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