How a healthy environment checks all of my boxes
A large portion of my checklist is focused on the classroom environment both physically and emotionally. It is really important to me that my classroom feels like a safe space for students to have the opportunity to try out new ideas and often fail. Each piece of m checklist aims to create this environment. The safety of the environment is also one of physical safety as I teach engineering and robotics. I feel strongly that students should not feel limited in their risk taking simply because they are surrounded by potentially dangerous tools. Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) point out “Other studies have demonstrated that aesthetically pleasing environments can have a positive effect on attendance and feelings of group cohesion (Horowitz & Otto, 1973) and on participation in class discussions (Sommer & Olson, 1980)” (p. 40). By hanging student work on the walls, ensuring that I am always prepped for class, and laying out materials neatly I aim to accomplish this goal. Physical settings serve six basic functions according to (Steele, 1973): “security and shelter, social contact, symbolic identification, task instrumentality, pleasure, and growth. (Weinstein & Novodvorsky, 2007, p. 29). In the engineering lab I am fortunate enough to really feel that I can establish each of these functions because the space is so versatile. As Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) explain, “Looking at the classroom as if we have never seen one before may help us recognize some its strange characteristics and contradictions” (p. 2). In order to create my checklist and understand what I may miss at times I tried to step back and understand what I wanted and what my students needed. Below are the goals I found that I was aiming to reach and how I decided to strive for them.
Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) make a point that I agree with: “Caring is not just about being affectionate and respectful; it is also about ... providing needed organization and structure” (p. 1). Each day prior to class I work hard to organize my plan for the day. My hope is that this encourages students and makes them feel safe and cared for. Weinstein & Novodvorsky say better: “Careful planning of this environment – within the constraints of your daily schedule-is an integral part of good classroom management. Moreover, creating a comfortable, functional classroom is one way to show your students that you care about them.” (2007, p. 28). Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) explain, “The important question here is whether students and teachers find the classroom attractive and appealing” (p. 40). In this realm I work to always say hello to students, create an open dialogue about where their minds are at when entering my room, and working together to find a place to meet mentally and emotionally. I invite students to display work they are proud of on the walls, and I ask the students to take initiative in keeping the room organized. This group effort helps to build a place of care. Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) explain: “In a classic study on environmental attractiveness, experimenters compared interviews that took place in an “ugly” room with those that took place in a “beautiful” room (Maslow & Mintz, 1956). The researchers found that interviewers assigned to the ugly room complained of headaches, fatigue, and discomfort. Furthermore, the interviews finished more quickly in the ugly room. Apparently, people in the ugly room tried to finish their task as quickly as possible to escape from the unpleasant setting.” (p. 40). By working to keep the room attractive I hope that it communicates to my students that I care. “We define classroom management as the actions teachers take to establish and sustain a caring, orderly environment that fosters students’ academic learning as well as their social and emotional growth. From this perspective, how a teacher achieves order is as important as whether a teacher achieves order (Evertson & Weinstein, 2006).” (Weinstein & Novodvorsky, 2007, p. 5).
an inviation to learn
"Before the first student enters your classroom. You need to think about your expectations for behavior. Not only do you need to decide on rules for students’ gender conduct, you also need to identify the behavioral routines or procedures that you and your students will follow in specific situations" (Weinstein & Novodvorsky, 2015). Going with this idea I always focus on communicating the plan with my students. I think it is important to be transparent and always make my expectations clear. Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) argue that a classroom “Should be a setting that invites students into the learning experience (Strong-Wilson & Ellis, 2007)-to explore, observe, investigate, test, and discover.” (p. 40). I do this by actually saying hello, allowing appropriate time for student thinking, and assigning work throughout the lesson that is manageable. Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) explain that “Successful management fosters self-discipline and personal responsibility”. By communicating the plan I am asking the students to meet the requirements and I am holding them accountable. I am also allowing room for the students to make their own decisions in hope that it will encourage growth. Weinstein & Novodvorksy (2007) that says, “Becoming an effective classroom manager requires knowledge, reflection, hard work, and classroom experience” (p. 6-7). Of course, experience is one piece that I only have a few years of now, but I hope that with time I can continue to manage the classroom even better. Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) also explain, “The physical environment can influence the way teachers and students feel, think, and behave” (p. 28). As I mentioned in the idea of communicating care, it is important to me to display student work as a way to show care and also to encourage learning. I do not think that students should need to memorize equations, but I do think they need to learn their function. So, I allow students to make attractive posters that share the equations to hang on the walls during chapters.
physical and emotional security
Weinstein & Novodvorksy (200&) additionally states, “Often school environments provide physical security but fail to offer psychological security-the feeling that this is a good, comfortable place to be” (p. 30). I have worked incredibly hard to offer the psychological security. It is important to me that my students feel like they can fail and feel as though they can admit struggle, defeat, and failure. I want them to see these as temporary moments. This greatly leads to the way in which I provide feedback. I work hard to be timely and mention both positives and negatives. You can see a sample selection of my feedback here. I also work to encourage this feedback verbally in class to keep my students motivated. “Another way to increase psychological security is to arrange classroom space so that students have as much freedom from interference as possible” (Weinstein & Novodvorsky, 2007, p. 30). I try to do this as well by having a large open room with a lot of space to move around and explore ideas. I want them students to constantly be working with their hands to better understand ideas and I feel that it is important for students to have the time and space to accomplish this. Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) explain similarly, “Physical security is a particularly important issue in classes such as science, home economics, woodworking, and art where students come into contact with potentially dangerous supplies and equipment” (p. 29). This of course directly applies when I teach in the engineering lab. It is important for me to teach the students how to handle themselves so that they can remain safe and well. In the evenings we have a man that comes in and works in the lab and I require all of my students to meet with him for wood and machine shop training. This physical safety is incredibly important to take seriously. It is important that while my students acknowledge that I am watching them work it is not because I am judging them. This goes back to providing feedback that assesses the work rather than student. Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) explain, “Classrooms are remarkably public places. Within their four walls, each person’s behavior can be observed by many others. Teachers may feel as though they are always on stage... But the scrutiny goes both ways: Teachers constantly monitor students’ behavior as well.” (p. 4).
Weinstein & Novodvorsky (2007) talk about Walter Doyle’s (2006) six specific features of classroom complexity. He defines the first and most important component to be “multidimensionality”. Just as its important for me to have expo markers to take notes, room to build things, computer space to program, and space to hold a conversation, it is also important for my room to be able to handle all of these different functions. “Teachers not only lead whole-class discussions, coordinate small-group activities, and administer tests; they also take attendance, steer disputes, and counsel students with problems. Somehow, the classroom environment must be able to accommodate all these activities.” (p. 3). By reporting successes and failures after class I work to better understand how to maintain the multidimensional feature of the room. Each day this works differently and it has been a struggle to develop this. “Unlike a post office or a restaurant, places devoted to a single activity, the classroom is the setting for a broad range of events. Within its boundaries, students read, write, discuss, work on projects, view videos, and listen to lectures” (p. 3).