore in much more depth inside of the Transformational Teachers Academy).
We often hear a lot about ‘behaviour management’ - but how much control can we as teachers really have over our students' behaviour? There might be some systems and techniques that we can use to help things run more smoothly in our classroom, or to encourage a certain amount of compliance in our students. We might even be able to motivate our students using external rewards and consequences to a certain extent. However, as behaviour typically stems from emotions, when we talk about managing someone’s behaviour we are actually assuming that we have the ability to manage their emotions. Is this realistic? Is this a healthy expectation? 
What we need to be teaching our students is how to recognise and regulate their own emotions, and therefore their behaviour (in other words, we need to be giving students the opportunity to develop emotional intelligence, an increasingly critical skill today’s world, and the future). 
Additionally, rather than trying to enforce compliance, we need to be cultivating engagement. Engagement only comes when students feel a sense of belonging and connection in the classroom, and when they know, like and trust their teacher. This is much more likely to develop intrinsic motivation, which is so much more powerful and longer-lasting than any extrinsic motivational techniques that we might try to use. 
In our conversation today, Atama and I discussed what we believe to be some of the most important factors when it comes to creating positive learning environments: 
  • #1: Being real - being you, bringing in stories or experiences from your past, talking about your dog's crazy antics, or where you would love to go on holiday next. You don’t need to divulge all your personal details or your whole life story - just a little bit here and there will help your students to get to know you a bit better. This isn’t about trying to be their ‘buddy’ or anything, it’s simply to help develop rapport. Likewise, try to get to know your students a bit better as well - show a genuine interest in their lives and interests. 
  • #2: Storytelling - this is a big one - not only do stories help students to learn and remember things better, but if you can use stories where they find out a little bit more about you then that will help to build rapport and the ‘know, like, and trust’ factor. So for example if I’m teaching my students about polar climates, I’m going to tell them some stories of when I was living in the arctic circles in Norway, and how it was so cold that the snow was too dry to build a snowman. 
  • #3: Appreciation - just as adult employees are more likely to perform at a higher level when they know they are appreciated, it is the same for our students. Always acknowledge effort and don’t let an opportunity pass to let your students know that you appreciate their contributions and presence in your class. 
  • #4: Routines - all humans thrive on routine - if students know what to expect when they come into your classroom, they feel a sense of security. This doesn’t mean that you can’t surprise them and shake things up every now and then, but having a solid foundation is key. 
  • #5: Empathy - Empathy is a really important part of emotional intelligence, so show them that you understand where they are coming from and that you care about how they are feeling. If students feel understood, then they will feel a greater sense of belonging in your classroom. 
  • #6: Be consistently calm, kind and fair - Our students like to know that they can rely on us and approach us with anything that they need to. They like to see that we do what we say we are going to do, and that we deal with all issues or problems consistently and fairly. 
There’s so much else that could be discussed here, so I would love to know - what are some of your go-to strategies for developing positive learning environments? 
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