A room with a view to learning

16th November 2012 at 00:00
The classroom environment is key to how pupils feel - and consequently how they behave - says Victor Allen

Good behaviour is not exclusively a product of relationships; it is also a highly emotional business. The environment that we find ourselves in will always have an effect on our own and others' emotions and, consequently, behaviour.

When entering a building or classroom, we are all subconsciously evaluating how the room, the ambience is making us feel. We assess if it is too hot or too cold, too light or too dark, clean or messy, if the air is fresh or stale. We make judgements about the initial greeting. Is it personal, cold, welcoming, warm, enthusiastic?

Our verdict will affect how we react or perform during our stay in the room.

To appreciate how behaviour is influenced by surroundings, think about your reaction when entering a place of worship, a library, an amusement park. Your emotions prepare for the experience and your behaviour begins, almost immediately, to conform to expectations.

It is also important to understand the effect that the colours in the room can have on people. This is something to bear in mind when putting up classroom displays and notices. Let the words and the displays be an extension of what you want to say. Let them become an underlying comment on your actions and speech. As you move around the room use what is there to extend the meaning and the purpose of the lesson so that the pupils are reminded of what has gone before and what is expected when they enter your room.

We all learn more, retain more information and are able to think more constructively when the environment and those around us are adding to the experience in a positive way.

When I was leading residential social skills and emotional awareness courses for young offenders, I always made it a priority to be based in new, clean centres with en-suite rooms and graffiti-free walls, knowing all too well the potential positive effects.

Only once did I have a problem with a young person who "wanted to tag the place" and therefore daubed graffiti on a wall. Interestingly, the reaction from his peers was to report this misdemeanour to me, as well as reprimanding the perpetrator. The place deserved respect and my young people responded appropriately. I am absolutely convinced that, had I taken them to a more "average" establishment, I would have done nothing more than lessen expectations.

Your classroom is your castle

Considering the time constraints of a lesson, it is absolutely imperative that teachers are proactive in ensuring a positive climate within their learning environment.

Sometimes, classrooms can become an extension of a teacher's own work style, which does not always make them a professional learning environment that exudes positive emotions.

When pupils enter your classroom, you are looking to set high expectations and establish a culture of respect and hard work. Take time to think. What vocabulary would you be using in a description of your classroom and what does this say about you and your expectations?

Do you ever have to apologise about your classroom environment in any way? Are any of the reasons for the apologies in your power to change and, if not, how much can you make it a priority for others to implement the necessary modifications?

If you are looking to address behaviour in your classroom, be convinced that you have addressed everything under your control.

The observation and evaluation checklist (see panel, left) has been devised as a tool to enable reflection on a range of influences in your classroom. Use it honestly. Do so independently or ask a colleague to observe in a supportive way.

Which aspects can you clearly note as making a fundamental contribution to the positive learning environment? Which do you feel need altering?

It is in your power to influence how people are going to feel while they are in your classroom, making it vital to reflect on everything that may potentially have a positive or negative impact.

As the saying goes, "It's not what you say or how you say it that I will remember, it's how you made me feel."

Victor Allen is a freelance behaviour and leadership consultant and founder of Mirror Development and Training. www.mirrordt.co.uk

CLASS CHECKLIST

You can download Victor Allen's Emotional Intelligence Checklist free from TES Resources.It includes checks on:

Welcome and introduction

Classroom layout

Heating

Lighting

Displays

Ventilation

Emotional atmosphere

Safety

Care

Relevance

Encouragementpraise

Positivity

Emotional intelligence development

Empathy

Tone

Body language

Conversationrelationship building

Direction

Classroom routines

Peripheral vision and hearing

Leadership

Mentoring

Coaching

Vision-target

Download the checklist from bit.lyQufVBA.

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