The Five W’s (and one H) to Cultivating a Positive Classroom Environment – The End

How does this all come together?

Although our journey through positive classroom environments has been fragmented into four separate blog posts, the concepts expressed in each are far from detached. The who, what, and why pertaining to cultivating a positive classroom environment paint a cohesive picture, one that each of us can relate to. After reflecting on the level of catharsis I experienced while writing these blogs, I believe that my passion for building a positive environment partially stems from the pain I have felt from the lack of it in my past. In hindsight, I can identify too many situations, whether in a classroom, on a sports team, in another extracurricular, or within a group of people, where I did not feel that the environment was conducive for growth. The scars from those experiences stay with you, just like the fond memories from positive environments do, too. Writing these blogs has deepened my understanding for how strongly I feel about being the reason for happy memories, not for the harmful scars (see video in the hyperlink for evidence of that.)

Why observe?

By practicing tasks like observing, questioning, researching and reflecting, I have already enhanced my ability to create a positive classroom environment in the future. There’s a lot that can come out of mere observations. Observing student behavior can reveal much about how they feel in the classroom. Watching the way that the children lit up when we welcomed them to our table at the Science Rounds event was an immediate indicator that they were excited to be there and that we had greeted them effectively. Although that scenario can often be true, I have learned that initial observations do not always make immediate implications about the effectiveness of one’s teaching or how the students feel in the environment. For instance, I made the observation in my first post that some children were throwing frequent temper tantrums, and I asked if a more positive classroom environment would decrease the number of temper tantrums. Although that is possible, I realized that a first observation is never enough evidence to make an assumption and that behaviors are sometimes driven for reasons much deeper than what we can see. In my own future practice, I must dig deep to discover how my students feel in my classroom environment, rather than making assumptions based off of one instance of behavior.

Why question? Why research?

Moreover, my questions following the observations must highlight the complexities of the situation. By asking if a positive environment makes a difference in the frequency of temper tantrums in my field placement, I am limiting myself to only one potential antecedent. Rather, my goal should be to question the reason for the tantrums and then use research to discover the possible solutions. I need to keep the question specific to the behavior but avoid inserting my own judgments into the question, since biased questioning can influence the search results. I believe that I was so focused on positive classroom environments (which is not necessarily a bad thing) that I did not question or research other possible motivators for behaviors I observed throughout field placement.

Why reflect?

As someone who fully embodies and believes in growth mindset, I see myself as having strong reflective qualities. Often, I look for ways to improve and learn, since there is no existing endpoint to either. Throughout the blog posts, I made an effort to pull from my own experiences, such as the story I told about my professor. Pulling from the past and present to prepare for the future is essential to be a successful teacher. Not only does reflection benefit our research but it also makes us more accountable human beings and allows us to evolve into improved people. I would love to continue expressing this reflective process, sharing my values, practices, and beliefs, through blogging as I journey through my career. As someone who loves to write, I have discovered that blogging is an awesome forum to use my voice for advocacy and critical thinking.

Why change?

If I were given the chance to do this entire assignment over again, I would not limit myself to one topic and would question my observations in an open manner. Due to my passion for positive classroom environments and my desire to learn more about that subject, it seems that I limited all of  my observations to fall under a preconceived question, whereas the question should have been formed after the observation. By expanding the horizons of my questioning, I believe that my research could have opened many more doors for me and provided me with more concrete answers. However, I do not regret completing the blogs the way that I did because it was a great learning experience and I stayed committed to something that I care about.

Why R2P?

As I walk away from this assignment, I now have a rich understanding and appreciation for questioning. Teachers do not have the ability to just look the other way. For a variety of reasons, many people in society choose to ignore certain things that they see or hear; we tend to turn our backs on what we don’t understand or don’t wish to learn more about. Teachers, on the other hand, will never have this ability. Observing, questioning, and researching has reminded me how complex human behavior is. This assignment has lead me to make a promise that I will never turn my back on human behavior and that each of my students will encompass many unique complexities. It will be my job to learn about these complexities and then implement my findings into practice.

To the future students of ERCH 496, I hope that you will keep your minds and hearts open. I hope that you take this assignment seriously and see the value that it has in our future careers. Although you may not put your thoughts into a blog, the process involved in these posts mimics the life of a teacher, so it is vital that we discover the value in that.

Thank you all for reading!

The Five W’s (and one H) to Cultivating a Positive Classroom Environment – Why?

So what’s the purpose?

We talk and we talk about best practices. What’s developmentally appropriate? What’s culturally inclusive? What’s the most effective form of instruction? We constantly ask ourselves what’s the best path to take to the final destination but we often forget the looming question of why?

My readers have traveled with me on this blog journey which explored the depths of positive classroom environments. We now understand the characteristics of a positive classroom environment and who plays a role in making this happen. We understand that teachers are supposed to strive to build their classrooms in a way that reflects these qualities, but again, I ask myself why? Traditional schoolhouses simply focused on the act of delivering content to students and maintaining discipline. So why do we now place so much value on cultivating a positive classroom environment? To succeed in this field, we must remember our purpose.

There was a boy in my field placement who was removed from the school. He had unidentified behavioral issues and was defiant towards his teachers. He often was physically violent towards other children and the final straw was an incident where the child pulled out an African American girl’s braid, which was real hair attached to her scalp. I’m sure you can imagine how upset the girl’s family was and how concerned they became with the quality of the classroom environment. Although this is a more extreme example, it highlights some of the underlying messages I am getting at here.

An article on classroom environments and student empowerment discusses how teachers must lead with a growth mindset, who uses affirmations and builds positive relationships in order for the class to feel conducive for learning. The article presents a study that evaluates the impact the environment has on school success and they found that these types of teachers had the best results. However, there is an even more basic reason as for why a positive learning environment is so necessary.

A professor once shared a story with my class. She asked us what the most important object we had on us was and if we would let someone we just met borrow it for a day. Most of us said yes, so she asked about a week, then a month, then an entire year. By the time she asked us if we’d let a new person in our lives borrow our most valuable item for a year, the entire class said no. The majority of the class even disagreed with lending the object for a month. She followed up by saying, “This is what it’s like for parents to bring their kids to school. You are borrowing their most valuable prize for an entire year. Imagine the trust that takes.”

So now let’s go back to the young girl from my field placement. Every day, her parents drop her off and expect that she is safe, emotionally, socially, and physically. These bonds were broken, and it is up to the teachers to rebuild them again, even though the incident was not necessarily their fault. Each child in the classroom is someone’s valuable prize. As teachers, we are expected to keep them safe and happy for an entire year. We are expected to facilitate their growth and open up the windows of learning. Every day, we are responsible for 20 plus fragile, valuable prizes. Why is the classroom environment important? Well, I suppose that if someone had 20 valuable prizes, they would not just toss them to the side or keep them in an old box. Rather, these prizes would be kept on display or in a safe place where they maintain good condition and are admired for their beauty.