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Seven strategies for a happy classroom

In a happy classroom setting, a child's academic, emotional and social needs are addressed.

Phyllis Farias

School-going children spend a greater part of their day in classrooms, and for teaching and learning to be truly effective, it is important that classrooms are safe, happy and welcoming spaces. Here are nine strategies that can help teachers create a positive classroom experience.

1.The ‘Whale Done’ response:

Teachers often wait for perfect work or behavior to praise a child. Sometimes it may never happen by the teacher’s standard of perfection. Instead, what if one praises the little steps the child is making to reach the goal?

Taken from the book titled Whale Done by Ken Blanchard, the 'Whale Done' response empowers one to build positive relationships – teacher and pupils, parents and children or in fact any relationship. A beautiful line in the book says ‘Praise progress, it’s a moving target’. Here is the 'Whale Done' response:

  • Praise students immediately, i.e. as soon as the behaviour occurs.
  • Be specific about what they did right or almost right.
  • Share your positive feelings about what they did.
  • Encourage them to keep up the good work.

2. The 'redirection' response:

This response needs conscious practice before it becomes a part of a teacher’s behavior.

  • Describe the error or problem as soon as possible, clearly and without blame.
  • Explain its negative impact.
  • If appropriate, take the responsibility for not making the task clear (For instance, ‘I am sorry, I did not communicate the instructions clearly').
  • Go over the task in detail and make sure it is clearly understood.
  • Express your continuing trust and confidence in the student.

3. Ask yourself:

When teachers embark on a teaching career, they need to answer some questions for themselves in order to be the kind of teacher they aspire to be. For instance, questions such as:

  • What kind of values and attitudes do I need, to develop the right kind of values and attitudes in my students?
  • What kind of skills would I require, to develop key life skills such as managing emotions and problem solving in my students?
  • How will I maintain a balance between academic performance and emotional wellbeing of my students?
  • Twenty or thirty years from now how will I want my students to remember me?

Answers to these questions will help teachers gain better insight on how they can excel in their chosen vocation.

4. Set healthy boundaries:

Children need boundary lines within which they can operate and this applies to both classroom and home settings. It reminds me of a child who ran away from the house, and when found by the police, he explained, "I do not want to go home, my home lacks discipline." What the child meant was that there was no one who cared enough about him to give him the boundaries – the limits. Children need to feel secure and cared for and boundary lines help achieve this.

In the classroom, boundaries can be established in different ways. For example, in the lower classes, the teacher—with a little help from the students—can make a 'traffic light' for the class. The red light rules will be common for adults and children. For instance, "We will not use our hands to hit anyone." The amber light rules will be different for teachers and children. For example, "When at work you will not walk around in the class and disturb the others." The green light rules are the areas where children have freedom. For instance, the teacher could give them freedom to create a story, or an art piece or ask questions and share ideas and opinions.

In middle school and high school the students can be involved in the making of class agreements (for example, "We agree to be on time.") and the consequences.
 

5. Focus on the process:

Teachers normally focus on the results or the outcome, and while this matters, the method or process is equally important. A seven-year-old child once said to her parents, "Going to school is like hurting a bird whose wings are not hurt." What the child meant was that learning was not fun as she had to do it the teacher’s way and there was no place for her way.

Children are happy when they can experience, explore, observe, communicate – in other words, when they are fully engaged in the process of learning. It is also important to remember that children learn differently. It would be good to keep in mind a quote from Howard Gardner, "Know as much as you can about the kids rather than make them pass through the same eye of the needle."
 

6. Avoid scapegoating:

In every school and possibly in every classroom there are scapegoats. The scapegoat is the student who:

  • is caught and blamed for all misbehavior in the class/school.
  • is manipulated and not aware that they are being manipulated.
  • is generally slower in covering up and therefore the misbehavior is much more visible. The manipulators stand aside and watch the fun.
  • has no plausible excuse for their behavior except to say that someone else started it (The excuse is not believed by the teacher).

In such situations, teachers should be observant and listen with all their antennae out. Have a meeting with all the concerned students to understand the issue. Do not act as an umpire – instead ask everyone involved questions that will help put the issue in the right perspective. Refrain from being judgemental.

7. Reflect:

Dr Thomas Gordon in his book Teacher Effectiveness Training, brings out the concept of 'teacher-owned' problems and 'student-owned' problems. Teachers should learn to identify the problems that they 'own'. Does the behavior of the child affect your feelings and interfere with your needs? For example, is your own success tied to your student’s behavior and performance? If yes, then you as the teacher own the problem. You now have three choices before you:​

  1. Change the student: If the child’s behavior is a problem, then suggesting to the parents that they withdraw the child from school is definitely not the solution. A better way, would be to convey to the child, how the behavior makes you feel, without threatening or ridiculing them. Use the ‘I’ message, for instance, "I feel angry when you act the clown in class and disturb my flow of thought." This will bring in honesty and transparency into the teacher-student relationship. In the long run it will foster a rapport. A little affection and love shown can bring about a miraculous change in the behavior of a child. If the problem is ‘student owned’, help the child take ownership of the problem and face the consequences of the disruptive behavior. Above all, build a partnership with parents. Use the diary – not only as a “complaint book” but also as a means to communicate positive messages about the child to the parents.

  2. Change the environment: Wherever possible think of changing the environment creatively. Generally, the education system tends to make everybody like everybody else. This could be one of the causes for misbehavior as the same fit does not fit all. Every teacher and every student is unique and therefore the system should be dynamic, constantly evolving and changing.

  3. Change yourself: Let me share a thought that I picked up from a book titled Living, Loving and Learning by Leo F Buscaglia, PhD. He asks, "Should you be a loving teacher or a loving human being?" He goes on to say that children identify with people, with human beings. They have great difficulty identifying with a teacher for most of the time the teacher is playing a role. We have to be more than a loving teacher.

As a closing thought, let us also learn from the younger generation. They are our best teachers in that, through their behavior they are giving us messages on how they want to be treated. As a teacher, ask yourself whether you model being an enthusiastic learner. Look at the quality of your teaching and the preparation that goes into your teaching. Teachers who are knowledgeable, have the right attitudes, are organized, behave confidently, and have things under their control, are less likely to face aggression or disruption. The teacher with the greatest openness to the thoughts of others can, and generally will control the outcome of any interaction. Students do perceive the teacher’s efforts. Respect earned and commanded is the greatest antidote to disruptive behavior.

Phyllis Farias is a Bangalore-based Education Management Consultant. Over the years, she has taught at all levels – from primary school to teachers' training in college. In addition, she has conducted workshops, seminars and training programs in schools, colleges and professional institutions throughout the country.