The Classroom Environment – Respecting the Dignity of All

In my district we use the Danielson framework for teacher evaluations. This rubric provides an approach to teaching and learning that facilitates student growth while embracing diverse student needs at the same time.

Let’s take a look at what great teachers do…

Students and teachers work in ways that demonstrate their belief that hard work will result in higher levels of learning. Student behavior is consistently appropriate, and the teacher’s handling of infractions is subtle, preventive, and respectful of students’ dignity.

How does one accomplish this balance?  It has been my privilege to observe strong classroom management practices throughout my career. Here are some strategies used that are respectful of students unique learning and behavioral needs.

  1. Use different symbols for different needs.  If a child holds up one finger it is for bathroom use.  If they hold up two fingers it is because they need a tissue.  If they hold up three fingers, they need a pencil.  If they hold up four fingers they need the nurse and if they hold up all five fingers they need the teachers assistance or wish to contribute.  This can be modified or changed based on the needs of the class.  Asking for student input is always important.
  2. When a student needs a pencil have a can of pre-sharpened pencils ready.  As the teacher is teaching, take the sharpened pencil and hand it to the child who needs it, at the same time taking their unsharpened one.  This simple strategy allows a constant flow of educational content without disruption. The teacher remains in control of content delivery or managing student groups while the child’s needs are being met (getting a sharpened pencil.)
  3. Use non-verbal cues back to students.  Teachers don’t necessarily have to say “no” when it’s not the right time for a bathroom break.  Teachers can use any cue that the class and teacher have devised for this communication.
  4. Use “brain breaks” or anchoring activities to keep the class focussed.  Simple things like clapping a pattern which students repeat or saying, “class class class” to which the students respond, “yes yes yes” gains instant attention from students.  I was in a classroom last week where when a certain music was played, the entire class knew to freeze with their hands folded.  They knew that this was a call to attention, that the teacher had something important to share.
  5. For students who struggle, work with the child, his/her parents, and/or a counselor to create a behavior contract.  When the child and teacher both sign the commitment to each other and the class, it solidifies expectations for both and decreases off task behavior in the class.  Don’t forget that incentives matter.  Keeping a growth mindset, or the belief that things can and will improve is important to children and families whose children struggle.

There are many ways to foster a respectful learning environment. Do what is necessary to strike the right balance with the students in your class.  As an adult learner you probably don’t enjoy being “called out” in a negative way for a work related product. Honor students and keep your interactions with them positive. These strategies improve educational outcomes for students and staff.

~ Karen Wood

The Classroom Environment-Seating

In my district, we use the Danielson rubric for effective teaching.  One of the most important facets of the rubric, is the classroom environment.

Let’s take a look at how great teachers maximize classroom environment.

Effective teachers organize their classrooms so that all students can learn.  This can be everything from how chairs and desks are arranged to what types of furniture are being used.  I love seeing classes with flexible seating or other options for students.

Last year we had a classroom with a blow-up swimming pool in it.  This was a favorite place for students to lounge and read or write. Students often sat in the “pool” for discussion groups as well. One of the other exciting seating options was the use of “pub height” tables and stools or chairs made from exercise balls.  Keep in mind that students need flexibility and options.  So do teachers.  Not every student learns the same way and some prefer to be lounged out comfortably rather than sitting erect at an uncomfortable desk.

Giving students choice is a sure fire way to liven up your classroom and maximize student engagement. Don’t forget to use a funding source like Go Fund Me to raise money for those comfy chairs that don’t seem to fit into your school budget.

Remember that flexibility and options work for ALL learners.  Wouldn’t you be happier if you had a choice while learning?

~Karen Wood


Students Supporting Learning

Our district uses the Danielson rubric for teaching. I am always impressed with the way teachers engage students. What always is the most impressive practice is how teachers create a safe learning environment for students. When this happens, there is learning and excitement and FUN!

Let’s take a look at what great teachers do to foster student supported learning in the classroom…

Students themselves make a substantive contribution to the effective functioning of the class by assisting with classroom procedures, ensuring effective use of physical space, and supporting the learning of classmates.

I have observed this occur in classroom over and over again in a multitude of effective ways. Seek student feedback when creating classroom procedures.  One of our schools was adjusting to a group of students who came to our school from another location in the county. Our school has a clear set of expectations and goals however these students were having some trouble adjusting to the established climate. The skilled Principal created two new programs.

New Student Orientation…

This was never necessary in our school before but you know the saying…”necessity is the mother of invention.” New students met with important people in the school such as the Principal, counselor, nurse, cafeteria manager, media specialist, and the playground/cafeteria aide. The orientation was provided in a comfortable space. In this case it was the library at tables where students and adults could interact with each other. Pizza was also included. Presenting expectations in a non-confrontational way was palatable to the new students and it worked marvelously!

Ask Me Why VIP….

When students were struggling to adhere to classroom expectations, a skilled teacher devised the Ask Me Why VIP program. Students wore “Ask Me Why VIP” badges and were important liaisons between the teacher and students. After the teacher provided instruction, the rest of the class asked the “Ask Me Why VIP” students questions. They also asked the VIP’s to clarify statements the teacher made and they asked their opinion. The engagement with both content and fellow students helped to anchor the students into the learning cycle and support student learning. It kept the VIP’s focussed on the content because they knew being a VIP was an important role and that their classmates would be seeking their advice, feedback, or opinion on something content-related.

Supporting the learning of classmates contributes to overall success in the classroom including the teachers. If teachers and administrators can continue to find skillful ways to have students support one another’s learning, the environment remains trusting and safe. Students will engage with one another, the teacher, and the content for rich, authentic learning experiences. As an adult learner, don’t you feel better about contributing knowing your ideas are being heard, respected and implemented by your colleagues? Try engaging in these strategies in your workplace or classroom.

~ Karen Wood



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Tonight I learned how important it is to stand up for what you believe in – no matter what.  My daughter’s cheer team made it to Nationals.  This is a very exciting accomplishment for all the girls on the team as well as parents and coaches since this is our first time making it this far.  Needless to say, emotions are high and everyone wants to perform their best.

Tonight when I was outside with parents and girls, one of the coaches approached my daughter and criticized her performance today.  My daughter did not talk back.  I could see she was sad.  Her lip began to tremble and her eyes welled with tears.  As a mom, seeing my nine year old ready to cry in front of her coach, parents, and other girls on the team was heart-wrenching.  But with pride, she kept her stiff upper lip.

It was another mother who spoke up (first) on my daughter’s behalf.  She was concerned that the coach was reprimanding a girl on the team in front of so many people.  I was grateful that she started the conversation, mostly because I couldn’t trust myself to speak.  “Mama bear” was getting angry.  I did defend my daughter and told the coach that speaking to my daughter or anyone’s daughter in that way was inappropriate, mean, and disrespectful.

Don’t get me wrong.  We respect coaches and anyone of authority in my family.  I told my daughter, who is worried about their final performance tomorrow, that she should be respectful and tolerate the coaches statements and observations (even if she “calls my daughter out”) again.  Other parents left to report the conflict to the head coach and the head coach paid us a very welcome (and necessary visit).  My daughter and I had a few tears and a really good discussion about respect and kindness.  (Deep breaths were necessary too – lots of them!)

The whole situation reminded me of this quote:

Karen Wood Superintendent

I wish more people would consider this quote in MANY circumstances. This isn’t just about my daughter and a coach who lacked respect for her cheerleaders. This is about so many people who have the ability to nurture, guide, coach, teach, and inspire. Isn’t that what we should all be striving for? To inspire?

I know that even through a challenging situation, I will do my best to cultivate the best environment for the flowers in my charge….wherever that might be.