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We know that the environment within which learning occurs matters. The right environments can encourage and facilitate learning, while environments filled with conflict, fear, and confusion can have the opposite effect. As we approach the midpoint in the school year, now is a good time to step back and consider what is working well, what may need attention and adjustment, and what may need to be abandoned and replaced.  

A good place to start is to conduct a scan of how well the current operation of your classroom reflects your hopes, expectations, and priorities across nine key aspects of operation. Here are questions to stimulate and support your reflection:  

  • Instructional strategies: How well are instructional strategies aligned to individual student readiness and needs? Do classroom activities regularly include variety, novelty, humor, voice, and choice? How well informed are students of their progress? How frequent, timely, and effective is the learning feedback students receive?  
  • Learning focus: How consistently are students actively engaged in their learning? Are students more focused on learning or on grades? How often do students set goals for their learning? How frequently do students have opportunities to review and reinforce previous learning?  
  • Learning Progress: Whose learning is on track, and who is falling behind? What recognition and encouragement do successful students need now? What supports are available and accessed by students who are struggling? What role do students play in monitoring their progress? How might students become more involved in and accountable for monitoring their progress?  
  • Emotional climate: What is the emotional tenor in your classroom? What is the level of worry, fear, and stress? What might be done to lower the levels of emotion that may interfere with learning? How anxious or stressed are you?  
  • Relationships: How strong and stable are your relationships with students? Do students seek you out when they have academic and personal concerns and struggles? Do students accept, support, and encourage each other? Have families bought in to your course expectations and goals? 
  • Management activities: How well are classroom routines addressing transitions, learning activities, and student behavior challenges? In what areas do you still have to remind students of routines and expectations? How frequently are you able to anticipate potential issues or problems and take steps to prevent their emergence? What opportunities exist to make better use of time?  
  • Behavioral issues: What types of behavior issues are you finding to be most frequent and disruptive? What have you tried that has been effective in moving students to more acceptable behavior? Where do you struggle most with behavior issues? How are you ensuring that all students are treated equitably? Where might you access support to expand your strategies, receive coaching, or other types of assistance?  
  • Technology use: How integrated is available technology with learning activities? What is the balance of student engagement with technology as consumers, appliers, and creators? What opportunities exist for students to use technology to extend their learning beyond simply consuming information and regurgitating it? 
  • Physical supports: How well does the arrangement of classroom furniture reflect student learning and engagement goals? Is the room aesthetically pleasing and reflective of the cultures and demographics of students? Are supplies, materials, and equipment organized and readily accessible?  

Obviously, there may be many aspects of your classroom environment that deserve attention. However, be careful not to become overwhelmed. Choose a few areas on which to focus. Meanwhile, do not forget to pause and reflect on what is working well, lessons you have learned, and successes you have achieved. 

Thought for the Week

Are we being honest with our students if we claim neutrality on important, difficult, and complex issues?

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