Building a Rapport With Students and Fostering a Respectful Learning Environment

Throughout my student teaching experience, I have done what I can to build a positive rapport with my students. Before even beginning, I asked students to fill out a survey regarding their interests, learning preferences, and perceived strengths and weaknesses. In my classroom, I have used the results of these surveys to have meaningful conversations with students about their interests and personal lives. I have also coached track, which has allowed me to build a strong relationship with the track athletes, and surprisingly, other students as well. One day, I fell down during track practice, and by the next morning, all my students knew! Overall, I do my best to make myself relatable by sharing appropriate stories from my life. If I don't share with them, how can I expect them to share with me?

Additionally, I respond very quickly to any instances of disrespect and bullying. When I noticed that three of my students were picking on another student, I quickly took care of the issue by assigning punishments to the students and adjusting the seating chart. Since then, there have been no clear instances of bullying in my classroom.

Organizing my Classroom for Effective Instruction

Modified Row System

As I mentioned in my "philosophy of teaching" section, I feel that classroom organization is incredibly important for creating and maintaining a safe and effective learning environment. The organization of the room should facilitate the daily activity, and should not consistently reflect an "all eyes on me!" mentality. Again, I particularly like the idea of organizing the students into pods for cooperative learning. This was not particularly feasible in my classroom, as students were seated at heavy lab desks, so I instead asked students to turn around an work with the students sitting behind them. Should the desks in my future classroom be easier to move, I plan to use modified row system shaped somewhat like a horseshoe. A picture of this classroom set-up is included to the right, and a detailed key can be found on Page 2 of my Classroom Management and Discipline Plan. At all times, I keep in mind that mobility is a must and provide corridors for student movement. As a rather claustrophobic person myself, I remember feeling trapped in certain classes where it was difficult to move around the room. I firmly believe that students need to feel comfortable to learn, and I plan to include personal touches throughout my future classroom such as softer lighting (if possible), pictures of myself and former students, fun inspirational posters, etc. In my student teaching classroom, I have made an effort to decorate the walls with student work.

Another factor I have considered in my student teaching classroom is how and when to group students. Again, true scientific investigation and careers within any field require collaboration, so I have designed a number of group activities such that they foster cooperation and meaningful learning and ensure both individual and group accountability. I tend to use mixed-ability grouping in my classroom such that students can learn from one another. Most often, I have students work in groups of three, which worked quite well during a recent Chesapeake Bay Exploration Activity. In order to design my groups, I also take into account student relationships. At one point, I had accidentally grouped a former student couple together, and was asked to change the grouping!

Using effective routines and procedures

In my student teaching classroom, I incorporated several categories of routines identified by Weinstein and Novodvorksy (2011): class-running routines, lesson-running routines, and interaction routines. The first category of routines, the class-running routines are non-academic and include administrative duties, procedures for student movement, and housekeeping routines. I established these routines early in my student teaching semester and consistently reinforced their knowledge of these routines throughout the my student teaching experience.

A Student Creating a Wet-Mount Slide of River Water During a Laboratory Activity

The second category of routines—lesson-running routines can be broken down into three sub-categories. These sub- categories are listed below, along with a sample routine for each sub-category.

1) Homework Routines: During the "Do Now" activity and after attendance has been taken, the teacher will circulate around the room and check that homework has been completed.

2) Safety Routines: For each lab, students will be debriefed regarding specific safety procedures. Note: I have included a laboratory procedure and safety presentation for a lab in which we extracted DNA from strawberries.

3). Transition Routines: Students are free to leave when the bell rings. (This one I am VERY set on. It is disrespectful of me to make my students late to another class!)

The third and final category of classroom routines--interaction routines--specify the rules for talk and for students and teachers gaining each other’s attention. Personally, I have a fairly high threshold for chatter, but I feel that there are certain times when the classroom should be nearly, if not completely, silent. During group work, I allow students to talk at a reasonable volume. During individual work, I allow some very quiet talk, but students should use this opportunity to help each other rather than talk about who Johnny kissed at the homecoming game last weekend.

Maximizing Instructional Time

Hopefully, effective implementation of these routines will maximize the time available for instruction and engaged learning. I will also try to do my part to maintain the activity flow by avoiding flip-flopping, over-dwelling, fragmentation, etc. and preparing students for transitions. Preparing students for transitions becomes particularly important when teachers have students with specific disabilities (e.g., autism). Simple statements such as “After we end this activity in five minutes, we will be reading a section in the book regarding cell structure individually” can effectively prepare students for transitions and minimize student frustration. At New Kent High School, I have made use of an online stopwatch projected onto the Promethean board. This way, students can budget their own time, as they know exactly how many minutes they have to complete an activity. In the event of “ragged endings,” I have provided an extra activity (e.g., alien dichotomous key worksheet) for students to work on while others finish up.

Developing and using a classroom management plan that provides clear expectations of student behavior and appropriate responses to inappropriate behavior

For my future classroom, I have created a Classroom Management and Discipline Plan , that elaborates on these ideas. I have also included a Classroom Safety Plan which I will use to help maintain a safe and comfortable learning environment. Overall, I would classify my classroom management strategies as medium-control. Though I feel that a low-control classroom can become rather chaotic, I certainly do not want to come across as authoritarian to my students. I believe they need to feel that they are directing their own learning and they have the power to make choices and provide feedback.

Should discipline become necessary, I always pull students aside rather than disciplining them in front of their peers. I also try to take into account their perspectives. For example, one student was becoming very defiant in class. In response, I took him out into the hallway and explained that we needed to maintain a level of mutual respect. Additionally, I asked him if he had been having a bad day, only to find that his day had--in his words--been absolutely TERRIBLE! Without taking the time to understand where this student was coming from, I may have disciplined the student more harshly and further alienated him from myself and his peers.