Reflecting on Classroom Culture
Have you ever put yourself in the shoes of your students and wondered what it feels like for them to be in your class? I challenge you to take on this thought! I strive to facilitate a safe and nurturing learning environment, one where my kindergartners feel valued and connected to what they are learning. Am I meeting my goal of providing a positive learning space for my kids? With the hustle of everything that comes with teaching, I do try to take moments to stand back and observe my kids to see what their actions can tell me.
Most mornings I, along with my student greeter, get to acknowledge the kids as they enter the classroom. The kids know to meet me on the carpet for our morning song, and about half of them do. A handful of kids walk around the classroom to see what centers I have set up for them. Some kids head over to our daily schedule and take a look to see what is happening. Others briefly visit with other peers before finding their spot on the carpet. These actions alone tell me the kids are curious about what they will be engaging with in the day and have that desire to connect with each other. I can work with this!
Still observing their actions as the day unfolds, I look closely at the way the kids work and let their actions tell me more. I see some kids talking and working at the same time, some kids in the zone with an activity, and on occasion a few kids are more focused on the materials they are working with than the actual learning activity itself. Why are the kids playing with the materials? (When I say materials, think of rubber bands, paint, and play dough.) While they are choosing not to focus on the activity, I challenge myself to think beyond their actions. Did I not articulate my expectations well? Is this activity "old" for them now and I need to change it up? In the moment, I check in with these students, and try to plan ahead for next time to get these students more naturally engaged.
At another point in the day I have a handful of students read with me one on one. I watch the body language of the kiddo as he or she sits beside me with the early reader books on the carpet. When I first started pulling the kids to read with me, it was not uncommon for a student to approach me with an uneasy vibe, nervous face and say, "I don't know how to read." This child may not feel safe right now to work with me. I had to choose my next actions carefully. I did not want to shrug off his thought or even tell him that we would read together. My response was, "There are some things you know about this book..." Our session continued with me prompting him to show and tell me his understanding of what he did know, to build his confidence. Turns he knew more than they thought, even some of the sight words in the sentences. We wrapped up our session with making some connections to the book, and the kiddo left me with a small smile. I was happy to help this student understand what he could do and start building his confidence as a reader.
My intent for this post was to give you a glimpse into my classroom and how I think and reflect. I know there is a lot of pressure for educators to make sure students learn the content they are supposed to, but we cannot get so wrapped up in the content we forget that we are teaching kids. If I have learned anything so far, it's that my students get more out of activities when they feel a connection to them. If the kids find meaning in their work, there is a good chance they are engaged with their learning. If my kids are engaged with their learning, I'm a happy teacher. The best teaching days are when the kids and I can feel the positive energy, the harmony, within the classroom. Do I have the classroom culture and management down pat yet? Nope. I can really use more ideas, resources, or strategies on how to continue to foster a positive classroom culture within my classroom. This is where I can use your input, Lisa. What are some authentic ways I can help my students to understand and really feel like we are a community of learners?