A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. - Henry Adams
Jerry Smith's Digital Teaching Portfolio
 

Standard II: Creates and Maintains an Effective Learning Climate

Introduction

Jerry Smith Creating a Learning ClimateI didn't really understand the concept of a learning climate before my MAT experience. I assumed that creating a climate just meant establishing the right rules. WRONG! While classroom rules are important, there are many other things related to the structure of learning that are equally important. Physical conditions, such as temperature and chair arrangement, play as important a factor in students being able to learn as anything else. My learning climate came from many sources: my MAT readings, suggestions from veteran educators, the students themselves, and a whole lot of trial and error.

Evidence presented in this standard represents the potpourri that is required to create an effective learning climate. You will find several documents that provide proof that I put a great deal of planning into the classroom rules I set. You will also find a very simple activity that I have utilized more than anything else in figuring out what the students really want out of life. Finally, you will find information on what I have learned about learning and physicality.

The Evidence

Planning the Climate

  • Classroom Management Style Analysis (RTF Format) - The following document is the classroom management style survey I completed for Module I. It really got me thinking about what I liked about my management style and what I didn't. In this document, I identified that I wanted to be an authoritative instructor because of the firm but caring nature. I decided I needed a better handle on discipline in order to achieve this.

    I have put a great deal of effort in being more of a disciplinarian, and I think it has paid off. I have had far fewer discipline and disruption problems during the second semester because I have written more people up and punished much more when necessary. They now know I am gentle as a lamb most of the time but hard as nails when it is required.

  • Important Parts of the Classroom Climate (RTF Format) -- >The following document is a list of five things I identified as important aspects for creating an effective classroom climate. Looking back, I think the five things I identified are really important. Allow me to reflect on my success in the five areas I identified:

    1. Getting to Know Your Students — I think I accomplished this goal and I think this is the one area I did very well in even from the very beginning when I didn’t know anything about teaching. For one thing, I have a very good memory for small details about people. This has proven useful because if you can remember something a student has told you that is important in his or her life, you have made a friend forever.
      I used a variety of methods to get to know my students. Initially, I thought that surveys and questionnaires would give me a great deal of help with this, but the students are too suspicious of such things to give an honest answer. So, my primary way of getting to know them was just talking to the students throughout the day. While they work, I try to make comments about their work that will prompt them to give me feedback. This feedback can tell you a whole lot about a student. Beyond talking, I have the students write me a letter explaining, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (Two sample responses are included later in this standard.) This simple question helps me to understand what makes a student tick more than anything else. It helps me to learn about their dreams and aspirations. Finally, I talk to my fellow teachers about the students we share in common. Although I try not to base my opinion of a student entirely on what another teacher tells me, I have found that it is much easier to get the big picture about a student if you combine information and perspective from two or more teachers.
    2. Setting and Consistently Maintaining Boundaries — I feel I have done a pretty good job with this one, even though my ability to do this was rocky at first. The students know from day one what I expect and don’t expect. Every time I have written someone up or had to discipline them, I always ask, “Do you understand why you are in trouble?” Not once have I had a student tell me that the expectation or rule was unclear. I also ask, “Do you think the punishment fits the crime?” Again, all have agreed that they get what they deserve. To me, these two things are signs of success.
    3. Preventing Boredom — This one is important, but I don’t know if there is any one way to accomplish this because each and every class (and student) has his or her own threshold for boredom. I try to make activities fun, but some skills aren’t fun but must be learned (learning to type, for example). Even the most relevant of activities cannot compete with a sunny day. Keeping the students as busy as possible with meaningful work goes a long way, but if they come to class bored, this doesn’t seem to help too much. So, I’m going to chalk this one up to a work in progress: I still haven’t figured out how to prevent boredom, but I have learned strategies to mitigate it!
    4. Student Safety — I feel I have accomplished this. On the emotional side, I don’t think a student has ever felt ridiculed in my class. I don’t do it, and some of the most severe punishments I have reined down were because one student was giving another a hard time in a non-joking manner. The expectations on this are very clear. On the physical side, no one has gotten hurt!
    5. Special Care for Special Needs -- I haven’t had a lot of special needs students, but I think I have provided them with a solid learning environment. I know I spent more time doing one-on-one work with the few TEPs I have had. (I actually managed to improve the reading ability of one student by helping him with phonics.) I think the biggest thing with the majority of special needs students is just to get them to calm down and realize that they can do the work! I have used the phrase, “Calm down! It’ll be fine!” more than I can remember and it seems to work.
  • Simple Exercise for Getting to Know Your Students -- The following is a prompt that I give to my students in all my classes within the first couple weeks. It has worked tremendously to help me know what makes my kids tick. I have found that even the students who seem to care nothing for school are more than willing to tell you their dreams.
    What do you want to be when you grow up? Please put some serious thought into this: I will be using your answers to help you plan for getting a job/continuing your education when you graduate. Please use the business letter format discussed per Mr. Smith's directions.
    Two Sample Responses to this Question with Feedback
    Sample 1 (JPG Format)
    Sample 2 (JPG Format)

Codify the Climate

  • Jerry Smith's Philosopy of Educaton
    I believe all students can learn if they see the relevance of what is presented to them.
    I believe all educational experiences should be as authentic as possible: Only that which has been applied can truly be understood.
    I believe the end result of a student's journey to enlightenment is secondary to every step along the way.
    I believe educators touch students' lives every day in ways they will never know, so every exchange must be open, honest, and sincere.
    I believe every student is someone's child, and we must treat them all as we would our own.
    I believe that every child is different, with special needs, talents, and interests.
    I believe that I can learn as much from the students as they can from me.
  • Classroom Management Plan (RTF Format) - This document is a list of classroom rules, standard procedures, and safety rules that are distributed with all my course syllabi. Students are required to sign off on it. Next year, I'm going to give a quiz based on this to make sure students really understand how my courses work.

    The five basic rules are adapted from the Wong material given to us at the beginning of the Fall semester. The classroom procedures all stem from the five basic rules. My procedures actually evolved a little between the Fall and Spring semester (although I have no copy of the Fall procedures.) The evolution mostly had to do with specificity. I found that you must be very specific or otherwise the procedures are almost useless as the students do not follow them as intended.

    I do not have formal rewards listed because no two students would ever respond to the same rewards. Some will bend over backwards to get you to say, "Good job" while others will do so if you give them a candy bar for a good response (which I have done a few times). Therefore, I figure out what makes the students/class tick and then decide what reward structure to use.

    The safety rules may seem a bit odd, however, safety is a big issue within the KY Tech system. I am happy to say that there have been no accident reports filed that originated from my classroom!

Physical Climate

Below are some documents that describe what I have learned about the physical climate of a classroom and how it affects learning.

Reflection

Creating a learning climate is arguably the most multi-dimensional area of teaching. Take human emotion and trust, then mix them with the physical environment, and maybe then can you understand what a learning climate is really about. I wish moving the chairs around could provide all the answers, but the truth is, I'll never know all the answers because they change with each new classroom full of (hopefully) smiling faces.

I don't know that I'll ever be satisfied with my learning climate. Every day, I see something that could be changed to make it easier for the students to learn. Like everything else in teaching, creating a climate is a process, so as long as I never get content with the current situation, I think my climates will improve every year I teach.

Comfort, safety (emotional and physical), and predictability are probably the biggest three determinants in making sure a climate is successful. I have seen a great deal of stress and anxiety within the first two weeks of class because most students don't like change. I try to make sure that classroom procedures do not change mid-semester, however, there have been a few times where such changes were absolutely necessary. Reassurance that everything will be ok is the best mitigation strategy I've devised to deal with mid-semester change.

I try to give praise more than criticism whenever possible. Some of my worst students are only that way because all they hear all day long is how they do wrong. As the old saying goes, "If you kick a dog long enough, he won't get back up." I have seen at least five students do amazingly well once I convince them that they can do it if they try. The "convincing" part is tough because it takes FOREVER to earn their trust! If they don't trust you, they don't feel safe! If they don't feel safe, how can they learn?

My biggest disappointment with my learning climate is the lack of decorations around my classroom. Decorating always takes a back seat to other issues. I did have a pumpkin for Halloween and a little Christmas tree, but next year, I would like to do much more to brighten up the room. Aside from holiday decorations, I want to populate the walls with content area posters.

Overall, I think I managed to create a decent learning climate this year. If something didn't work, I stepped back and tried something else. Once again, I know I cannot create a good learning climate without knowing my students. It's all about knowing what makes them tick. There are some common elements that will work with each classroom, but I must tweak and change my approach with each new set of faces. It's a tiring process, but I don't feel I would be doing my job without continuously adapting to meet the needs of the students. It doesn't matter if I love how the way class is set up and structured if the students aren't happy with it. I guess the easiest way to sum it all up is to say that if my students walk into my class and trust me, they will learn.







 
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