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Tips for Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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If it is clear from the expressions on their faces they have no idea what you are talking about, be willing to take the time to present the concept in different words, with different illustrations. Expecting their confusion to disappear with time is not good enough.


The posting excerpt below is a from Appendix 14.1. Suggestions for

Establishing a Positive a Positive Classroom Climate, in the chapter,

A Helpful Handout: Establishing and Maintaining a Positive Classroom

Climate, by Linda R. Hilsen, in the book: A GUIDE TO FACULTY

DEVELOPMENT: Practical Advice, Examples, and Resources, by Kay Herr

Gillespie, Editor, with; Linda R. Hilsen, and Emily C. Wadsworth,

Associate Editors.

Presented by, POD Network, Professional and Organizational

Development Network in Higher Education. Published by, Anker

Publishing Company, Inc., Bolton, Massachusetts, copyright ? 2002,

all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Ways to Think About Being a Dean

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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Excerpt: Appendix 14.1. Suggestions for Establishing a Positive a Positive Classroom Climate


1. Be concerned about the physical setting.

a. Check the lighting in the room. Make certain all can see to read

the texts, overhead, or large screen projection. On the other hand,

there is no good reason why every light has to be on at eight

o'clock in

the morning.

b. Encourage students to inform you about any discomforts. For

example, if an open window is causing a chilling draft, tell them to

feel free to make needed adjustments.

2. Make the examples you use relevant to your students' lives:

"How would you feel if somebody dropped a whole load of oil in Lake

Superior?" "How will this current drought affect your budget?"

3. Do not be so rigidly tied to your syllabus that you do not take

the time to capitalize on real life situations. If Jesse Jackson

visits your campus, find a way to connect this event with what is

going on in your class and your students' lives.

4. Address students by name. Use a seating chart, name tags, the

Polaroid technique, or whatever may work for you to learn their names.

5. Remember, not all reasons for incomplete assignments are excuses.

Yes, we must establish rules, but there are occasions where the rules

need to be broken. Be compassionate, not cynical. Grandmothers really

do die.

6. Constantly read your audience's response:

a. If it is clear from the expressions on their faces they have no

idea what you are talking about, be willing to take the time to present

the concept in different words, with different illustrations. Expecting

their confusion to disappear with time is not good enough.

b. If students are bored or you have just covered an in-depth topic

intensively, there is nothing wrong with stopping. Allowing

them to talk

or stretch for a minute or two and then continuing.

c. In long classes, provide a short break to address human

comforts. Students have a difficult time following you if they have

pressing needs.

7. Provide nonverbal encouragement:

a. Maintain eye contact.

b. Move about the room. Come out from behind that podium. Display

your willingness to be a person; sit on a sturdy desk or table. Move

into their space.

c. Be animated and expressive, both facially and bodily. Let them

see and feel your enthusiasm.

8. Model the thinking processes in your field for your students. Do

not just tell them; show them, and then let them practice. If you

are not talking, it does not mean you are not teaching.

9. Use positive reinforcement:

a. Give students recognition for contributing to in-class

discussions or answering questions. Use positive reinforcement when

possible, but if the answer is incorrect, try to lead the student

through continued questioning to reach an acceptable position.

b. Use student test answers to review material after a test. Keep

track of good answers as you correct the tests, and let the students

"star" a bit. This is a lot less boring than you reading all the right


c. After getting permission from the student, share good student

work with the rest of the class.

d. Validate student opinions by referring to points students made

previously, not always using "as I said last Thursday." Say, "to follow

up on John's point Tuesday?."

10. Keep constant tabs on how your students are progressing:

a. Use conferencing outside of class to discuss problems and areas

where students are doing well.

b. Be willing to provide review, catch-up, or further explanation


c.If students are not going to make it, honestly counsel them

out before

you are forced to fail them.

11. When asking questions, pause. Students need time to process the

questions and their answers. Count to 15 before moving on. If you do

not , the message you are giving is, "I really don't want to take

away from my time to listen to a student." This is not the message

you should be sending out if you want your students to learn.

Verbalizing information helps students internalize it. We should

provide as many occasions as feasible for them to verbalize. Invite

responses by pausing for a good length of time. If you wait long

enough, you will get an answer if you have not worded the question in

an alien language or manner.

12. Do not talk down to students:

a. Avoid judging behaviors, which cause students to feel


b. Avoid stereotyping. Do not think that female have a certain set

of interests and males have another. Do not think that all older

students like to talk in class. Do not target examples and questions

towards certain groups in your class.

13. Be a facilitator during discussions, not the emcee. You do not

have to do all the talking in your classroom. Let the students help

each other learn as you guide them. A marvelous peak experience

occurs when the students forget you are there and pass right by you

in the discussion. It is then you know you are going your job.

14. Use peer pressure to your advantage on assignments and classroom

decorum. Students can motivate and reprimand each other.

15. Give your students possibilities for providing feedback during

the course. You might want to try one or two of the following:

a. At the end of the first week, ask students to take out a piece

of paper and anonymously comment on "things I like about this class,"

"thing I dislike," "how I would like to see things change."

b. Have a suggestion box outside of your classroom or office.

c. Establish a lecturer's feedback group. Any student can attend to

bring up anything about the course. Usually these groups meet in the

instructor's office or the cafeteria.

d. Use a formative evaluation instrument to get a reading early in

the course. My favorite happens to be "Teaching Analysis by Students"


e. Have a consultant from your instructional development service

discuss the course with the students during part of a class hour.

f. Have a random sampling of students interviewed by a consultant

to answer questions you have composed.

16. The classroom climate is enhanced by out-of-class contact.

Recognize students in the halls and malls.

17. Read the dean's lists, the school paper, the sports section of

the local paper, etc., to learn about the accomplishments of your

students. Mention them in class.

18. The climate in your office is just as important as the one you

establish in class.

a. Let students know where your office is and how to find it.

b. Make conscious choices about how you arrange your office. When

going over papers, have the student sit beside you so you can both see

the product being discussed.

c. If you are located in an inner complex, inform your students

that the secretary doesn't bite.

d. If you are working when a student appears, don't ignore the

student. Take a moment to set a meeting time which is mutually


e. Personalize your office. Family photos, rugs, and plants help.

f. If you make appointments with students, keep them. If you are

detained, call someone to post a note for the student.