Creating a positive classroom climate has wide-ranging benefits for everyone
Joan Bue, an elementary curriculum consultant in the South East Cornerstone School Division, acknowledged that coming to the Classroom Management: Creating a Positive Classroom Climate workshop at the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation was an opportunity that she came across pretty much by accident.
However, like several colleagues who came from their own unique circumstances, the consensus was that not only had the two-day event been highly productive, it was the sort of professional development session that all teachers should have the chance to experience.
This workshop commenced with a focus on creating a positive classroom climate. If that sounds benign, the reality was that for many this proved to be quite an emotional, inward-looking experience.
As co-facilitator, Linda Aspen-Baxter from the Saskatchewan Professional Development Unit suggested one of the purposeful intentions was for teachers to be introspective when analyzing some of the disruptive behaviours they might be experiencing from their students and how to respond in a supportive manner.
According to Aspen-Baxter and co-facilitator Lindsay Shaw, the format was carefully crafted in such a way that the first day was to focus on creating a positive learning environment in which all students could experience and have success. Day two, meanwhile, was intended to share strategies and resources to support some of those students who were not necessarily experiencing success and how to best respond to their needs.
“The intention was for teachers to stand back and figure out what students’ behaviour is telling them in terms of what they need in order to be successful and independent learners. What we’re trying to do is shift to a solution-based and strength-based approach so that teachers are not feeling overwhelmed. It’s about building a climate to help students and teachers feel more empowered,” Aspen-Baxter offered, while highlighting the need for teachers to model what they want to see from their students in return.
The overall message certainly resonated with Danny Neustaeter, who is a structured learning classroom teacher at Dr. L.M. Hanna Elementary School in Regina. The structured learning classroom program is an intensive support program designed for students from Grades 1 through 8, who are presented with significant social, emotional and behavioural challenges in school. Neustaeter added that the goal of the program is to help students develop coping skills in such a way that they can reintegrate into the regular classroom.
“The ratio is much smaller (eight or nine students per teacher with two educational assistants), and we create spaces where the students can have quiet breaks. I found this workshop to be very relevant in terms of creating a positive environment. I liked the way it was set up, and it was very interactive so I found that to be effective. You step back and reflect on current practices after something like this,” he added.
The 16 participants in attendance represented a wide cross-section of educators from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Bue was looking for strategies she could take back to empower the teachers who she works with in her school division.
Bue said she discovered a number of resources she is certain will be helpful. “I’m excited to get back and share these resources with our teachers so that they can be successful.
“If you don’t have the structure in place, it can be really hard to get to a good spot. So that means having the right environment and creating that positive classroom climate before you dig in.”
Charlene Donato, a teacher from Winnipeg, said she was encouraged to see some of the same collaborative problem-solving techniques presented that are already in place in her own situation.
“An event like this is great in terms of being a nice refresher, and you can see if maybe you are missing something or perhaps had not thought of before. Something like this can be beneficial for all teachers.
“Any time you can get together in a setting like this and really talk about the profession and share with colleagues, that’s positive and helpful. It can rekindle you, and at the same time it makes you think about your own practices. None of us have all the answers, but by working together it can be a really good learning experience.”
Bue said the experience served as a good reminder to make sure teachers are setting a positive example for their students in establishing and maintaining the all-important collaborative relationship that fosters engagement.
“We had some really good discussions with peers, and that is so important. It’s not something you get to do every day. This workshop just reaffirmed that as a classroom teacher, you can’t do it all on your own. You need to seek help from someone else in the school who might be able to assist you. That’s an important mindshift for some teachers.”
Bue indicated that often teachers are looking to help address gaps, but this workshop underlined the importance of creating a positive environment while remembering that everyone brings something that they can contribute.
There was consensus among the group that one of the highlights of the workshop had been the Circle of Courage session.
“Two years ago I went to a conference in Alberta about special education. I was looking for something similar closer to home, and I was pleasantly surprised by this workshop,” Neustaeter said. “It’s totally different when you are in a smaller group like this, and there were lots of things here that you can try yourself in helping to develop the kids’ confidence.
“As teachers work to create a space where we can share our own stories of what worked and what didn’t, that’s empowering for sure. Everyone contributed, so we all learned.”
According to Aspen-Baxter, “this difference in mindset doesn’t happen overnight. You have to build it first,” she said, adding that the workshop was purposefully intended as an invitation for teachers to realize they might have the answers to their challenges within themselves already.”