KOKOMO, Ind. – How does a teacher decide where the desks go in the classroom? And how does he or she determine what the class rules and expectations will be?
These decisions are all part of building relationships that will impact what happens in that room, according to Sarrah Grubb, assistant professor of education at Indiana University Kokomo. Grubb teaches a new class this semester, “Creating Classroom Culture,” to examine the research behind classroom management and how building community has a positive impact.
“As teachers, we have a lot of power in the classroom climate,” she said. “By sharing with the students and developing relationships and partnerships, we can create an environment where students feel not only included, but they are actually a part of what goes on every day.”
That feeling of being included motivates children to be positive participants in learning, she said. Building community also allows for cultural differences to be considered and appreciated.
Noting that most students in her class will student teach in the next year, Grubb said they are examining their own beliefs about what teachers should do, and considering research and case studies to determine what they want to do in their own classrooms.
“We’re looking at how we build a classroom culture with students, so we are all in it together, and all students can come as they are, and it is a safe place to learn,” she said. “We start from the idea that students are an asset, and they have strengths. The idea isn’t necessarily authoritarian, that ‘I’m the one in charge, and everyone needs to hop in line.’ It’s thinking about ‘We’re all in this together to move forward.’”
Senior Ashlyn Drake, from Lafayette, said Grubb modeled that philosophy by having the class help create the classroom rules for the semester, and then talk about what their own rules might be — and why those are important to them. One of her personal rules is not to talk when someone else is talking.
“I want my students to feel respected when they are sharing, and I want people to listen to one another in my classroom,” said Drake, who plans to be an elementary teacher. “It’s important that their voices are heard. I want to set a positive culture so my students feels they can talk to me and to each other. I want them to feel like I respect them, and I know that trust and respect is earned and not just given. Positive relationships will build the foundation for the year.”
Mariah Misson, a future secondary English teacher, said they’ve learned to pick up on subtle signals they may be sending out with actions such as separating a child from the rest of the children, or constantly saying the child’s name.
“You think saying their name is going to get them on track, but you have to think about how deep that goes, and what it says about your classroom culture and how welcome kids may or may not feel in your classroom,” said Misson, from Marion. “There are things we can do help teach them to control themselves in the classroom, so they aren’t losing out on learning. We want to have a classroom where kids not only feel welcome, but where they are welcome.”
Students are participating in field experiences in area schools for other classes, and will talk about what they see there, what works, and what they could change. Grubb said for their final project, each student will explain his or her philosophy for classroom management, and about the ideal space they would have.
“It’s not just about ‘this is where I’m going to put the desks, and why,’” she said. “It’s knowing we are communicating at all times through our actions, our room layout, and our procedures and expectations. We’re trying to think about why we believe what we believe, and are those the best things for students in this moment, or is there something else to consider?”