Teach To Be Happyclass Communication {blog}

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  • Academic blog that helps. THE IMPACT OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY IN TEACHING AND LEARNING. January 20, 2021 admin Uncategorized 0.
  • Today’s teachers balance a multitude of expectations from students, administrators, and their communities. Between ensuring positive student outcomes, managing varying levels of parental engagement, and employee and budget shortages, the pressure on teachers can be intense—making the need for districts to prioritize teacher engagement vital.
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Understand that communication is a process. Look at communication challenges as an invitation to keep on talking, keep on listening, and eventually work things out. In my previous blogpost, I looked at the importance of interaction in language learning and how the process of negotiating meaning is key to our students not just in terms of fluency practice but also in developing their communication strategies and communicative competence so that they can hold their own in an English conversation outside the classroom. It all boils down to this — communication is a skill and it takes focused effort to do it well. In other words, your team won’t communicate by accident. You need to teach them to do it on purpose and keep investing in those skills over time. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time recovering from problems that could have been prevented.

As a teacher, the idea of creating a happy classroom is normally at the top of our agenda. Forget the staffroom camaraderie, the satisfaction of finishing a pile of marking and the joy of finding the missing glue lid, what teachers simply want is for children to be happy.

But how can you create a happy classroom? What can you put in place to ensure that the happiness of everyone, you included, is easily put into place? Well, thanks to our Happy-Centred School programme, we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve to help you.

Why is Creating a Happy Classroom Necessary?

In August 2019, the annual Good Childhood Report from the Children’s Society found overall happiness among 10- to 15-year-olds had dipped below 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, with an average of 7.89. Nearly 5% of those surveyed reported happiness scores below 5 out of 10, which equates to approximately 219,000 children in the UK being unhappy with life as a whole. It also reported that there was a ‘significant dip’ in happiness with school in 2016/17.

So, as the report says, ‘As a society we have to start taking children’s well-being more seriously,’ and as educators, we’re in a prime position to do this.

At risk of sounding like the sixth Spice Girl, what we really, really want is for the children to come in every morning full of excitement, ready and eager to start the day ahead. We want them to leave at the end of the day with smiles on their faces, inspired by the lessons we’ve taught.

But it’s not always that easy. From family unemployment and poverty to young carer roles and neighbourhood issues, many other factors can stand in our way.

Creating a happy classroom, therefore, becomes crucial.

5 Ways to Create a Happy Classroom

A classroom should be a space where happiness takes precedence, where children are always met with a smile and with positivity. It’s a space where their wellbeing is as important as their academic achievements. So how can we create one?

Communication

1. Providing Support

Creating a support network can help to build happiness in the classroom. From friends, family and the adults within the school, children soon realise that they have important people to turn to when they need them. Feeling lonely and with nowhere to turn can do much to damage a child’s mental health and wellbeing. By creating a classroom with a clear support system in place, children’s overall happiness and confidence can increase.

It’s not easy for all children to understand how to support others within the classroom either – it’s a skill that needs to be explicitly taught to some. Working together to establish what that support looks like within your classroom can help those who struggle with this aspect of personal relationships and confirm your expectations to the rest.

2. Celebrating Achievement and Success

Celebrating individual and group achievements can do much to enhance the happiness in your classroom. Studies have shown that reward and recognition can go a long way to boosting people’s confidence and morale. When we achieve our goals, our brain sends messages to our body to say, ‘Well done you!’ We release neurotransmitters such as serotonin (the happy chemical) and dopamine (the motivation and reward chemical), which help us to feel great.

In both children and adults, the levels of dopamine and serotonin that we have in our bodies play a part in our overall wellbeing, digestion and sleep. The more serotonin and dopamine, the happier we tend to be. Celebrating mistakes can help here too. Creating a happy classroom starts with an understanding of the importance of growth mindset and of learning from our mistakes.

As much as stickers and smiley faces can work wonders with happiness, an enjoyment of intrinsic happiness is important too. Build in time for children to reflect on things they are proud of and why.

3. Teaching Self-Confidence

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Confidence can increase happiness, but it’s not something we’re all naturally born with. For many of us, it is a learned skill that improves with age, experience and practise. A happy classroom embraces this journey and provides opportunities for children to learn this skill in their own time, with the support of those around them.

For children to be successful, they need to be able to manage and overcome their fears, worries, limiting beliefs and problems. They also need to look at how other people portray confidence, even though they may not naturally be confident at all – this can be quite the revelation for some children!

Give children a wide range of vocabulary to indicate confidence. Talk about inner belief, optimism, courage and determination, so that children understand what these traits are and the importance of them. Make it part of your everyday classroom discussions and model what it’s like to struggle with something, persevering until you get the hang of it. Share any relevant experiences from outside of school or your own childhood that can show them what happens when you have the confidence to continue.

Gentle encouragement and recognition of their efforts can be all most children need to slowly build their confidence. Slow and steady wins the race every time.

4. Building Positive Relationships

Having positive relationships with peers and adults within the school can do much when creating a happy classroom. Sadly, not all children have such positive relationships outside of school, so providing a consistently happy, positive environment within it can contribute heavily to their overall happiness.

Teaching and modelling what positive relationships look like will help children as they learn how to build their own. Some may not have the confidence or the understanding and will, therefore, learn a lot from how you build positive relationships with each pupil and with other adults in the classroom/school.

As the children begin to build these positive relationships, it will not only improve their overall happiness, but it will give them a sense of belonging and feeling valued. It will help to develop their self-confidence and give a sense of security and comfort. Most importantly it will teach them how to communicate openly, trying out new ideas without fear of judgement. All of these skills will stand them in good stead as they make new positive relationships later in life.

It will also help them identify when a relationship is not a positive influence and how this can impact their wellbeing.

5. Developing Coping Skills

Life isn’t fair. Decisions and situations rise up and are out of our immediate control. Children (and adults) can find this one of life’s toughest lessons. What is in our control, however, is how we cope and react when times get tough. In order to feel happy, we need to feel in control.

If children develop core strategies early on, they can apply them throughout their life and adapt them to suit any situation. If we’re able to teach children to understand their emotions, as well as how their body may feel and react during times of stress, they will be able to identify what they need to do to feel better.

It’s not a case of simply shying away from a challenge when it presents itself either; it’s about developing coping behaviours that can help children to manage their emotions successfully. Children with a bank of coping strategies up their sleeves can do much for creating a happy classroom and for children’s overall mental health and wellbeing.

A Positive and Happy Influence

Creating a happy classroom isn’t just about smiling every day. It’s about developing an environment that looks after the whole child and helps them build strategies to feel happier about all aspects of their lives. All the themes listed above are interwoven and all are equally important in helping you achieve this.

As teachers we are in the privileged position to be a constant, positive influence in the lives of our pupils and this is a position we should feel proud of. Creating a happy classroom is just the beginning.

Author: Gerard Dawson, English & Journalism Teacher, Hightstown High School, New Jersey

Teaching students to self-reflect is important. It’s also challenging, especially if you’ve never fully realized the benefits of self-reflection for yourself.

I always thought reflection was just an “add-on” or “bonus” activity that teachers asked me to do in school. It wasn’t until entering the classroom as an educator that my perception changed: I realized self-reflection is a necessary part of the learning process. Teaching students to self-reflect meant teaching them to teach themselves.

Here are the top four things that you’ll learn in this article:

  1. How I learned the value of self-reflection (not until I was 22)
  2. Famous educational thinker John Dewey’s thoughts about reflection’s special power
  3. Simple, powerful questions that lead students toward successful reflection
  4. The difference between “what” and “why” self-reflection

Why learning through reflection is important

It was my semester of student teaching, October of 2010, basement library computer lab at The College of New Jersey, Friday evening after rugby practice. There, I found myself pounding away at the keyboard, reflecting on the just finished week of student teaching.

This happened over and over again through the semester, me writing incessantly about the small wins and big mistakes of the five days of teaching, and feeling like the words were flowing from my fingertips through divine inspiration. I’d re-read the reflections, and they were largely incoherent, but the process of writing them was priceless for figuring out what it meant to do this job.

I remember my supervisor and still-today mentor Mr. Sowder responding to one of my emailed reflections with “You like writing these, it seems.”

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It was then that I realized the value of self-reflection as a student: reflection allowed me to teach myself. Reflection is a way to learn from experience, without anyone else needed to guide me or talk to me. While many mention the growth mindset as something abstract, teaching students to self-reflect is a tangible strategy for building a student growth mindset.

Fortunately, there are educators with far larger pedigrees than mine who have espoused the benefits of teaching students to self-reflect.

Importance of self-reflection for students

Any discussion of teaching students to self-reflect must include John Dewey, the great American thinker, and education reformer. Dewey put forth many of the ideas that teachers today view as truisms: educational materials should be relevant to students’ lives, students should engage in valuable activities instead of rote learning, and classrooms should function as communities to prepare students for participation in a democracy.

If somebody mentions something “innovative” in education today, John Dewey probably said it in 1930.

In his work How We Think, Dewey says that self-reflection is the only type of thinking that leads to learning.

In chapter one, “What is thought?” he writes (bold is mine):

In some cases, a belief is accepted with slight or almost no attempt to state the grounds that support it. In other cases, the ground or basis for a belief is deliberately sought and its adequacy to support the belief examined. This process is called reflective thought; it alone is truly educative in value” (Dewey 2).

Based on Dewey’s comment above, you can see how self-reflection differs from other types of thinking, and why it is so important to teach students to self-reflect. But how do you do it? I only learned to reflect at the age of 22, but surely students can learn as early as elementary school.

How to teach self-reflection to students: Self-reflection questions

Said simply, you can teach students to self-reflect by asking them the right questions. As a teacher, you know that there is often a difference between the students’ perceptions of their ability, and the reality of the situation, so teachers have to guide students through reflection carefully at first.

I like to share the three simplest reflection questions I use with students. These questions are:

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not?
  • What next?

“What’s working?” asks students to think about the ways in which things are going well. It’s interesting to note that some students will comment on their own learning process or outcomes (e.g. “My essay is coming along much more easily than I expected”) while other students may reflect on the class or the activity (e.g. “I like getting to share our essays with our partners before we submit them”).

“What’s not?” asks students to find the areas that can be addressed for improvement. Some students will be overly self-critical here, while others will be naive about their own abilities, so I often pay careful attention to how students answer this question.

“What next?” is the most important question for students, in my opinion, because it asks them to make a choice and a plan about how to move forward. When I use this series of questions with students working on a writing assignment, I use this question to ask students to create a “revision plan” that they can use to improve their essays before submitting them to me or a peer.

Teachers can also teach students to self-reflect as part of an ongoing process instead of just on a single assignment. For example, in a blog post titled “Student Reflection: A Tool for Growth and Development,” Brooke B. Eisenbach noticed that her own weekly process of reflection as a teacher would become more robust if her students became involved.

Brooke explains:

I implemented student reflection as a weekly component of my classroom instruction. Every Friday, students spent 10–15 minutes reflecting on our week together. They responded to four key questions that prompted personal reflection:

  • What did you learn this week?
  • What activities helped you to learn?
  • What activities did you find engaging?
  • What questions or comments do you have for me?

Notice that by making this a weekly process, Brooke is teaching her students that self-reflection is an integral part of the learning process, not simply a one-off activity. Also, again notice the simplicity and power of the reflection questions.

Many times, teaching students to self-reflect has an added bonus of making the formative assessment process more precise and useful for teachers. As students become comfortable explaining their own thinking, teachers can gather better data about their students’ learning to use for future instruction.

In conclusion: how we teach students to self-reflect matters

Although teaching self-reflection need not be a complicated process, please keep in mind that is also not something to haphazardly wander into. It is clear that self-reflection can lead to better formative assessment data for the teacher and hopefully more self-awareness for students.

As a final word of advice, keep in mind the way in which you frame your self-reflection activities for students. Above, I mentioned that I asked students (and myself) to explain “what’s working?” “what’s not?” and “what next?” not “why am I doing well?” “why am I struggling?”or “why should I do X?” This is in keeping with Harvard Business Review’s findings that self-reflection leads to self-awareness, particularly when people ask questions that begin with “what” as opposed to questions that begin with “why.” This is because it places the focus on situations and outcomes instead of one’s own internal qualities.

So, ask students to reflect in the right way and ask them to do it often to confer the greatest benefits of teaching self-reflection.