As a teacher it is your responsibility to create the “weather” in your classroom. It is undoubtedly your energy, your attitude, your demeanour that will make or break the learning environment. It is a simple concept, one that you probably take for granted, but how much attention do you really pay to creating the type of climate you would love for yourself and your students?
With all the planning, preparation and marking you have to do, it is hardly any wonder you may not have spent a great deal of time reflecting on your classroom climate.
You are likely to have considered whether your floor plan is appropriate, whether the “livelies!” are spread out to ease potential disruptions, and whether you have the best resources for the diverse needs in your group. However what about your demeanour?
It is widely accepted that environment will affect learning – for example, if you are working in a run-down prefab versus a state of the art classroom, there will be a difference in the way you and your students feel as you enter the room and prepare to learn.
What has equal or rather more impact is the energetic environment you create. What do I mean by that? You know which friends you like to hang out with, correct? You know which friends bring out the best in you, help you feel relaxed and are welcoming. You know which friends you are drawn to because they make you feel special and of course the ones that make you laugh. Yes?
It is their energy, their ambience, their demeanour that entices you to spend time with them, go out of your way for them or drive long distances to see them. It is the same for any relationships – young and old – formal or informal – in business or in pleasure. I am still very close friends to my first head of department, who I met in 1996. She possesses all the qualities that I love to be around – she has an inquisitive mind, a great sense of humour, is very knowledgeable, yet humble and she has a generous heart – always willing to go that extra mile. I wanted to work with her, learn from her and mirror her best qualities. Being with her made me a better person and teacher.
Similarly, if you present the qualities you enjoy, admire and respect in your friends and mentors – your students are more likely to respond accordingly.
I am not suggesting you become best buddies with them. That really wouldn’t be appropriate or particularly conducive to long term learning. What I am suggesting is that you bring the sunshine qualities of your personality into the classroom.
Children love authenticity, as do adults. So I am not talking about faking it. I am inviting you to support yourself to get in the right state for teaching so that you can create the best climate for learning.
How would you respond if the face that greeted you each morning was miserable? How would you feel if the first words uttered to you were critical?
And as we know, thanks to Pavlov’s dogs – if you ring the “negative bell” enough times your learners will soon pre-empt the climate in your classroom. What’s worse, they will mirror or magnify it. This of course can work both ways. Your students will respond to your smiling face, your enthusiasm for your subject, and your energetic approach to the lesson.
For sure there will be the exception, but on the whole you will lift the spirits of your class if you choose sunshine rather than thunder!
So how do you create sunshine when it is raining outside and you are weighed down by the plethora of planning, marking and report writing?
It’s simple. You simply give yourself the “oxygen” first. Cultivate a self-care approach to teaching, where you are the number one priority on your daily to-do list. The easiest way to do this is to value what you do and how you do it.
Recognise your worth and the difference you make to the young people you teach. Start by giving yourself internal high fives for your daily achievements.
Create your “star chart”, real or imagined, and praise what you do, big or small – how you de-escalated James before he blew a gasket, how you encouraged Lollie to persevere and complete her task, and how you kept 9E on task all lesson (miraculous!).
After a while you will notice that your focus is leaning towards the positive outcomes of your teaching day rather than what did not work so well.
It is imperative to keep your morale high and depending on the school climate in which you work, you may be encouraged by your head of department and leadership team or you may not. You may be able to share your “wins” at department meetings and I would positively encourage this.
Provide regular “oxygen” for yourself. You are no good to man nor beast if you have been prepping until the wee hours. You need to be fully fit, rested and centred to meet the demands of your teaching day. You know the basics. Here are a few simple reminders.
Hydrate your brain – hydrate your body! If you want to stay a young looking teacher, rather than a haggard old crow, drink lots of (filtered) water every day. What do I mean by lots? At least two litres a day. If you are doing lots of physical activity increase it to three litres. Water will help flush out toxins in your body and keep your body energised. It will help you think more clearly too.
Other “oxygen first” top tips are to eat healthily and regularly, do not skip any meals or you will be scratchy and thunderous in your classroom. Keep your sugar levels balanced by avoiding sugary snacks (yes I know they give you short term comfort) – but this again will potentially create a coldness, hail stones even, if you are not warming up your internal boiler.
Finally be sure to attend to your muscles. Tension in your back, neck and shoulders will increase the likelihood of hurricanes in your classroom as you get more and more tightly wound up by the challenges of the day. Be sure to release the tension – anything you love from kick-boxing to yoga, swimming to zumba (my fave!). And don’t tell me you have not got the time – make time! If you don’t, you will not be a healthy, happy teacher for very long.
To bring out the best weather in your classroom I invite you to embrace the world of mindful awareness. There is so much to share about the “mindful teacher”; here’s a golden nugget. Give yourself permission to slow down.
Give yourself permission to breathe. Your breath is the gateway to being calm and providing a serene blue-sky climate. As you rest, fully present in each moment you will liberate any clouds or thunderstorms that may be brewing inside. This serenity, this peace will equip you with an awareness that you can thread effortlessly through your lessons to ensure the sun will shine in your classroom and your heart.