Saturday, February 25, 2012

Maintaining a Responsive Classroom Environment

English: This is an example of a classroom fil...Image via WikipediaBy Doug Apicella

The month of February often heralds a time of increased stress and busyness within our schools. State standardized assessments loom in our near future, district benchmarking of student growth is underway, or nearly at an end, resulting in lost instructional time devoted to data analysis and planning.

Three and four-day weekends become the norm, and all at a time when the pressure to fit in a full year's curriculum instruction reaches a climax.

It should come as no surprise that administrators and teachers alike complain of student behavior at this time, as though attention span, acting out, and other assorted negative behaviors somehow manage to reach an all time low in correlation to the mounting stress on teachers.

In truth, that describes exactly what transpires between February and March when we fail to acknowledge the oft-expressed axiom, children are sponges; our students perceive, soak up, and play our heightened state of stress and anxiety back for us.

The unfortunate fall out of an increased number of sub days, professional development days, and the odd but frequent holiday is that students in turn experience their own mounting level of anxiety in response to the disrupted schedule.

Similar to the beginning of the year, the month of February presents us with an important step in maintaining the responsive, supportive, and caring environment we worked so diligently to create those first six weeks of school. On the heels of January, and time spent reviewing expectations and classroom rules, this time presents an opportunity to check in, both with our selves, as well as with our students.

How safe and comfortable does each of our students feel in taking risks with their learning and thinking in the classroom? Do students support one another, and hold each other accountable for tolerance, respect, and positive behavior?

A colleague of mine stopped me after visiting our classroom during a typical February classroom meeting. By mid-year, my expectation is that most of our community can answer these questions with thumbs up, or at the very least, thumbs to the side which means, "yes sometimes I feel safe taking a risk by sharing my thinking, and trust that no one will make fun of me."

She expressed surprise that every student had actually answered indicating they felt safe taking risks, or that they usually felt comfortable doing so. "How," she asked with surprise, "did you manage that?!"

The answer to successfully creating and maintaining a safe, responsive, inclusive learning community lies in defining what that means, and very explicitly, what that looks like in each of our classrooms. Our answers will surely grow and evolve over time, but only by committing them to paper and sharing them with our colleagues can we ensure that our dreams become our realities.

The following serves as the benchmark against which I measure my own classroom, and I revisit it often throughout the school year. My hope is that this crazy February academic season, you enjoy the following reflection, and feel inspired to create your own. February does bring a great deal of upheaval and interruption, but it need not derail our classroom community, or increase our students' level of perceived or internal anxiety.

With luck, we can each succeed in creating a safe haven in which learning, reflection, and relaxation take place, and both our students and our selves, enjoy a safe haven in which we connect and grow together.

Selecting the right educational supplies help aid and foster a responsive classroom environment where students feel ready and confident to learn.

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