There aren’t many jobs that can match that of an educator for sheer workload. Whether an administrator, teacher, clinician, or support staff – being an educator means you are going to have an extremely hectic day, and tomorrow it will always start all over again. Educators do not have the luxury of completing a task and then stopping, resting and basking in the glory of a job well done. For an educator, when a task is complete you move directly on to the next one, because there is about to be a room full of students sitting and staring at you-- waiting to hear and see what is next.
For most the start of school is right around the corner. For some, school has already started. Given that time is both precious and in short supply for an educator, let’s talk about 5 simple things that can make a classroom a better learning environment.
1. Time Invested Pays Off | Some educators like to lay down the law as soon as students walk in the door. Some are jumping and running immediately with a lesson or with rules or with a lecture. Think about the message this sends. It tells the students that the educator is not interested in them individually, and instead, they are just part of a “herd” mentality and it is their turn through the cattle-car.
Instead of jumping straight into teaching on the first day, allot time to get to know your students. Ask them to introduce themselves and purposefully ask each one a question about himself or his summer. Don’t just go around the room and have everyone stand and say their names; personalize the process with a question directed to each student. This is a quick and easy way to make eye contact, start a dialogue, and set the tenor for direct communication. Spending 15 minutes getting to know your students and talking with, not to, them is an investment for the near future when you will be lecturing and teaching and disciplining. People, students included, put in more effort when they feel they are a part of the process and that they are individually valued.
2. Put it in Writing | After meeting your students, take a little time to set the boundaries of classroom acceptability and behavior. Now is the time to give the rules and explain your demands for the class and the individual students. Most teachers do this, but take it a step further and have two different posters on the wall. The first should be your rules for the class and the second should be your expectations and demands. Here’s the key to both:
Rules: Determine your 5 most important rules and then put them in order of importance on your poster and remind your students of them each day when class begins. This is a subtle way of continuously placing emphasis on the rules of the classroom. Make sure your rules include specific rules about respect to you as the teacher and to each other as fellow students.
Expectations: As important as rules, expectations set the tone and tenor of the class. Again, determine your top 5 expectations and begin each class reading them aloud to the students. This sets a framework for everything else you will do in your class that day. You are the educator. You are the instructor. You are the teacher. Your expertise should be the guiding force for the students learning, so boldly place your expectations for the whole class to see and then remind them daily of those expectations.
3. Let them See Your Passion | Education is a passion. Teaching is a calling not just a job. Sometimes educators have taught for so long that the fire is almost diminished by the repetition of daily class life. This is something only you can fix, and the best way to stoke a fire is to place embers close to each other and continually fan them. This means, from the very first class, explain to your students why you care about the subject(s), why it is a life skill that matters-- and, most importantly, why you chose a life dedicated to teaching these academic, life, social and emotional skills. Remind yourself why you became an educator, and let your students see your passion for your calling.
Some educators are hesitant to show their passion for fear of being perceived as “cheesy” or silly. Think of it like this: who would you rather work for? Would you rather work for an ambivalent, non-caring boss who is just going through the motions, or for a supervisor who loves what he does and cares about the outcome? Exciting people create excitement. Passionate people imbue passion. And caring people cause other people to care. Give your students a tremendous gift by showing them you have excitement, passion and caring for what you are teaching them. I promise you they will care much more if they know you care.
4. Own Your Classroom | It never ceases to amaze me that some teachers allow students to sit anywhere they want, and then proceed to get frustrated because Johnny keep talking to Joey and they just won’t stop. Your classroom is your domain – control it. Do not hesitate to place students in a certain order or seating arrangement, and if you find problems with that arrangement-- change it. A huge part of the job of an educator is creating an environment where learning can occur. It is next to impossible to learn when you have students talking and playing and goofing off with each other. Own your classroom and never hesitate to use your classroom real estate to enforce your rules. Moving and separating students is not mean, and it is not picking on them. You have to use the tools you have to give all of your students the best opportunity possible to learn. Your seating arrangement is a huge tool; proximity is a huge issue for some students' ability to maintain self control and attention.
5. End as You Began | At the end of your first class and every class thereafter, remind your students that they are there to learn. Remind them that you have expectations-– read those expectations to them again. Remind them of your seriousness, and tie it back to the passion you have for what they are learning. In other words, make them understand that their learning of your material does not end when they walk out of your classroom. Whether through homework or life applications, help them understand that what you are teaching matters for who they are and who they can become. End your class with the same excitement you teach with, and send your students out with a demand of excellence and a demand of applying your lessons within their academic and even personal lives.
A great movie is only as good as its ending. Same with a book or a song or a story. Why should your class be any different? If you have a tremendous lesson planned for 45 of your 55 minutes, and the last 10 are just spent in self-directed learning-- you have lost the momentum of your lesson if the bell rings and everyone simply gets up and leaves. Before that bell rings, call your class’ attention back to your purpose, passion and expectations. End each class with the same enthusiasm and purpose with which you started and taught. Send your students into the hallways of the school with a very clear understanding of how important what you said, and what you demanded of them, truly is. Send them into the hallways of the school building knowing that you take what they have just learned very seriously... and therefore so should they.
It is time for school. Soon the classrooms will be full and kids will be learning and educators will be educating. The difference between a good educator and a great one is the attention to the small things and an ability to have a true purpose in everything you are imparting to your students. Leave nothing to chance and your students may just surprise you by giving you a great school year. People appreciate the prepared. People follow the committed. People obey when they understand. Mold your students into the people we all need them to be.