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Build Great Classrooms

As a microcosm of society, the school classroom is a place where children have the opportunity to learn basic social and emotional skills needed to successfully navigate their larger community—regardless of whether they transition into a work environment or an institution of higher learning. Framed within the context of the school’s standard for appropriate and inappropriate behavior, children learn these skills by observing the behavior of adults and students alike; through focused learning exercises; through interpersonal exchange with their peers in play and learning activities; and through interpersonal exchange with adults other than their parents/family.

Behavioral vaccines are “irreducible units of behavior-change technology, and they can be put together into behavioral vaccines (daily practices) with powerful longitudinal prevention results.” Most people call a behavioral vaccine cultural practices that have been adopted because of an interlocking series of self-sustaining consequences. They are immediately discernable and can be imitated quickly. They produce immediate results—typically positive reinforcement from others, escape from social approbation, and/or other advantages. Using good manners—a cultural practice that social scientists might call “social skills”—typically evokes many layers of reinforcement or advantage in many settings.”

Classroom Rules and expectations or Standards for Behavior

Children need to know what is expected of them in different situations. If educators want children to behave appropriately in the classroom, they need to let their students know what “appropriate behavior” looks like to the teacher.

One behavioral vaccine pertains to expectations for behavior.

  • Phrase expectations for behavior positively and post classroom safety, participation, and good manners rules in each classroom and encourage all staff including teachers, sub teachers, parent helpers, assistants, to follow them as well.
  • Safety rules are, in fact, safety instructions for students and teachers to follow in emergency response procedures.
  • Classroom participation and manners, when phrased positively, elicit a more productive student response than obedience/punishment to a set of school/classroom rules. Following is an example of expectations for behavior (classroom participation and manners) written in the first person:
  • I will do my work when it is assigned.
  • I will have my books, planner, pencils, and other materials I need for class.
  • I will stay where I belong, such as at my assigned table or a place in the line.
  • I will keep my hands to myself and not get in another student’s personal space.
  • I will speak considerately and listen attentively.
  • I will be prompt to class and on time with my homework.
  • I will ask the teacher for help if I have difficulty understanding what I need to do

Connect with Students and Parents

School connectedness is an important factor in both health and learning. Students who feel connected to their school are:

  • More likely to attend school regularly, stay in school longer, and have higher grades and test scores.
  • Less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or have sexual relations.
  • Less Likely to carry weapons, become involved in violence, or be injured from dangerous activities such as drinking and driving or not wearing seat belts.
  • Less likely to have emotional problems, suffer from eating disorders, or experience suicidal thoughts or attempts.

As children grow, their mind interprets, codes, and organizes information from many different sources. Their parents are their first teachers, and remain influential to their learning throughout their school days. That makes parent involvement in school essential to student success. Family involvement is linked to higher student achievement, better attitudes toward learning, lower dropout rates, and increased community support for education--regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnic/racial background, or parents' education level.

Parent/caregiver involvement includes volunteering in the classroom; working with the teacher to set high, yet realistic, academic goals; and monitoring and providing homework support at home; and providing information on academic progress.

For parents to stay involved in their child’s school progress, they need to feel comfortable and respected in the school. Often some parents don’t like to go into a school because of their own academic limitations. A couple of ways to help parents want to be in the school/classroom is to:

  • Provide outreach to parents early in an informal setting to make early connections.
  • Adopt a multi-cultural perspective and appreciation in the classroom by inviting family members to share stories about their unique cultural practices and celebrations. Engaging students in these presentations connects them back to the child’s learning.
  • Using technology tools such as email and school websites to provide parents information on their academic expectations and their child’s academic progress in meeting expectations.

Classroom Environment

For a teacher, the school is their workplace, and their classroom becomes their office. For children, especially young children, it is a “home away from home.” For both, it needs to be welcoming, conducive to learning/teaching, and age/grade appropriate.

Things to consider are:

  • Age/grade appropriate areas/centers for learning;
    • If room dividers are used, they should be low so that all areas are visible to the teacher.
    • Areas that invite group work should not be next to quiet areas where students read or study.
    • Art or other messy areas need to be located near a sink.
  • Positioning of the desks/student placement to match teaching methods and facilitate inclusion;
    • Arrange the classroom in a way that maximizes interaction, one that encourages but does not compel participation in whole class discussions.
    • Desks in groups, for example, with students facing each other help stimulate social interactions;
    • Desks in single or double rows are good for didactic teaching, demonstrations and independent work;
    • Desks in u-shape can often be the best arrangement
    • Place students with special needs away from high distraction areas and in a place best suited to their needs
  • Placement of the teacher desk
    • The teacher desk needs to be in a place in the classroom that facilitates eye contact between student and teacher.
    • The teacher desk needs to be arranged in a way that sends a message to the student about the teacher’s openness to a student who may need extra help.
    • Teacher desks need to be well organized, clean where resources can easily be located.
  • Resources and supplies necessary for learning;
    • Classroom supplies of paper, pencils, glue, calculators, and other resources needed for learning need to be available to all students.
    • Posters and artwork explaining academic concepts aid student understanding.
  • Lighting, temperature, and decorations (plants) to make the climate conducive to learning;
    • Comfort is important to both the learner and the teacher, and when the comfort level is askew, both learners and teachers are distracted away from the task.
  • Auditory, visual and other supplements to facilitate learning;
    • Music can be used as a reward, to create a positive mood and for calming and transitioning;
    • SMART board or other visual aids for student learning stimulate multiple senses