An Environment Designed for Learning
I value a safe, inclusive and respectful environment for learning. To invite students into our classroom, I send a handwritten postcard to each student before the start of school. This sets the tone that they belong in our classroom and it is a safe and inclusive place designed for them. Once the school year begins, I continue to write letters to individual students and to my whole class to strengthen our positive relationships and work through challenges. (Artifact 1)
Thank you for acknowledging that you are sometimes distracted by your fidgets. What do you think is a good solution to solve this problem? ... It's wonderful to hear that you are enjoying your classmates. In the past couple of weeks, I've noticed you have been working hard during silent writing time. Keep up the great work. Thanks for often asking if I need help cleaning up or passing out work at the end of the day. It means a lot!
Click for class letter
Artifact 1: Letters to Class and to Individual Students
When I was a student teacher, one of my mentors encouraged me to have students write me letters after the second week of school and to respond to them individually over the weekend. This has become a tradition that I continue throughout the school year. The text shows excerpts from my response to a student letter a few weeks ago. The PDF is a letter that I hand wrote to my class this spring while they were writing to me.
I notice my students taking responsibility for their learning when they feel acknowledged as individuals and know what is expected of them in every lesson. My focus on our learning environment relates directly to Quality Standard II, “teachers establish a safe, inclusive and respectful learning environment for a diverse population of students” (Colorado Department of Education, 2019). I know my students feel safe and respected because I see students willing to take risks in our classroom and encouraging each other to take risks too. They build on each other’s thinking, ask each other for feedback and are open to making changes and learning from mistakes. (Artifact 2) Although we have limited cultural and ethnic diversity in our school, we do have diverse learners and students with a wide range of academic skills. I advocate for my students on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and Response to Intervention (RtI) plans and work with interventionists, specials teachers, counselors, and administrators to ensure that every student is receiving the support they need to be successful. I also have regular communication with our gifted and talented teacher to ensure that all students are appropriately challenged.
Artifact 2: Discussion Prompts and Feedback Form
These discussion prompts and examples of peer feedback forms show how students build on each other’s thinking and provide peer feedback. Students routinely use the discussion prompts to build on each other’s thinking in all subject areas. Students use feedback forms as a guide to offer positive support and constructive criticism to their peers.
One way that I help students feel comfortable in our predictable learning environment is by writing our daily schedule on the white board with questions that students are expected to answer after each lesson. (Artifact 3) By clearly outlining our schedule everyday, I help students feel safe because they know our plan and are aware of any changes in our routine before they happen. About half way through the school year students started to revise my questions and create their own questions that they want to answer in different subjects including Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), Physical Education (PE) and Music. By generating their own questions, students are showing me that they know what is expected of them and are taking responsibility for their learning.
A second way that I help students feel respected and included in our learning environment is by starting every day with a morning meeting where we greet each other and then our Greeting Leader (a classroom responsibility that changes each week) leads us in a morning share. Through these morning shares, I learn about my students’ strengths, passions, hobbies, fears and celebrations. Initially inspired by The Morning Meeting Book (Artifact 4), these morning meetings have evolved based on students’ interests and daily learning objectives (Kriete & Davis, 2017). During the share, all students are expected to listen respectfully to their peers and notice if anyone needs a little help to start their day right.
A third way that I encourage students to feel safe and respected in our learning environment is by modeling how I learn best. I believe in learning from failure and I admit and celebrate my mistakes every day. I highlight the mistakes I make in front of our class by saying, “I made a mistake” and “Oh well at least my brain is growing”. My goal with these types of statements is to show students that making mistakes and failing is part of successful learning. I also model how to learn by self-reflecting on our day and week. On a given morning during writing, I may say, “I notice that this took 30 minutes longer than I expected and I realize that many of you needed more support with the graphic organizer”. I will then let students know that I have adjusted my expectations and will provide individual support as needed. As part of a weekly reflection, I send an email to all parents in my class with highlights of the week. (Artifact 5) Writing this email every Friday afternoon before I leave for the weekend helps me to think about what went well and notice what objectives need to be revisited.
Artifact 3: Picture of Daily Schedule
Instead of stating our learning objectives for each subject as “I can …” statements, I write a question that all students are expected to answer at the end of each lesson. At the end of our daily morning meeting in the rug area, students return to their desks and notice our schedule for the day. Students are invited to ask questions about what we are learning and notice any mistakes that I may have made on the schedule or anything I forgot.
Throughout the day, students refer to the schedule to understand we are learning or where we are going next. Reading and answering the learning questions on our schedule provides both an introduction and closure to many of our lessons.
Artifact 5: Weekly Highlights Emails
Artifact 4: Morning Meeting Book
The Morning Meeting Book (2017) by Roxann Kriete and Carol Davis inspired me to start every morning with a class greeting and share.
On Monday mornings, I lead the class greeting and share. We may start with a “governor greeting” where we thank everyone in the room for coming in only a few minutes. Or, we may start with a high five greeting or air hugs for all. Then, we meet on the rug for a full class share. Students share one good thing in their lives to start the week. It could be a highlight from the weekend or a delicious bite of their breakfast or anything else they choose. For the rest of the week a student leads the greeting and share. Sometimes I add an academic component. For example, I may invite students to share an adjective that describes their day so far when we are learning parts of speech.
This morning meeting time builds positive classroom culture by helping me know my students better and helping them to learn new things about each other. It is also a wonderful time to practice confident speaking and respectful listening.
To achieve the level 5 practice of Quality Standard II, element a, “teachers foster a predictable learning environment characterized by acceptable student behavior and efficient use of time in which each student has a positive, nurturing relationship with caring adults and peers,” students must “encourage positive behavior from their peers” (Colorado Department of Education, 2019). I know I am achieving this level 5 practice because my students love acknowledging each other with “shout outs” and “Seek the Peak” tickets. Our classroom tickets can be redeemed for different positive incentives (Artifact 6) and Seek the Peak tickets are part of our school wide positive behavior support system. Seek the Peak tickets are collected in the main office and, on Mondays, one ticket per grade level is selected for a class reward (ex. pajama day). At the end of each school day, my Seek the Peak Ambassador (one of our classroom responsibilities) presents a Seek the Peak tickets to a student who was observed exceeding school expectations. My Teacher Assistants (also classroom responsibilities) call on students to give “shout outs” to each other and decide as judges if the shout out warrants a classroom ticket. Students also give class shout outs and the teacher’s assistants add marbles to our class marble jar. Taking this time for students to acknowledge and reward each other every day ensures that students appreciate how encouraging positive behavior from their peers is part of our successful classroom.
A safe, inclusive and respectful learning environment relates directly to my professional goals because I want to be a master of creating an environment where all students thrive. I feel like I am making progress toward this goal when I see all of my students quiet and focused, working in small groups, or completely engaged in group projects and creative exploration. I know my students feel safe when they tell me about their fears and concerns either through a note in my secret mailbox or in person and we work together to solve any problems or worries. I know I have room for improvement when students communicate concerns through their parents and don’t feel comfortable talking to me directly. An inclusive learning environment doesn’t look the same for each group of students and I am ready for my classroom to evolve to best meet the needs of each individual and each class. Depending on students’ interests and strengths that may include new technology, or flexible seating, or more project-based learning, or more traditional methods. My current classroom is a place where my current students thrive and next year it will change to best support the next group of unique learners.
Artifact 6: Excerpt from Classroom Tickets Incentives Chart
This chart shows the rewards that students can redeem for classroom tickets.
Bring in a stuffed animal and keep it on your desk for the day
10 minutes of free draw or read time (you choose when)
Have lunch in the classroom with a friend
Show and tell (must get teacher approval for anything living)
Go help in a younger classroom – 20 tickets per person
10 minute game for the whole class
Bring a guest reader to school (to share a favorite book)
20 minutes of choice on Friday for whole class (no personal electronics)
In addition to our school wide positive behavior support system, our classroom tickets help to highlight and reward positive behavior. I give out tickets to students who transition quickly, who are focused and on task regardless of the challenge, and who support their peers. Students also reward each other with classroom tickets at the end of the day by giving “shout outs” for going above and beyond expectations.
I love hearing the “shout outs” and supporting students giving tickets because they often describe a moment that I may not have noticed or appreciated as much as my students.
Artifact 7: Excerpt from Mission Statement
At the beginning of our school year, our 4th grade class collaborated to build our class mission statement for the year.
“We are compassionate, cooperative, respectful, experts, kind, safe, smart, awesome, funny, patient, focused and peaceful.
We want to be a successful, joyful, colorful, awesome class.
We want to be creative artists, confident mathematicians, innovative scientists, and original and unique writers.
We will be silly when it's appropriate, Seek the Peak, treat others the way we want to be treated, get along, gain knowledge, be honest, be good sports, be creative, be open minded, persevere, encourage each other and work hard.”
Our mission statement is written on a giant piece of poster paper and hung on our wall. Throughout the year, we refer back to our mission statement and think about one element of it we want to work on and improve. Our mission statement is open to revision and includes the words and ideas of all students in our class. This class mission supports our positive, inclusive and respectful classroom environment.
Colorado Department of Education. (2019). RANDA - Colorado state model performance management system. Retrieved January 19, 2019, from https://copms.randasolutions.com/
Kriete, R., & Davis, C. (2017). The morning meeting book: K-8 (3rd ed.). Turner Falls, MA: Center for Responsive Schools.