- Learning Environment: The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.
In education, it isn’t enough to simply teach students the content matter. For students to learn, the learning environment needs to feel safe for all learners, which enables them to take risks in their learning and thus deepen their understanding. Teachers can use a variety of strategies to create a safe environment that is conducive to learning. In my internship, I have seen teachers use different tools to help them set up their classroom in a safe and inclusive manner. Many of the teachers at my school attended a Capturing Kids’ Hearts training over the summer and learned different ways to help students feel included and safe at school. According to the Capturing Kids’ Hearts website, “Capturing Kids’ Hearts shows teachers how to create high-achieving centers of learning by strengthening students’ connectedness to others through enhancing healthy bonds with their teachers and establishing collaborative agreements of acceptable behavior” (2016). Through using many of the Capturing Kids’ Hearts strategies, teachers at my school have formed positive relationships with students and have created an inclusive learning environment.
One of the ways that teachers can foster a safe learning environment is through the social contract, or class expectations. To begin this, my mentor teacher used some guiding questions in order to facilitate a class discussion around expected behaviors and considering each others feelings. She mounted chart paper and each sheet had one of the different questions. The guiding questions are: How do you want me (the teacher) to treat you? How do you want to treat each other? How do you think I want to be treated? How will we handle violations of the contract? Once the class has come up with ideas for each one, we create the social contract. The social contract needs to be specific enough where students understand what each item on the contract means. For example, stating “be respectful” isn’t clear because each person in the classroom may have a different definition of what respectful looks like. By making the social contract specific and explicit, students can hold each other accountable for their behavior. Once we finished creating our contract, each student signed it, which signifies that they will uphold the social contract (Figure 1).
Over halfway through the year, once I started my independent teaching, I realized that our social contract needed to be modified to better fit our classroom needs. As a group, we discussed the items that were working and the ones that weren’t, and we modified them to be more effective. My students also realized that there were things that were not on our social contract, and we had another classroom discussion to add new expectations to the contract.
This experience has been incredibly valuable for me. It has shown the importance of forming relationships with students, as well as the importance of having students help create the classroom expectations. When students are able to create the classroom expectations, there is more buy-in from the students. Furthermore, it promotes self-management on the students’ part because they are all fully aware of the expectations. Students have demonstrated accountability for their behavior, and they hold each other accountable by referring back to the social contract. As I begin my first year of teaching in the fall, I plan to adopt the social contract in my classroom in order to make school a safe haven for students and a place where deep, meaningful learning can take place.
Flippen Group. (2016). Capturing Kids’ Hearts. Retrieved from: http://flippengroup.com/solutions/capturing-kids-hearts/