An Excerpt from Thoughts for Effective Teaching by Tiffany Tyndall — The Entirety of 11. Create a Welcoming Environment

Everyone’s style is different, so let us follow the beat of our own heart’s drum.  But consider creating a welcoming environment in your classroom so that students want to come in.  Students should feel like your classroom is an inviting place.  It shouldn’t feel cold or bare or dark.  It can be simple.  Just not a heartless or neglected place.

From the first step of entering your classroom to looking around at the walls, students should feel comfortable sitting in your classroom, even kind of like they are in a homey place.  Not that things have to be “homey” but just that they can remind someone of a home-like place.  Home is where the heart is, right?  So put a little heart into your classroom, your home away from home.

Start with having a welcome mat at your door.  Nothing says, “Welcome!” like a welcome mat.  There’s just something about it that says, “Come in!”  Have a real, live plant in your room.  Get one that’s easy to maintain like a regular house plant so that all you have to do is water it and give it some light.  Put a little lamp on your desk, like one that you would find on an end table or a night stand.  Whether you’re a lady or a gentleman, you can find things that reflect your personality and interests.

Hang up some curtains if your fire code permits.  Add some accent rugs in your room, even if you’re not a reading room.  Something is just so comforting about a well-placed accent rug.  It makes you want to curl up on it with a good book.

Choose your posters carefully and consciously.  You don’t have to make everything match or have a color-coordinated theme, but try to only display posters that have purpose, that say something.  This doesn’t mean that they all have to have words.  Quite the contrary!  Get some art work, some posters with beautiful scenery on them.  Think of pictures that would be hanging up in a living room.  Go for that kind of look.  Maybe not on every single wall, but somewhere, place a picture that is simply inspiring.  Something that helps the viewer relax.

You want your room to be one that students enjoying being in, right?  Well, make efforts to make your own presence and demeanor welcoming as well.  This doesn’t mean that you have to be grinning from ear-to-ear, doing cartwheels and juggling all day long.  It just means that it doesn’t hurt to have a pleasant look on one’s face as students enter the room.  Say hi to as many students as you can as they enter.

If someone comes up to you to ask a question, do your best to not look annoyed or frustrated.  Put a relaxed, closed-lip smile on your face even if you don’t feel like it.  You might be screaming on the inside, but don’t show it on the outside.  Save all of that for when you need it, like when students are disrupting class or if students get out of line.  But if you don’t need to be stern, then there’s no need to be.

In general, strive to be the kind of person that students aren’t afraid of approaching.  Be someone that students feel comfortable around.  This is very hard to do, especially when many of the students we teach seem to be unlovable, but just remember that everyone deserves to start with a clean slate every day.  You can be pleasant even while following through with consequences, even if they span over several days.  You don’t have to hold a grudge day after day to prove your point.  Let the grudge go but continue to follow through with consequences.

As important as the negative consequences are for discouraging inappropriate behavior, positive consequences are just as important, if not more important, for encouraging positive behavior.  Give student complements.  Tell them that you’re glad to see them, that you like having them in your class.  Don’t get creepy on them, but use good judgment, obviously.  Remember to point out the things they are doing right, not just the things they are doing wrong.  Tell students thank you.  Acknowledge the good.  Things like raising their hand, being patient, showing good effort, being attentive.  Make them feel appreciated.  This helps them to feel welcome in your classroom.

By the time it’s time to leave, students will kind of almost wish that class wasn’t over yet.  They’ll look forward to returning tomorrow, and before you know it, you will have started an important ball rolling that puts in motion the valuable secret called a welcoming classroom environment.

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

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