Back to school

The New Academic Year – A Fresh Start to Build a Positive Classroom Culture

We all understand the importance of emotional intelligence and the importance of developing and sustaining a positive, welcoming school culture.

Academic outcomes mean little without a solid social emotional groundwork upon which a learner’s experience depends so heavily -- the fundamental building block is relationships. With so many changes happening around us because of covid, our learners are feeling more and more anxious and overwhelmed. Sometimes it may be necessary to put aside a lesson and address concerns on the minds of the learners. They will learn from our body language, facial expressions, and other non-verbal clues. Let us educators believe in the students more and help the learners believe in themselves.

A Fresh Start

Recently, I was chatting with some educators to inquire about how they kick off a new school year. I wanted to find some fresh ideas to share with my colleagues. They had some great ideas for introducing content. They also had wonderful ideas for how to share procedures and expectations for the year. Yet, there was something missing. Of course, setting the tone for academic success is important. So is getting learners excited about what they will learn.  But the kick-off activities they shared were all missing one purpose: building relationships. It doesn’t matter the subject or grade level. Learners won’t care about the content you are teaching until they feel a sense of belonging.

Building relationships and social skills are the most crucial elements of back to school activities. Making these your goals in the first week back will lead to positive classroom culture. Make your incoming learners feel at home through fun icebreakers and get-to-know activities. Building relationships with learners promotes a positive learning environment, helps to build our classroom community, and is probably one of the best investments we can make with our learners. When we take the time to ask questions and listen, we have a good chance of understanding our learners even better.

Positive Classroom Culture

It is very important for an educator to build relationship with learners from the very start. I have learnt it over the years that as an educator I can plan brilliant lessons. But these lessons will be a success and quality learning will happen only if I build a solid foundation and develop relationships that are built on trust and respect. Successful teaching and learning experiences ultimately depend on basic human connections and basic human needs. Many educators have no idea where to start. This is especially true when attempting to build relationships with learners who come from a different background than you do.

Learners and teachers need to feel connected, empowered, and successful. Effective educators very well know that social and emotional intelligence are vital to creating classroom and school climates that support and enhance learners’ educational experience. Right from day one of school, the learner needs to feel I am cared for by my educators and the school. We need to understand them first. Attempting to understand our learners is not a simple process because every child is a unique individual. By asking questions and listening more attentively, we can understand our learners in a better way and help them wherever required. This sounds really simple, but it’s now always as easy as it sounds. Books are amazing vehicles for building conversations around all kinds of situations and experiences. Use books to strike a conversation or to help a child overcome anxiety or books that develop values. Discuss books together. Choose activities that are of interest to the child and at his or her level. Otherwise the whole purpose of using books to connect with the learners will be defeated.

All educators at some point in their life have encountered the most challenging learners, who will allow us to teach them if with connect with them first. Once I’ve invested the time in making connections with students, I’m able to teach them more effectively because they trust me. Connecting with learners involves allowing our learners the opportunity to experience our humanness. Sometimes we think that we already know most of your learners well. But there will always be learners about whom we know very little. Find out by writing 10 things you know about each child in your classroom. You might be surprised to discover that there are one or two learners that you know very little about. Those are likely the learners that you have yet to connect with.

Learners need to feel respected, welcome, loved, heard, and safe. These are big ideas that take time to develop. Yet, setting the tone for that kind of positive classroom culture should be the number one goal of the first week of school. Setting the stage for a solid teacher-student relationship must be a priority as we teach procedures and introduce academics. Learners learn better when they view the learning environment as positive and supportive. This doesn’t mean you need to smile all the time and let go of your expectations. Replace it with getting to know your students’ needs and striving to support them. There are so many ways to foster a positive, supportive learning space for students. Integrating social skills not only helps learners feel that they belong. It also helps students collaborate and regulate their emotions. It helps your class run smoothly. And learners who are comfortable and happy are better learners. I believe that we have things to face in place to be successful with school re-entry. Together as responsible learners and educators, and one family we will make our school a safe, secure, and healthy place for all of us.