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.