Something to ponder:
“You don’t build a great climate/culture–you build people– and then people build the climate/culture.
Hopefully you have found that the climate and culture we are ultimately seeking is up to us.
Chapter 5 – Environment for Learning – Do I Provide My Students with an Environment of Excellence?
Before we begin, take a look in your mirror and ask yourself the following questions about your students:
Do I provide them with a learning environment of learning?
Do I have our classroom mission and vision statements posted?
Do I have our classroom academic excellence criteria posted?
Do I have our student goals and strategies posted?
Do I have a “Wall-of-Fame” posted?
Do I have motivational quotes and affirmations posted?
Do I have historical images that reflect my students posted?
Do I have the names and pictures if colleges and universities posted?
Do I have the names of careers and their descriptions posted?
In the opening pages of this chapter Principal Kafele reflects on the design of his classroom while he was a 5th grade teacher. He describes different areas of his classroom for:
A list of subject-area “students of the week”
A list of homework “students of the week”
A list of attendance “students of the week”
Student work samples
Throughout the room were posters of universities and colleges; motivational quotes and affirmations; the classroom mission and vision statements; historical images that reflected his students’ backgrounds and the names and descriptions of different careers and occupations. His goal was to create an environment that was stimulating and engaging for his students. He used his walls to create a classroom climate and culture that shaped his students’ attitudes.
Fisher, Frey & Pumpian (2012) ask, “Can our school be so welcoming, so inviting, and so comfortable that every person who walks through our doors believes they are about to have an amazing g experience? Quiet simply, can our stakeholders (our visitors, vendors, parents, staff and students) feel welcomed?
There must be one simple answer to these questions, and that is an emphatic yes!”
Providing Students with a Learning Environment of Excellence
What does your classroom environment look like? Does it encourage students to strive to achieve excellence? Does it encourage them to maximize their potential? Does it make your students want to return to it every day? Is it neat, clean & organized? Is it stocked with reading material and other books?
Your classroom learning environment must communicate to students, “Come on in! This is the place to be!” Your role is to create an alternate environment for students. An environment different then their home in many cases. A special environment of hope and promise, one that makes a child with low self-esteem feel as though she can become president of the United States if she works hard and applies herself.
A learning environment of excellence is neat, clean, and organized throughout the course of the day.
Posting Classroom Mission and Vision Statements
When Principal Kafele walks into a building the first thing he looks for is how clean the outside grounds and front lobby are. He also focuses on how he is being greeted as he enters the building, and by whom. (Which is why our ladies in the office play such a significant role in what we do. Of a parent walks in and is greeted with a warm smile and a hello, they know their experience will be that much better.) His next priority is to identify the posted school mission and vision statements. The mission tells him what the school is and what it is about; it gives him a sense if the school’s identity and it’s purpose. The vision tells him where the school if going. Staff and students should know the statements and recite then daily. Classrooms ought to post statements of their own as well, particularly at the elementary and middle school level. Each classroom has it’s own unique characteristics that its mission and vision should address while remaining consistent with the overall school mission and vision.
In your own classroom, do you have mission and vision statements? Are they visible? Are students required to recite then daily? Were students allowed input into their development giving them a greater sense of ownership and empowerment?
These statements should be no more than two sentences long and posted in a highly visible location. The statements should be concise yet powerful, so that the point if each is clearly made.
Posting Criteria for Academic Excellence
If we asked students, “What does it mean to be excellent in school?” Although the generic answers students provide are acceptable, they do not speak to the specific expectations of their school or teachers. If we want students to perform at the highest level of proficiency, we must actually explain to then exactly what that is. At minimum, criteria for academic excellence should include the following:
Students should be held accountable for striving to achieve academic distinction every marking period, similar your honor roll and the end of each nine weeks. Principal Kafele adds that the criteria for making this distinction should be posted and students can access it and refer to it frequently.
It’s not enough to tell students and parents that homework is due the day after it is assigned or every Friday. Your approach must be much more systematic. Students must understand homework is designed to reinforce the day’s lesson and it’s completion reflects the high expectations you have set in your classroom. Be sure to post your homework expectations. Here are a few possible criteria:
Writing on front side of paper only.
Black or dark blue in only (except math, where a pencil is required)
No folded work
No wrinkled work
No torn work
No smudges or smears
Minimal grammatical errors
Due on time
Putting this policy in writing and posting it on your classroom wall once again reinforces the expectations you have for your students. It also reminds students the work they submit is a reflection of who they are.
Students must be able to internalize classroom behavioral expectations, not rules, but expectations. Rules define what students can and cannot due; expectations by contrast speak to the standards you have set for students’ behavior. Rules do not change attitudes, expectations do. The best way for students to know how you expect them to behave is to post your expectations in a visible area and discuss then with your students regularly.
Posting Student Goals and Strategies
Raise your hand if you require students to set academic goals for a given marking period, write a strategy for how they will achieve their goals (both at home and at school), and post both the goals and strategy on the classroom walls?
Typically Kafele asks this and just a few hands go up. His response:
“Are you telling me you expect excellence from your students but you don’t require them to set goals in order to achieve it? If students don’t have targets to aim for, they are essentially just wandering aimlessly throughout the day, every day.”
Your objective is to close the attitude gap and, eventually, the achievement gap. The climate and culture must encourage students to put forth maximum effort to be successful. One way to do this is to teach students how to set specific goals and decide a plan to achieve them. As Jackson (2011) notes, “Goal setting and tracking progress toward those goals makes the idea and successful investment more tangible”.
Creating a Goal Chart
Goals must be made concrete by writing them down. You may need a goal chart where students can write their goals for each nine weeks along with strategies to meet them.