You Can Do It

An Excerpt from Thoughts for Effective Teaching by Tiffany Tyndall — The Entirety of 2. A Sense of Belonging

Want to have more unity in your classroom?  Then aim to create a sense of belonging.  You don’t have to go overboard or anything like put students in teams and assign role-based tasks like cooperative learning does, but that’s certainly one way to do it.  Team learning can be fun, but it’s not for everyone.

Start small and simple.  Greet students at the door and aim to say hi-plus-their-name to as many students as you can before class starts.  Even add a how-are-you with a little smile.  This helps students to feel noticed right off the bat.  School isn’t an easy place for a lot of students, so taking the time to invest some interest in them will go a long way to helping them feel comfortable in your classroom.

During class, involve as many students as you can throughout the lesson.  Go for 100 percent participation.  Students will pay attention more and won’t be so distracting if they know that you’ll be calling on them at some point in the day.

But when you call on students, do so in a way that doesn’t put unnecessary pressure on them.  Try not to embarrass them.  Students will clam up and shut down if you put them on the spot without giving them a way out or without giving them some help.

Remember scaffolding?  If students are flailing, help them out.  If they can’t come up with an answer on their own, then give them a multiple choice question so that they have some options.  Be a little bit funny with them.  Ask them to “call a friend” or to “ask the audience” so that other students can lend their help.

If some students just don’t know or are clearly not going to participate, then come back to them later on in the lesson.  If they still are unresponsive or aren’t respectful, then make a note to yourself to talk with them after class.

Talk with any students who aren’t on task.  Address it as soon as you can without interrupting yourself and without making it a big deal.  Pull them aside, whisper to them at their level, or keep them after class for a moment (and always give a pass to the next class).

Why take the time to talk to students like this?  Because it shows that you care about them and their learning!  Nothing says “you belong here” more loudly than taking the time to talk to a student.

When you talk to students one-on-one like this, obviously keep your door open or talk in the hall.  I’m not advocating having special private times with the teacher that are secretive and suggestive.  I’m talking about keeping the communication lines open.

Try not to lecture students during your conversations with them.  Let them talk first.  Ask open, encouraging questions like this: “So what’s going on?” or “Why do you think I want to talk to you?” or “Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”  Sure, a lot of students will say I-don’t-know at first, but keep pressing in a caring way.

If you get the “nothing” treatment, start describing what you are seeing and hearing with questions like this: “Well, it seems to me that something is bothering you.  I’m willing to listen if you’re willing to tell me” or “I noticed that you did a lot of talking to your neighbor today.  Why do you think that’s not okay in here?”  Give students a clue as to why you wanted to talk to them, then ask them to fill in the details for you.  Help them to see your side while showing them that you see their side, too.

The point is not to grill and place guilt but to address misbehavior and to guide them back to the right track.  If we let these little things go, then we are sending the message that either we don’t see it or that we don’t care about it.

By taking the time to talk about what’s okay and not okay in the classroom, we are demonstrating to students that they matter to us and that their positive behavior is important to the healthy function of the class.

Emphasize that it’s your job, as the teacher, to teach and that it’s their job, as the students, to learn.  You wouldn’t be doing your job if you let them do whatever they wanted.  Because you are redirecting them, you are showing that you care about them and their learning.  For a lot of students, this goes a long way, especially with the “difficult” ones.

Thoughts for Effective Teaching: Maintaining Perspective and Remaining Reflective While in the Trenches of Teaching by Tiffany Tyndall is available for purchase here.