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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

There's a third grade classroom in Oakland, California that I just love visiting. It's a place where children are at the very center, where their academic, emotional and social needs are recognized and addressed.

"I love the way you have your room organized this year," I said to Ms. S, the energetic teacher who has worked in this community for a decade.

"Thanks," she said. "I always spend the whole summer thinking about the theme I'm going to use in my classroom and finally I figured out it would be 'The Village.'"

This comment echoed through my head for weeks, both because I remember that experience -- my teacher-brain never turned off during vacations -- but also because of all the discussion right now about what a good teacher does.


Suffixes on the "Word Well"(left); the class "Carecrow" (right). Credit: Elena Aguilar

Recently, the teacher has been addressing bullying. A child-size "Carecrow" hangs on one wall. Students have taped messages onto the figure reflecting their commitment to care for each other.

Students move around the room reflecting a level of comfort and ownership. Ms. S structures her lessons so that students collaborate with each other, work in small groups with her, and use the resources in the room. She gives them opportunities to move and talk, to manage their active little bodies. The first time I ever visited her class was during a transition from reading to math; Ms. S was leading her children through a five minute yoga routine.

And Ms. S's student learn -- of that there is ample evidence. I would not hesitate to put my own child in her class.

This classroom stands out to me these days given the national conversations about what an effective teacher does. How do we also measure the emotional experience of a student with a teacher? The ability of a teacher to instill a passion for learning? How do we -- as teachers, as parents -- continue to voice our demand that our students' classrooms be places where they feel good? It's not enough, of course, to just feel good at school, but it can't be discounted.

Edutopia community, please weigh in here. What have you seen, what do you do, to address the emotional experience of learning? To create a student-centered classroom? Please share with us your thoughts and ideas!

Comments (21)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Kyla Williams's picture

I think it is the true hope of most teachers that their students grow to love learning and become successful participants in the community in which they live. Mrs. S is certainly acting as an effective teacher as she creates a classroom environment that allows all students to be invested in their learning. It is a right for the students to feel safe in their classroom and it is our responsibility to create such an evironment for them. As you so eloquently stated "Ms. S's classroom is so intentionally set up to foster learning, ignite curiosity, and make students feel comfortable and excited about being in school." This is a wonderful foundation for students to stand on as they go about the action of learning and succeeding in a classroom. I may just take Mrs. S's idea of creating a town/village theme for my group of Kindergarten students next year to help foster a caring and collaborative group of invested learners. Thanks for such an insightful blog.

evelyn canavan's picture
evelyn canavan
I am a teacher in an elementary school in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada.

I would like to repond to Ms.S's classroom. I spend a lot of time setting up my classroom, not only for the students, but it is also a place where i spend six to eight hours a day. Many people have commented on the atmosphere in the room, but I agree, it is what you put into something, that you get the same measure back. I also do transitonal yoga with my students and this year with our new Fitness Room, we get to do a longer session. I liked the idea of the scarecrow and I will use it in my room. I loved looking at the photographs. Last week I went to observe two teachers who were doing the Daily Five, a reading and writing program for fostering independent literacy. I love watching other teachers. I think this is where we learn the most.

Johanna Bautista's picture
Johanna Bautista
K-3 special education teacher from Bloomfield, NJ

These are all some great ideas for a positive classroom environment that shows caring. As a teacher, I feel that it is very important for the students to have a classroom environment that is designed for them. It is important for the classroom to be warm, welcoming, and a place where students feel comfortable to learn. School is like a second home for the children, so it should feel like a second home. There are student who I work with who are economically disadvantaged and do not have everything that they need at home, so I feel it is important for them to have a positive classroom that provides them with fun learning experiences. I think that creating a classroom theme each year is a wonderful idea. This is helpful in making learning fun an keeping the students engaged.

Johanna Bautista's picture
Johanna Bautista
K-3 special education teacher from Bloomfield, NJ

These are all some great ideas for a positive classroom environment that shows caring. As a teacher, I feel that it is very important for the students to have a classroom environment that is designed for them. It is important for the classroom to be warm, welcoming, and a place where students feel comfortable to learn. School is like a second home for the children, so it should feel like a second home. There are student who I work with who are economically disadvantaged and do not have everything that they need at home, so I feel it is important for them to have a positive classroom that provides them with fun learning experiences. I think that creating a classroom theme each year is a wonderful idea. This is helpful in making learning fun and keeping the students engaged.

aradhna's picture

I would say that what awesome ideas she has used to make her students feel at home. I think making classroom comfortable is very important because this is the place where a child spends most of his/her time. I think school is a temple of learning and being a teacher I should make the classroom a very safe place for my kids to learn, play, and explore their imagination and many more. I never got a chance to be a class teacher, however, I have been teaching from last 6 years in China. I worked in a German school where I taught kindergarten, primary and secondary school kids. At present I am working with a Singaporean school in a county near to Shanghai. I am teaching student's phonics through body movements. I try to include the playgrounds beams, loops, hoops, beams, benches, flashcards and music. Besides my teaching I try to help teachers in teaching or giving them suggestions in their classroom designing, bulletin boards or cultural activities.

aradhna's picture

I would say that what awesome ideas she has used to make her students feel at home. I think making classroom comfortable is very important because this is the place where a child spends most of his/her time. I think school is a temple of learning and being a teacher I should make the classroom a very safe place for my kids to learn, play, and explore their imagination and many more. I never got a chance to be a class teacher, however, I have been teaching from last 6 years in China. I worked in a German school where I taught kindergarten, primary and secondary school kids. At present I am working with a Singaporean school in a county near to Shanghai. I am teaching student's phonics through body movements. I try to include the playgrounds beams, loops, hoops, beams, benches, flashcards and music. Besides my teaching I try to help teachers in teaching or giving them suggestions in their classroom designing, bulletin boards or cultural activities.

Cyndi Cohen's picture

I love the "word well" that Ms. S created and I have to agree that classrooms need to be a comfortable place for students to learn. This is true for high school, as well as Elementary. Over the 12 years I have taught in the classroom, I have seen the extraordinary need for a "safe" environment in which students can read, write and share their ideas without being criticized by their teachers or their peers. One way I establish this safe environment is to be upfront with the students, to tell them via classroom rules that "capping" on one another is not acceptable. Then I model those important behaviors of finding someone else's ideas interesting, questioning them further about their thoughts, and showing respect for them even though our opinions are different. Once a safe environment is established, students feel freer to share their writing and enter into discussions, which teaches not only good manners needed in the workforce, but the enrichment that comes from true two-way communication.

Kim Casale's picture

I taught at a school in NH where a teacher set up a "cafe" with a high table and chairs. Students went to there discuss their writing. It had a "cool" lamp and other features (table cloth, decorations, etc..) that made the kids comfortable to have conversations about their writing. Setting up the classroom is one of the most important components to establishing a positive and safe environment.

Sandi Jimmerson's picture
Sandi Jimmerson
6th grade Social Studies Teacher and Media Specialist K-12 certified

I only wish we could do things like that. In our county, the fire marshal has come into our schools with a vengeance. We are not allowed to have couches, pillows, and only a certain percentage of wall space is allowed to be covered! We are not allowed to have anything dangling and nothing on the windows. If you put up the required learning maps and a word wall, that's all you get! It wasn't always like this - and I miss being able to put up whatever I wanted to.

Jayson Starmer's picture
Jayson Starmer
6th grade from Camden County, GA

I think that Ms. S is just wonderful. I just love hearing about and seeing classrooms that are centered around students' learning. Ms. S. demostrates the positive traits of a true professional. Someone, who is always putting her students first. I loved how she created a theme of a village. She created activities around the theme to meet the learning objectives. I know that most of her students have taken ownership of their own learning. I also loved the scarecrow with the little notes on caring. It is an awesome way to approach the topic of bullying. Ms. S. has created a learning community in her classroom. I am sure that her students feel safe and willing to take risk inside her classroom. It so refreshing to hear about a positive, uplifting environment for students.

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