What to Establish in Your Classroom

By meggin@meggin.com
Jan 18th, 2014

Each of the following could be (and might be) its own “Top Ten” in upcoming weeks.  For now, though, know that these are ten factors to address for a classroom where you can teach and your students can learn (and vice versa, of course!):

  1. Civility. Many of have written about the loss of civility in today’s society and certainly, there is no question about the need to remind and or teach students what civililty looks like, sounds like, and feels like in the classroom.  Talk about it, model it, and expect it.
  2. A sense of urgency. Unless you are teaching your students throughout the rest of their lives, they need to understand that there are times for urgency.  Starting class on time (in my mind) has a sense of urgency.  Getting assignments completed requires a sense of urgency.  Help establish this concept with your students.  Urgency does not mean panic and that – in and of itself – may be a lesson they desperately (urgently) need to learn.
  3. A way of distinguishing priorities. College students have difficulty determining priorities and high school, middle school, and elementary students almost certainly do, as well.  Spend some time with your students helping them draw distinctions between and among the various competing demands on their time, energy, and attention.  Hmmm…and you might even learn something while you are teaching them some strategies.  Just a thought.
  4. Respect for you and their fellow classmates (which you model and reciprocate). Depending on your students and what their home life is like, they may or may not have an understanding of respect in the classroom.  It may never have been expected, modeled, or provided.  It is time to make sure that they know how to demonstrate respect to their classmates and to you.  You are likely to have to deal with this throughout the year in big and small ways, so be prepared.
  5. Decorum. What is acceptable and what isn’t?  Define with the students what will be considered reasonable decorum for your classroom environment.  Learning – and everyone’s comfort – are paramount in the decision-making.
  6. Calm. As a teacher, you don’t know what might happen in your classroom.  Unfortunately, there are too many cases of students having breakdowns or other difficulties (including violence) in classrooms and on school campuses.  Be aware that there may be a time when calm is called for.  You are the one they will turn to instinctively and your attitude can set the tone for what happens next.  Be aware that you may have an inner strength and reserve of calm that you aren’t conscious of.  I hope you never need it for a horrid situation, but think about what you might do “if” and talk to your students here and there during the school year about “calm.”
  7. Safety. If you are a chemistry teacher, establishing safety rules and guidelines is a major part of what you do.  Everyone, however, needs to be thinking about safety in the classroom.  Physical safety.  Mental/intellectual safety.  Emotional safety.  Spiritual safety.  Think about it and consider how safe your classroom is (and needs to be).
  8. Protocols for _______!  Establish protocols for as many different repetitive occurences as you can.  You can have protocols for how assignments are submitted.  Protocols for getting into groups.  Protocols for leaving the classroom better and cleaner than you found it.  Protocols for sharpening your pencil.  Establish protocols and everything runs more smoothly and productively.
  9. Relationships with your students and among your students.  You want to help establish connections between and among your students throughout the year.  I am not advocating the (what I consider over-the-top fooling around) getting-to-know-you activities that take half a class period every day.  It is quite reasonable – and supportive of learning – to make sure that students know the other students in the class.  Make sure that they are grouped with different students for various in-class activities and that they get to know one another.  Pay particular attention to those who struggle with this or seem to be left out.  You can facilitate connections without forcing them.
  10. Guidelines, parameters, policies.  Whatever you want to call them…establish the ways that you want the learning (both in and out of the classroom) to flow.  You can have policies on emails to you, using the chat board, setting times for appointments, and so forth.  You don’t always know before the year starts what you will need but you’ll begin to understand more as you proceed – and as you learn what works and what doesn’t.

Although I’ve only provided a few sentences on each of these, I believe I’ll explore most of them further in upcoming weeks.  If you have a set of tips that go along with one of these because you have found that you are GREAT at doing something, please send them along. For more information about submitting your ideas, this will help.

And as a college or university faculty member, you have many opportunities for success and failure. If you would like additional tips, tools, and techniques that you can use to support your successes, then you will want to access the The Compendium of Productivity Tips for Professors a step by step guide that will help you have a successful year and a compelling career as an academic.