What did I hope to accomplish when I became a teacher? This is the reflective question I have sat with throughout my time as an educator. It compels me to take introspective glances at my career. I often seek to determine if I am accomplishing the goals that I established at the onset of my journey. My query usually reminds me of my ongoing desire to make a difference in a child’s life as well as the desire to level the playing field for underprivileged students. At the heart of my reflection, I am often reminded that as a classroom teacher, my desire was simply to have a successful classroom.
This concept of having a successful classroom should be the aspiration of all who enter the teaching field. In fact, I believe most teachers have this desire. It is what pushes them to work beyond the time that is required for a full day, and it is what drives them to attend extracurricular events for students during their personal time.
Desiring the opposite is detrimental to not only the academic well-being of students, but also the social-emotional development of each child. Therefore, I find it hard to believe that a person’s entrance into this profession would be built upon the idea that success in the classroom is not needed. However, I do believe it is the lack of understanding of what makes a successful classroom that hinders some teachers from being successful.
A Strong Sense of Community
Students desire to feel welcomed and accepted when they leave the community in which they reside and enter our classrooms. There is an innate desire in a majority of all students to feel a sense of belonging in our schools regardless of how great or not so great their home life may be. Establishing a sense of community empowers students to be comfortable in the learning environment.
This comfortability enables students to freely make mistakes and celebrate triumphs as they grapple with the content. A strong sense of community helps to enforce the idea that every student is accepted. It provides covering in the classroom that protects students from the scrutiny of their peers when they struggle to master the standards, excel far beyond their classmates, or are just different in terms of social norms, or family constructs.
Having established a strong sense of community also helps students to better understand the inner workings of the world in which we live. Students are equipped with skills that promote teamwork and collaborative planning. They witness the power of what can be achieved when we all work together in harmony as opposed to constant silos. In turn, they also experience the need for healthy debates that lead to understanding of how to accept other viewpoints even when we do not agree.
Strong Classroom Engagement
Strong classroom engagement is one of the building blocks for successful instructional environments. It ensures that students have taken a vested interest in the content and are more likely to experience success on learning targets. A classroom that boasts high academic achievement and growth is more likely to produce scholars who are positive contributors to their class. Engaged students are more apt to assist in maintaining order and structure in the classroom as they want the learning experience to continue.
Furthermore, strong engagement has been linked to a decrease in behavioral issues. An ongoing concern from teachers with unsuccessful classroom environments is student behavior. I have heard countless teachers share that they can’t teach because the students will not behave. While there is no magic bullet to heal all behavior concerns, if the students enjoy what they are doing, they will be less likely to ruin instruction by displaying disruptive behavior. An engaged student is a focused student. Making our lessons and learning environments engaging focuses our students on what we desire, thus strengthening our classrooms.
In education, the one size fits all approach is rarely effective. A truly successful classroom is one that meets the needs of all learners. The idea that a classroom uses high achievement as the measuring stick for success is one that concerns me most. While achievement is an integral part high achievement is not the crux of a successful learning environment. I would argue that high growth is the key to a successful learning environment. High growth requires teachers to move students from their starting point to their next academic level.
This entails helping high achievers as well as struggling students to achieve more. For this to occur, differentiation must be commonplace. Lessons must be tailored to meet the unique needs of all students and truly achieve student success. If a successful classroom is our desire, teaching to the top, middle, or bottom cannot be our practice. Teaching to the needs of the individual student must be a fixed goal.
It is not uncommon to hear educators limit the idea of differentiation to an instructional practice. This misconception hinders movement towards successful classrooms. I believe that it is equally as important to differentiate when correcting behavioral concerns. For many, behavior differentiation occurs once students are assigned a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). While a BIP is an excellent tool, there are instances where behavior can be corrected prior to getting to this point. Taking the time to see what positive reinforcement a student responds to and utilizing that information to encourage acceptable behavior will greatly impact the success of a classroom.
While achieving classroom success is not always an easy task. It is essential to the well-being of all students. Building a strong sense of community, having strong classroom engagement, and differentiating to meet the academic and social needs of all students work together to create an environment in which students can thrive.
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