Inside the Successful Classroom: My World at School
The classroom is a fish bowl. Parents and students can peer in at anytime and discover a unique world. As students will spend more waking hours at school, then their residence; the class should parallel the values of the home and engage the student in responsible, critical, and imaginative thought. We often fail to see the school and its rooms as a living space, but given the time and interaction within these places, they certainly are. The worlds of school and home tend to be regarded as two solitudes in the mind of the student and being so, never the two shall meet. It has been my experience that: if what is generally mirrored in the home is expected in the school, then student achievement will certainly increase. My grandmother had a relevant saying in regards to this, "Show me an orderly room, and I will show you an orderly person with an equally orderly mind." The classroom sets up this significant virtue.
Have you ever seen a school with graffiti on its outside walls or perhaps one whose classrooms are messy and in a state of disrepair? Fascinatingly, some of the children that belong to those schools are in similar physical and mental states. The schools, which are successful, instil their students a sense of pride in the institution. However, school spirit can only go so far. Witness any school during the last decade whose custodial staff went on strike. The crucial step forward from pride and spirit is the sense of responsibility and ownership. Children need to know that with responsibility comes freedom. The creation of classroom jobs and student councils motivates students to have a higher regard for their environment. If everyone is given a small measure of responsibility their daily environment can improve. This can be equally applied in the home. If clothes or wrappers are found around the house, an appropriate saying would be, "While it may not be your garbage, it is your house."
The classroom should engage and inspire the student. There is a fine line however, between this and amusement. Your children are not going to school to be entertained. Students should have a classroom that showcases excellence in work, has a representative space for every child to demonstrate the "gifts" they offer, and utilize the entire spatial area with captivating images and charts that "scaffold learning" so youth can reach even higher levels of achievement and personal growth. There is always the chance that a room can appear like a garage sale gone wrong, but the conscientious teacher keeps the look fresh and non-static. Color also plays a critical role. Plain white walls communicate a sense of boredom and a lack of effort by all parties. Green and blue are arguably the best colours to use because they convey concentration and a calm mood. Slight accents of red highlight critical information. Many parents will see dynamic teachers using "behaviour charts" on everything from daily manners to modelling proper listening and speaking. I often wonder if these charts shouldn't be in some homes.
Certainly the diversity of resources in a student's room can influence critical thinking and the ability to inference information. The Language Arts portion of the class should offer a wide diversity of texts from fiction to non-fiction. A student must be able to participate in read aloud sessions with his or her peers and also frequently present writing in an oral fashion while afterwards, placing the composition in a designated public space. Science and Social Studies would benefit greatly from the myriad of striking posters available. Experiments, samples, and replicas on display and in reach of curious hands bring about a whole new level of discovery through the senses and address the various learning styles of pupils including auditory, visual-spatial, and kinesthetic. The calming capacity of an aquarium and lush plant life affect both mood and experiential learning. This holds true for all subjects. The classroom is also about human life! Certainly a segment of the wall space should celebrate achievement, holidays, birthdays, and other special events. The joy of this world should not be left out in the hallway. If students and teachers can celebrate their best moments together surely empathy and love of learning will have fertile ground and its observation from inside and out will be well worth it.
About the Author: Manfred J. von Vulte is the Director of Development and Vice Principal of Northmount Independent Boys Catholic Elementary School in Toronto. He is the published author of two books (history and children's) and numerous articles in various publications. His interests include writing about education as it pertains to students, family life, and improving their experience with learning. He has been teaching for eleven years and resides in Toronto. He is a graduate of Francis Libermann Catholic High and York University. Visit his website at www.northmount.com.