This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Donna L. Ervin
Creating an effective classroom culture is essential for student success. Developing my classroom culture begins with knowing myself; revisiting my past lived experiences in reference to race. When I step in front of my students on the first day of school, my color, culture, and nationality shows up too. It’s the lens in which I filter my instruction through. Therefore, I must be aware of how I am showing up in the classroom each day; not forcing my ideas, beliefs and values on students. I must make sure to use their prior knowledge and lived experiences and help them develop strategies and skills in order to discover new learning. This understanding is critical in connecting with students and building a culturally relevant learning environment where the needs of all students are met.
I support this type of environment by building effective relationships with students. Empowering students to advocate for what they need (personally/academically/physically/emotionally) creates a meaningful connection with students where they begin to choose academic success. I am relentless in encouraging and helping students overcome their fears and academic challenges, which fosters a sense of efficacy in the classroom. I enrich the curriculum by consistently seeking out the missing perspectives that do not show up in our daily lessons to support the lives of all students, especially students of color. I also utilize differentiated instructional strategies on a daily basis to ensure a rigorous and productive learning environment.
Focusing on the physical environment is equally important in fostering an effective classroom culture. I showcase family pictures, photos portraying African American history, a space for my students and their family photos and of course student work. I try to adorn the environment so that it is meaningful to students; a space they can relate to and take ownership of. For example, students know the protocol for asking or answering questions, what types of behavior are appreciated, tolerated or frowned upon and how to use the materials and resources in the room to support their learning. My furniture is organized so that students have easy access to books and materials to aid in their success as a learner. Small groups are easily assembled based upon the structure of the room. Organizational skills, cleanliness and responsibilities are practiced daily. I use a color-coded behavior management system to intrinsically reward students. All parents and/or guardians have access to my personal cell phone number and are encouraged to call at any time. A daily news correspondence and behavior sheet goes home to keep parents informed of our learning objectives and student conduct.
To mediate conflict and create positive student-to-student interactions we use the courageous conversations compass in the classroom. Each morning students have a check-in writing task where they attempt to center themselves on the compass to be a more active learner before we begin our day. This daily routine helps students internalize the compass and as a result, most conflicts are easily mediated so that little or no instructional time is lost. Students understand that if they find themselves deep in one of the compass quadrants, they will not be productive in their learning or understanding of the situation. They are taught to try and look at the problem or issue through all four of the quadrants (feeling, thinking, believing and acting) in order to reach their goal of being centered on the tool.
Knowing myself and how I show up each day in the classroom, building healthy relationships with students, fostering an environment of efficacy and advocacy and creating an engaging physical space are all essential for student success and developing a culturally responsive classroom culture; one that uses a wide variety of instructional strategies and supplemental resources that support the many different needs and learning styles of children.