In last month’s blog I introduced six strategies students are helping me share with other teachers. In working with the student facilitators and my teaching colleagues this year, I’ve learned a lot—and have been thinking about how these strategies can be incorporated in our classrooms.
The first two strategies that students identified aren't earth-shattering. But they are strategies that students over the years have shown me—through their words and actions—that are vital to their learning.
What are these strategies? Visibility and proximity.
What do you think of when you hear that word? For me, the theme song from the TV show Cheers comes to mind:
“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name…”
All of us want to work in an environment where we feel people know us and value our contributions. Our classrooms are our students’ work environments. What are we doing to make them feel welcomed and valued? To feel “visible” (or seen) in the classroom?
In my work with our student facilitators, a few key things teachers can do to create this environment were stressed:
1. Greet students at the door or as they enter the classroom
2. Know students’ names and pronounce them correctly
3. Call on lots of students in the classroom (not just the same ones who raise their hands all the time)
I talked a little more in depth about several of these strategies in an earlier blog. It seems so simple, but my work this year has just confirmed how truly powerful and valuable these seemingly innocuous strategies are.
I loved the response that Maria, one of my fellow student facilitators, shared: “I decided that if my teachers weren’t going to use these strategies, I would model them for them. So every day, when I walk in the room, if my teacher doesn’t greet me, I greet him/her and ask how they're doing. I ask them how their weekend was or how their day is going. Hopefully they’ll realize this is important to me and start doing it themselves.”
As I’ve focused on this strategy this year, I’ve also realized how vital it is that we create classroom communities where our students know each other and help each other feel valued and visible. I want my students to know each others’ names, to greet each other, and to be able to effectively work together.
This does not happen on its own. It takes time and commitment to building a classroom community. Helping students feel visible and valued in our classrooms is not solely the teacher’s job, but should be an expectation that extends to all members of our classroom community.
If you’ve been around the profession a while (like I have) you've probably remember hearing about positive classroom discipline models from folks like Fred Jones. Physical proximity and its impact on learning is supported by research that tells us if we are within at least 8 feet of another person, it activates our brain and increases our ability to focus on what they are saying.
One of the keys to facilitate proximity is how we set up our classrooms. Classroom design that flows and allows us to be able to approach each student is crucial.
Proximity also helps create less of a “sage on the stage” atmosphere and connects us to our students. One young man shared that he felt he did better in his math class because he was seated near the teacher.
Another student said, “I like when my teachers walk around the room and help students. It makes me feel like they care.”
What ideas do you have for helping students know they are visible and valuable contributors in the classroom? What class design have you found that helps facilitate proximity?