Gone are the days where desks are always in rows, where students are essentially seen and not heard, and where the classroom environment was all note-taking and PowerPoint presentations. Students don’t learn well that way. But with those environmental factors fading away, teachers are taking on roles that they were never trained in. So, how can teachers create a positive learning environment in the classroom and school hallways without too much cost?
Teachers have become parents, encouragers, counselors, and the complete scapegoat for much of education failure. However, we power on and continue to serve our students with little material and much strategy. With this said, one thing that doesn’t take much but can make the most substantial differences is creating a positive learning environment.
Many of the tips and strategies listed in this article do not cost a dime but can make a world of difference in student learning. With these strategies, you can create a positive learning environment that meets your student’s essential needs.
What Does a Positive Learning Environment Mean and Why Is It Important?
You may not know about teachers because one of the first things teachers learn when acquiring their education to become teachers is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The first tier and largest of this vastly important hierarchy are a person’s psychological needs: having warmth, rest, food, and water. There are the most basic things in life that a person needs to survive.
The second-largest tier shows the need for safety and security. This is where many of the positive learning environment attributes stem from. Third, belongingness and love: the need to have friends and close relationships, and positive touch. Fourth, it addresses the need for self-esteem and confidence—lastly, the need for self-actualization and self-realization of achievement.
All aspects of a positive classroom environment stem from the hierarchy of needs and the absolute truth that students need structure and positive relationships with the people they see every single day.
Creating the Learning Environment
You may think that you do not know where to begin to create this type of environment. However, the reality is that you already possess the ability to make your classroom a comfortable and positive feeling for your students.
Have Protocols and Procedures in Place
While some believe that having classroom rules and protocols restrict the student, they empower the student. Psychologically, restrictions to a certain degree allow the student to act freely within their parameters. Further, these parameters allow for all students to feel comfortable knowing that they will be safe within these guidelines set forth.
Without rules and procedures, students feel a sense of chaos and unrest. This leaves them feeling insecure about their environment, which takes focus away from learning. So please don’t feel bad about creating classroom rules and enforcing them. Ultimately, students will be happier, feel safer, and be able to feel more comfortable.
Greet Each Student Every Time
A substantial amount of research has been done regarding hearing one’s name and brain activity that results. One of the most important efforts I make every school year is to learn my students’ names and to do it quickly! Which can be very difficult for those (like me) who naturally have a hard time learning and retaining someone’s name.
Greet each child at the door by saying their name and ask them a fun question or tell them how happy you are that they came to class today. The latter works especially well for those students who don’t particularly come to school as often as they should be in the first place. This activity meets the third level of the hierarchy of needs by making the child feel a sense of belonging within your classroom, which opens the door for learning.
Celebrate Student Success
It does not matter how old a child is; when they see their work proudly displayed, it brings them a sense of pride in their work. Educators, decorate your classroom with your students’ work. Let them know how proud you are of them. Display the message that everyone is worth having their work posted in the hallways and classroom walls.
Often I would tell my students ahead of time that their work would be out in the hallway. They can make a maximum effort every time. Something inside of them understood that I believed in them, and I expected their absolute best. More so, they knew that I understood that everyone’s best looks a little bit different, but it is equally valuable.
Let Them Know You Believe in Them
That last point about equity and value brings me to this section. Creating a positive learning environment builds from your rapport with students. If there is one thing I have learned within my teaching career, students know when the teacher is full of falsity. Students know when you truly believe in them or know if you are saying something to get them to do work.
Teachers need to believe in them and display that consistently, truly. Consistency in this matter will always win the day. If they fail a quiz, tell them you know they can do better, help them, and let them try again. Allow students the opportunity to grow from failure because you allowed them the space to do so because you believe in them.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Students learn from their teachers. One of the biggest things you can do as a teacher to substantially impact a kid is saying you’re sorry. I know this seems trivial, but it is a huge deal.
The late and great educator Rita Pierson gave one of the greatest examples of an educator apologizing and what it does for students. She stated that she had admitted to her students that she had taught a math lesson entirely wrong and proceeded to apologize to her students for her errors. To which her students replied with a gracious, “That’s okay, Miss Pierson, you were so excited we just let you go.”
I am an English teacher, and sometimes I misspell words, miss a grade in the grade book, and call a twin by the wrong name. When these types of instances happen, don’t reply with an “oops” or an “oh, well…”, say “I’m sorry.” When students see that even as adults, we can make mistakes and move on, that gives them the humility to do the same.
Give Each Student Individual Time & Goals
Giving your students individual conferencing time regularly build their social skill with adults, allows them to share with you things they normally wouldn’t in a large or small group setting, and creates a positive rapport. Use this time to help your students create individual learning goals and encourage them to continue trying their best.
Being consistent with these individual times and meeting build trust and faith in you as the teacher with your student. Providing them with real feedback and not sugar coating anything builds a relationship of trust and rapport. Allowing the students’ room to recognize their potential is at the top of the hierarchy and plays a large role in the positive learning environment.
Get to Know Your Students
There will always be students whom you will get to know easily and quickly. However, there will always be students with high and thick walls with their emotional building blocks. Forming relationships with these students and providing a support system consistently will ultimately be effective, but it will also be difficult.
Unfortunately, children learn that people will disappoint them at a very young age, and relationships fade away. Parents divorce, favorite teachers move on, and best friends hurt your feelings. When you take a moment to think about the world in which our kids develop, it is terrifying.
Creating a positive learning environment involved the teacher making a strong and continual effort to know how each of his/her students learns and the things they like and dislike. Learn about their favorite TV show or the foods they hate, or even about all of their animals. Show them you are interested in teaching them, but teaching them isn’t the only thing you care about.
Let Your Students Get to Know You
Share something personal with your students. Letting your students into something you have experienced and overcome lets them feel like they know who you are as human beings and not just their teacher. Of course, when I say personal, use your best judgment here.
For example, I share one personal thing with my students. My grandparents raised me because my mother was into drugs. I reassure them that just because life throws trials, that is not an excuse to give in. Sharing pieces of you that show the strength in the face of adversity shows your students that they can trust you, and during the year, you can continue to build a relationship with them.
Anticipate Student Behavior and Needs
Once you have succeeded in building a relationship and rapport with your students, you can develop a way to anticipate behavior and needs in the classroom. Sometimes these things come in the form of having fidget toys available to students who have ADD or ADHD, making sure you have snacks in the classroom for those students who are always hungry from not eating at home.
There have been many times now where I have students who would take care of their younger siblings during the night and work after school. They would come into my classroom and lay their head down because they are so tired. Sometimes I allow that, and I let them know how proud I am for coming to school despite their circumstances. Desk dividers help to give those students some personal space when they need it.
You want a positive learning environment, let students realize that you recognize their needs, and see why they behave a certain way. Then, allow them opportunities to learn despite the circumstance. You can do that because you have to build a relationship and strategies to help them learn.
Decorate Your Space
Make your learning environment one that students are comfortable coming into. This one is certainly not rocket science and makes a huge difference in the way students behave and learn in your classroom.
Make your learning environment colorful and comfortable. Many students hate the bright fluorescent overhead lights that are often put into classrooms, so get some cheap lamps or light filters and use that instead. Hang some fun posters and pictures up on the wall, and take time to make your bulletin boards something joyful to look at.
I would often take all decorations from my house, but I didn’t want any more to my classroom. Doing this made my room feel like a home away from home, not just for me but for my students. When I stepped into my classroom, I made sure that I didn’t smell or look like a classroom but a place where they could feel comfortable learning.
How Can You Create a Positive Learning Environment at Home?
Whether you’re a homeschool teacher or a teacher having class virtually because of the pandemic, it is important to use many of the same tips listed here in this article. Of course, all of them won’t apply directly, but it would work for you with a bit of tweaking.
Still, create a room in your home, specifically for learning, and make it a fun place. Make this face look different than anywhere else in your entire home. If your mom teaching your children, you already have respect and rapport built with your students, a.k.a. your kids. However, if a teacher teaches normal students from a virtual environment, building rapport becomes more difficult. There is no greeting each child at the door every day with their name because they’re checking into a zoom session instead.
What you can do, schedule individual meetings with each of your students, and have that conferencing time still. Please don’t start the meeting by simply talking about classwork but by asking them how they are doing and talking about things they enjoy talking about before getting into the lesson. Let them know that you care even though you’re not in a traditional classroom setting.
If you’re teaching from an online platform, you can continue to conference with your student individually as well as have whole-class instruction. Allow for a student-to-student discussion and activities so that your kids can continue to develop on a social and emotional level.
Overall, creating a positive learning environment is no easy feat. There’s a lot of time and emotional energy that goes into doing so. But continually show your students that you’re interested in them for them and not just because you have to teach them something because a standard will go a long way.