Refocusing and Recharging to Build a Strong Classroom Climate
As we wrap up another unprecedented school year where we were challenged more than ever to attend to our students’ social emotional needs, we are all very much looking forward to a well-deserved break this summer to rejuvenate and recharge. However, this summer is also a time to reconnect and refocus on what brought us all to our current roles: student success.
What can we do to respond to the ever-increasing levels of anxiety, depression, and lack of motivation in our students?
So, once you have attended to your own mental health (putting the oxygen mask on yourself first), we invite you to take some time this summer to reexamine three ways to create a foundation of a strong classroom climate that will support both social emotional and academic growth for all.
A strong classroom community is one where the students know one another, and then actively support one another in academic work. The skills and activities to do this community building are accessible to all, but not present in most teacher preparation programs and rarely a priority in Professional Development. See the resources below, including Chapter 16: Classroom Climate of The Skillful Teacher and our self-paced online course, Making Student Thinking Visible, to help you build your skill in engaging students with one another below. See also We Are Crew: A Teamwork Approach to School Culture By Ron Berger, et al.
Create Student Agency
Set deliberate and appropriate structures for instilling students agency and making decisions about the structure of classroom life. Along with that goes some control about how they influence their own learning and goal setting – properly paced to be a sound developmental arc toward more student responsibility. These resources below offer some concrete strategies for empowering students:
- Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom 3rd Edition, by Elizabeth G. Cohen, Rachel A. Lotan,
- “You Can’t Control Me!” Cultivating Authority in a Struggling Urban High School, by Erika M. Kitzmiller
Somewhere in our lives we had someone who believed in us, and that belief made all the difference. We educators must deliberately continue to send the message to all our students that “smart is something you can get.”
And for students to believe it, they need to hear a consistent message from us that says:
- What we’re doing is important
- You can do it
- I’m not going to give up on you.
It has long been established that healthy, deliberately built class climates produce better student achievement. It would be highly worthwhile to do even if the last decade of school shootings, toxic social media, and a worldwide pandemic hadn’t elevated student anxiety to today’s over-the-top level. But today these are essential teaching skills. Learning how to build a strong class climate is not just about academic achievement but also about giving students, and ourselves, safe and mentally healthy learning environments.
Berger, R., Anne Vilen, Libby Woodfin (2020) We Are Crew: A Teamwork Approach to School Culture. EL Education
Cohen, E, Rachel A. Lotan (2014), Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom 3rd Edition. Teachers College Press
Kitzmiller, Erika M. (2013) “You Can’t Control Me!” Cultivating Authority in a Struggling Urban High School. American Educational Research Journal.
Saphier, Jon, MaryAnn Haley, Robert R. Gower. (2018) The Skillful Teacher 7th edition. Research for Better Teaching,
Saphier, Jon. (2017) High Expectations Teaching. Research for Better Teaching.