5. Learning Environment – The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being.
5.1 Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the age and cultures of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher.
One of many ways to create a classroom environment that is safe and inclusive is that educators be aware of the age and cultures of students, respecting their backgrounds, and their individual diversity. This can be done by being cognizant of particular student and parent behaviors and communication that may not be viewed as inappropriate from the children’s and the families’ perspectives. In order to successfully respect students from a wide range of backgrounds, it is essential that the classroom teacher gets to know students, student families, and find ways to connect and involve families in their children’s education. Teachers should also be aware of their own bias in regard to the particular behaviors students exhibit that may be unfamiliar and seem inappropriate in the classroom environment.
When observing the balance of ethnicity and race in Washington schools, it is clearly evident that there is an imbalance of enrollment when comparing the number of white students and staff to that of other races and ethnicities. Figure 1 illustrates these numbers and the growth of diverse populations from 2004 to 2013. As diverse populations of students become more present in Washington classrooms the majority of educational staff are presented with more situations that require their tact and understanding when working with diverse populations.
Many teachers may not have exposure to a high level of diversity outside of the public school and may have preconceived notions as to what is acceptable and not acceptable in the school and classroom. Nelson & Guerra (2014) state “…when personal beliefs and professional knowledge conflict, personal beliefs override professional knowledge” (p. 70). I’ve also noticed that among educators, there can be an implied notion that the dominant belief or norm in the school is the area of practice that should be followed. Sometimes students and/or parents will exhibit behaviors that seem disrespectful and inappropriate. Culture clashes may arise between educators and parents, educators and students, or between students in general which disables the notion of a classroom that is safe and inclusive. For example, students from Muslim backgrounds may be required to pray at particular times throughout the day. While this may cause brief classroom interruptions, the school administration should make arrangements with the families to allow this practice. Other students may have particular dietary requirements based on their cultural and religious backgrounds. Teachers should be cognizant of this when planning activities that allow students to eat food and have snacks. Furthermore, some students may exhibit behaviors such as smiling when reprimanded or exhibiting overly affectionate behaviors with other students. While this can be seen as disrespectful, these students may in fact believe that they are exhibiting appropriate school behavior.
Teachers are presented with many challenges in regard to managing diverse classroom environments, especially when some cultural behaviors portrayed by students can be recognized as resistant actions (Bondy et al., 2015). As stated by Ellerbrock et al. (2015), educators will have the best intentions, believing that their actions are caring and applicable to student needs but students, families, and caregivers may think otherwise based on their own personal backgrounds and beliefs.
Moreover, it is clear by the numbers presented in Figure 1 that many of the educators working in public schools come from very diverse and in many cases, more privileged backgrounds than many of their students. As a white educator falling into this category myself, I intend to be cognizant of these circumstances and to be proactive in preventing cultural clashes in my own classroom. My classroom management plan will include activities to get to know my students, their parents/caregivers, and will provide opportunities for my students to better know each other. I intend to learn about their individual cultures and to familiarize myself with cultural backgrounds that I know little about. I will spend the first several weeks providing lessons that clearly communicate classroom expectations and why those expectations are in place. I also plan to have clear communication with parents/caregivers utilizing email, newsletters, student take-home folders, parent conferences, and meet and greets.
While each school year will present new challenges, I will continue to be flexible in revising my management plan to meet the needs of my students. My hope and personal challenge is that by reinforcing relationships and setting expectations early in the year, I will be providing a learning environment that feels warm, inviting, and safe for my students throughout the school year. By being flexible and understanding that I will continue to need to learn about my students’ diverse backgrounds, regardless of their appearance, their behaviors, or their reputations, I may avoid allowing my own personal bias invade this environment. Lastly, I will strive to connect with families, trying to allow them multiple opportunities to understand what their children are doing in school, why students are doing those things, and opportunities for parents and caregivers to become more involved. I will do this to show respect to these families and to try to facilitate a successful learning environment for their children.
Bondy, E., Ross, D. D., Gallingane, C., & Hambacher, E. (2007). Creating environments of success and resilience: Culturally responsive classroom management and more. Urban Education, Vol. 42(4). 326-348. doi: 10.1177/0042085907303406
Ellerbrock, C. R., Abbas, B., DiCicco, M., Denmon, J. M., Sabella, L., & Hart, J. (2015, May). Relationships-the fundamental R in education: Teachers must create caring communities for adolescents in their classrooms. Kappan Magazine, Vol. 96(8). 48-51. doi: 10.1177/0031721715583963
Nelson, S. W. & Guerra, P. L. (2014). Educator beliefs and cultural knowledge: Implications for school improvement efforts. Education Administration Quarterly, Vol. 50(1), 67-95. doi: 10.1177/0013161X13488595
Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. (2015). State of Washington enrollment-staff & student comparison by ethnicity/race [Data file]. Retrieved from http://www.k12.wa.us/default.aspx