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June 20th, 2009

Designing a positive classroom climate

While most teachers would think that their primary duty is to deliver contents as specified in the curriculum, some understand the value of slowing down and spending time in planning and designing a classroom climate that is conducive to learning. This is especially true if a teacher is new to the profession, which is mostly the case in international schools in Thailand. Adults coming into the teaching profession from various other backgrounds of work tend to take this simple, yet significant factor for granted. Most adults getting into the teaching profession wrongly thinking that “teaching” is the only thing expected of them in the classroom. Before long, they realize that teaching is just one of the many things teachers are responsible for. There are other more important things that teachers do and are expected to do in order to be effective disseminators of knowledge/skills.

Difference in expectation

Because of the nature of their previous jobs, adults who newly come into the teaching profession tend to view working in a school similar to working in a corporate sector. While there are definite similarities, the overall culture and function of a school is different from that of commercial ones. For example, productivity in a factory is more concretely measurable (in the rate and quality of production) than productivity of staff or students (ambiguous measures of performances) in a school. Additionally, the importance placed on human interactions could be minimal if not completely absent in a factory setting. This is not the case in a school, where its success or failure is founded upon the quality of interactions among members of its constituency.

Bridging the gap in practice

One of the greatest challenges faced by an adult undertaking teaching for the first time in his or her career history is dealing with the complexities and idiosyncrasies of interactions in the classroom. If children were robots, they could be easily programmed to behave in a certain way to pay undivided attention to a teacher. However, since teachers deal with human children who are different, unique, and lively, teaching has to be put in the context of social-emotional dynamics. Thus, apart from teaching a subject, teachers engineer (design) the social-emotional climate of their classes to ensure effective learning. In essence, this requires every teacher – experienced or inexperience, trained or untrained – to be aware of the psychology and sociology of human interactions. Effective teachers use this knowledge, along with an understanding of child and adolescent development to create positive classroom climate.

Definition

According to Richard and Patricia Schmuck, the authors of Group processes in the classroom, classroom climate is defined as, “the emotional tones associated with informal interaction, attitudinal responses to the group, and to both the self-concepts of students and their motivational satisfactions and frustrations.” In other words, teachers are constantly responding to the different social-emotional needs of students, as reflected in their attitudes and behavior toward self and others. Additionally, the quality of social-emotional experiences in the classroom determines the breadth and depth of learning. Managing and constructively channeling these informal interactions and the subsequent attitudinal and behavioral vacillations constitute a teacher’s primary task. These includes, but are not limited to, taking care of the physical movements, bodily gestures, seating arrangements, and patterns of verbal and non-verbal communication.

Positive classroom climate

A positive classroom climate is characterized by students who support one another, share high amounts of potential influence with one another and teacher, experience high levels of interaction, function by norms that are supportive of getting academic work done, recognize and respect individual differences, dialogue openly and genuinely, and deal constructively with conflicts. The outcome of such a climate guarantees the accomplishment of common goals, fosters positive self-esteem and feeling of security, allows for shared influenced and high involvement in academic learning, and ensures high degree of healthy interactions with one another.

On the other hand, a negative classroom climate is characterized by competition, alienation, and hostility that leads to anxiety, discomfort, and intellectual deprivation.

The following could be done by teachers to ensure a positive classroom climate:

1. Come before the class

2. Stay after the class

3. Talk to students

4. Tell in advance if you are rushing and if you are not available to talk to students

5. Make yourself available

6. Provide Safe environment for participation
•Don’t attack!
•Don’t ridicule!
•Mediate when students attack each other

7. Communicate expectations (for academic and non-academic tasks) early and clearly!

8. Provide a non-threatening physical setting (seating) – regularly changing seating arrangement is recommended

9. Be sensitive to individual difference

10. Learn students’ names and call them by their names!!!

11. Encourage your students

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