The Power of a Successful Classroom… Principles to Live By
Lisa Ng is an experienced English Language Teacher and avid learner. She has worked extensively as a teacher in Asia beginning with private language institutions in Singapore and then moving onto teach at several post-secondary institutions from Australia and the United Kingdom. Her teaching philosophy is simple, strive to be the best teacher you can be, not what others expect you to be. Then, share, share and share! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you ever wondered what it was about another teacher that made them so well liked by their students? Was it because of their ability to entertain students? Or the way they structured their lessons? In theory, a teacher with these abilities has successful classes, but their success lies beyond what is apparent to the naked eye. It lies deep within the realms of the classroom environment. One which several principles are required to make any classroom successful, and that is the power of RICE.
I first heard about the RICE principle back in July 2012 when I was fortunate enough to attend a talk on successful Classroom Teaching by a lecturer named Rose Senior. I had never heard of her before, and since that talk, I will never forget her. Her hour long session helped me shape my belief as a teacher and gave me confidence in believing that although I might not fit into the mold of being an extroverted funny entertainer, there was no need to. She gave me the belief that if I was able to master these four next principles, I could still be a great educator. I could create my own culture. It is my hope that by sharing these four principles with you, it will serve you as well as it did for me.
As teachers, we are constantly put forth in the spotlight and it is our moral obligation to set the type of environment, whether positive or negative that we wish to see. We are the glue that can break or make the class. Serving as role models, as classroom educators, we need to establish rules of mutual trust and respect between not just teachers and students, but also among students and students. It has been said that there is strength in numbers and in the case of classrooms, it couldn’t ring more true.
Principle #2: Inclusivity
Of all the principles that I heard from Rose Senior, the principle of inclusivity was one of the hardest to digest. It made me wonder if I was being sensitive enough to the needs and values my students.
Rose banded us together on her journey of inclusivity through a story. She had gone into a class to observe a teacher. All of the students were sitting in a carpeted area and the teacher had written the lyrics to a nursery rhyme on the board. Halfway through teaching, a young boy raised his hand enthusiastically to try and tell the teacher that he knew the words to the song in his native language. The teacher ignored his pleas not once, but twice. Then, finally, when he ceased to stop, she stopped the entire lesson, asked him to be quiet, and commanded him to listen to her teach the class the song.
At that moment, two things happened. The teacher completely shattered the spirit of the lively little boy. She also broke any future chances to develop any positive rapport or connectedness he was to have with her and the learning over the course of the year.
In retrospect, instead of asking the little boy to be quiet, the teacher should have invited the little boy up on the stage and performed the rhyme in his native language. With this approach, the little boy would have felt valued and the collective learning experience of the entire class would have been further enhanced. Though we can never turn back the hands of time, we can always look to the future and see how we could adapt to the ever changing needs around us.
As a teacher, how do you value and celebrate the diversity within your class? Do you attempt to include collective learning experiences where everyone is able to participate?
Principle #3: Connectedness
While we know that relationships are the bridge that helps us feel connected to others, we often forget to add in the pillars to strengthen the bridge. A classroom teacher can help build a strong foundation by connecting the learning to students own knowledge and experiences. For example, rather than ‘telling students’ what they should be writing for the next compare and contrast essay, consider how students could be shown how to write this.
A teacher could begin by bringing in several bags of branded chips, in different flavours and ask volunteers to taste them. Before tasting, the class could brainstorm ideas as to what criteria they could use to rank the chips such as texture, taste, or level of crispiness. A decision making chart or a rubric could be used to help evaluate the chips in further detail as a class. Then, and only when a final decision was made, could the whole class be introduced to the concept of a compare contrast essay.
A class writing rubric could then be drafted, sample mini lessons could be conducted, the ideas are limitless. As you plan your next lesson, please take the time to really reflect on how to strengthen ties with your students through their knowledge. What movies or music do they like? What games do they like to play? Is there any way I can tie this into what I am teaching?
Principle #4: Engagement
As we come near the end of our journey, the last and final point I wish to touch on from Rose is the value of engagement. As a teacher, we can achieve more collectively. Our students need to see this too. That is why classrooms for the 21st century have evolved from the traditional role of rote learning to classrooms where technology, differentiated instruction, and collaboration occur more frequently. The question now, is to ask yourself, have you also changed with the times?
How much time do you spend talking in a 60 minute class? Is it too much? How much time do your students spend talking? Do you differentiate how they learn? Do you provide the ideal seven second think time after asking a question? Are there choice boards in your classes?
Reflecting on all the principles that were taught by Rose, I decided to also add another one of my own. That principle is one of practicality. What skills will we, as teachers pass onto our students after they leave our class? We have limited time with our students and as such should impart on them life skills that go beyond the confines of our four walls.
While students won’t always remember the content of the lessons you taught, never underestimate the power of transferable skills. These include but are not limited to: planning, oral communication, public speaking, creative thinking, decision making, research and teamwork skills. As the master Rod Bolitho once said, “When you show students how to apply these transferable skills, you are showing them a different side of teaching. You are also showing them that you are aware that they too, have different talents.” Knowing how to resolve conflicts, consider others opinions, and present ideas clearly to others will serve them for years and beyond.
When it comes to learning, there is no better role model in a classroom than an effective teacher. An effective educator emerges not solely from their knowledge of the content, but more so from their ability to integrate the principles of practicality, rapport, inclusivity, connectedness and engagement into their classrooms (PRICE). Fostering a supportive classroom environment where everyone feels valued and are given different outlets to demonstrate their creativity is not easy. Nor is it easy for teachers to compete with the new era of cell phones and ipads. Although there may be many hurdles along the way, having a successful classroom is possible. As long as teachers are willing to adopt these principles into their teaching, anything can emerge. Anything.
Teaching isn’t solely about the transfer of knowledge; it is about celebrating and valuing the diversity within our classes. It is about helping students feel confident. It is about teaching students that when we work together, we can all succeed. Together.
Bolitho, R. (2012, July) Curriculum Development and Syllabus Design: Transferable Skills. Class lecture for the Norwich Institute for Language Education, Norwich, England
Cowley, S. (2011). Getting the Buggers to Write. 3rd edition. Continuum
Gallagher, K. 2003. Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts 4-12. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.
Senior, R. (2012, July) Guiding Principles for Successful Classroom Teaching. Presentation given for the Norwich Institute for Language Education, Norwich, England
Please check the How to be a Teacher Trainer course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the English Course for Teachers and School Staff at Pilgrims website.
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