Professional Learning

How Classroom Environment Can Ignite Learning and Cultivate Caring

November 16, 2010

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.

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!

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Filed Under

  • Professional Learning
  • Learning Environments
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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