A learning environment will happen, whether intentional or not…so
why not go about building a positive environment, intentionally.
Developing positive relationships with students can go a long way in your classroom. In this article, I will describe how I manage to maintain a positive classroom environment by reviewing how I develop and build relationships with my ELL students in Thailand . Here are some of my strategies to aid in maintaining a positive classroom and the importance of creating a climate of caring and concern to support student learning.
Getting to know you, getting to know me
I like to introduce myself and let the students know what I am generally interested in and find out their names and what they are interested in. All students are different and it’s important to recognise this. I believe that getting to know students and their interests adds value to the student-teacher relationship. It encourages to celebrate their differences, it allows students to either identify and relate with me or encourage them to share something of interest; “It increases student engagement. It creates a safe discursive environment. It encourages student collaboration and participation” (Lucero, 2006-2016).
I acknowledge students achievements and their successes, whether they are in the classroom in other activities in or outside of school. I find, when taking an appropriate interest in the student’s accomplishments, it will build a positive rapport and relationship with the students. It will also encourage them to share their future successes with you as they will remember the praise they received when you celebrated their accomplishments.
I’m not afraid to be flexible, modify or accommodate for students. Especially in Thailand, there are many instances where students may need to practice for other extra-curricular activities and in some cases, they are culturally related activities. In these cases, I tend to extend submission date for their work or try to provide additional assistance/meetings for when they are next free to communicate with me any of their concerns for their projects/assignments. I feel that students value this as it creates a sense of co-operation and it allows them the opportunity to communicate with me no fear of any negative consequences.
Recently, I’ve started to ask students opinions more and prompting them to reflect on their experiences. By asking and listening to their opinions gives them a sense of value and respect. Especially, as a teacher you are listening and acknowledging those opinions. It also helps students to identify what went well and what they believe could have gone better. By reflecting, we all get the chance to review the work and it can encourage students to learn from their mistakes to better themselves in the future.
Every class, I try to play a warm-up game at the beginning of class. These games usually involve the student standing up and moving as they are generally sat down most of the time. Generally, most teachers are teacher-centred and in my school, in particular, it can be very heavy on rote learning. I aim to make my students experience student centred and a little more active than their standard classes. As a result, students seem more excited and engaged when I enter the room.
Support Students emotional well-being
In the first class, I like to establish some guidelines or rules of the classroom. I ask them what they think the teacher expects and help students understand the importance of these expectations. As a teacher, you have to be consistent with the expectations stated at the beginning of the semester. If you become inconsistent, then the rules/expectations lose value. This can also include praises and consequences.
I enjoy making information relatable to the students. By bringing their interest into the content can help students create links with their learning and it makes their experience more engaging. For example, my students all know the mobile game Plants VS Zombies. I would ask them, how do you play this game? How do you get more plants? Students are suddenly engaged and interested, they want to tell me and respond to my questions as it’s something that they all play and recognise.
Eventually, the students will identify that sunlight is important for plants and this would be my typical intro to photosynthesis in my Science class.
I like to show interests in all students’ achievements. Whether it was something in the newsletter, in class, outside of school, on Facebook etc. It shows we value what our students do and what they are interested in. I found that students are more likely to share with you if you are someone that listens and or engage in their interests. As a result, it helps build a more positive student-teacher relationship.
Remember you are only human
Quite often in my ELL Science classes, there are going to be English words that sound like another word in Thai and it would mean something completely different. For example, the word key, in English is an object that helps unlock and open doors. However in it also sounds like a word they use in Thai that means “poo”. In situations like this, you just have to laugh, and not be afraid to do so. Students will see that you have a sense of humour and its forms a better student-teacher relationship.
Although I mentioned earlier to not be afraid to laugh and share emotions, at the same time you have to keep cool. This is particularly true when a teacher becomes angry with a student. Even though we as teachers may feel the temptation to be angry, we should resist the urge to demonstrate this emotion. “Students “listen” to every behaviour made by the teacher as a statement of the type of relationship the teacher desires, even when the teacher’s actions have no such intent” (Marzano, 2007). In this case, it’s easy to shout or raise your tone of voice towards the students. But ideally we should substitute these behaviours by speaking directly to the student in a calm and respectful tone, maintaining an appropriate distance from the student, looking directly at the student without glaring or staring and having a facial expression that is either neutral or positive.
Setting expectations, guidelines and being consistent
All the students in my private school are ELL students. A majority of the student’s first language is Thai. I encourage the students at the beginning of the term to set some basic guidelines or rules of the classroom. As a result, students get the opportunity to lay down what they think my expectations are and I facilitate and guide them with these rules and understand the importance of these expectations. “Be consistent with the expectations stated in your syllabus and, as things arise that require making changes, be sure to provide your rationale” (Lucero, 2006-2016). Another benefit here is teachers and students get to recognise and accept what is appropriate behaviour within the classroom and how to identify what is inappropriate behaviour.
In some cases, with more sensitive matters such as bullying, this information may have to be reinforced in Thai with the Thai assistant/homeroom teacher. I, therefore, feel it’s important that instructions accommodate for the students and check their understanding in Thai with a Thai teacher/representative. Just to make sure all our expectations are clear and not miscommunicated.
Overall, by creating awareness of the appropriate behaviours in the classroom, it can hopefully prevent or lower the risk of negative situations such as bullying to occur. By students acknowledging what is acceptable behaviour and encouraging them to tell or share when someone is being inappropriate can help reduce this and maintain a more positive atmosphere in the classroom.
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