Being a teacher is hard. Being a mom is hard. Combining the two makes it seems downright impossible some days. So, this past week when it was Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day, it was a week full of wonderful celebrations. How cool was that? Chocolates, muffins, sweet cards, and happy vibes were treasured.
The combined celebratory week got me thinking about the concepts we have learned as teachers and how they carry over into our home environment as parents. Did you know that 48% of teachers are parents? Even if a teacher doesn’t have children at home, they are parents for eight hours a day in the confines of their classrooms. From tying shoes to helping with loose teeth, from lecturing students about a bad choice they made, to encouraging them to pursue a passion, parenting is part of a teacher’s job description.
Part of being an effective teacher and parent is creating a positive environment at school and home. It is crucial to making your students and your at-home children feel loved, appreciated, and stable.
Geeta Verman, a school principal states, “A positive classroom environment helps improve attention, reduce anxiety, and supports emotional and behavioral regulation of students. When educators foster a positive learning culture, learners are more likely to acquire higher motivation that leads to wonderful learning outcomes.”
Since a positive classroom environment creates all of the above wonderful effects, a positive home environment fosters the same results: less anxious children who feel safe, loved, and motivated.
Here are 3 practical ways to create a positive environment in the classroom and at home.
Creating a Positive Environment: Connect
Think about the different jobs you’ve held. Which particular job brings happy thoughts? For me, I think about the jobs and locations in which I connected with coworkers, had friends like family, and had personable administration. It was those principals that asked about my children, asked about my weekend, and were genuinely interested in me that had me looking forward to work.
As teachers, it is crucial to connect with students. Simple and practical ways include asking about their weekend, their out-of-school hobbies and sports, and overall general interests. If there’s a moment that you are one-on-one with your student, ask them a question about what they’re going to do after school that day. I find that one question opens up the door to so much conversation. Comment on their new shoes or their shiny new braces. If they have a fun sticker on their water bottle, ask them about it. Find a way to connect.
Sometimes, introverted students do not like to chat openly but they tend to open up in bell-ringers, writing assignments, diary entries, and paragraph responses. I love to respond back in writing to my more introverted students and carry on dialogue this way. Make an effort to connect one-on-one with your students in some way every day.
As a mom, I had the privilege of having my son one-on-one for seven years before his sister was born. I am a teacher mom that went through a collective seven years of infertility and I cherish my two children so much. There was a period of time I did not think I would have any children, so to me, they are everything.
It was easy to connect with my son when it was just him. Now that I have a second child in the mix, it can get tricky. I cannot imagine those teacher-parents that have more than two kids. Whew-wee!
I like to connect with each of my children every day. With my son, our daily car rides to school and back and his conversations while I’m cooking dinner help us connect. Playing on the floor with blocks and Lego Duplo, or rocking my two-year-old daughter helps her feel connected to me.
When your at-home children and at-school students feel connected to you, their responses to you are more positive. When you’re connected with your kids, you are better able to understand them and they will respond better during discipline times as well.
For instance, if I know my student had a soccer tournament all weekend two states away, I know that he may be more tired on Monday and his behavior might come across as sluggish. If I know my student is going through their parents’ divorce, I know that their behavior might not be normal. If a student is having a behavior issue, my connection with them helps me figure out what’s going on and how to work with them in the right direction at that moment. Maybe instead of a quick demerit, they need a long chat. Maybe instead of lunch detention, they just need to confide in someone.
As adults, we have bad days and bad moods, yet we expect our children, who are learning to live and exist, to be perfect.
If I have not had an opportunity to connect with either of my children at home, sometimes their love bucket isn’t filled and they may be grumpier. If I know my son has a math test he’s nervous about, his mood may not be the happiest. If I am hustling around trying to clean up after dinner, but my daughter is clingy, I know I need to stop and connect with her.
Connection is key to both sets of our kiddos and helps us understand them better.
Creating a Positive Environment: Positive Interactions
Did you know that it’s actually easier to be negative than positive? Our mind is hardwired to spot the negative. It goes back to a primal need for our brains to keep us safe. Also, as humans, our brains remember negative events more than positive events. You probably recall vividly that embarrassing moment in elementary school, but don’t really remember the positive feedback you got from a teacher. This is termed negativity bias. (Check out more of the study here.)
Even though it’s against the hardwiring of our brains, we need to focus on the positives. If your student wrote a five-paragraph story with tons of improvement, but their grammar was atrocious, focus and highlight on what they did well first and praise them for their progress. Then, you can teach the grammar parts they need to work on. Last, finish off with something truly awesome you noticed in the story or something they did. This “sandwich” way of positive reinforcement has a much more desired effect than choosing to focus on the negative.
With your children at home, the same concept works beautifully. If you want your child to eat more veggies and fruits, but they only ate the fruits, instead of sternly telling them to eat the veggies *NOW* praise them for making a healthy choice with the fruit. Praising, using positive reinforcement, and even using the correct tone are important.
Did you know that teens react more to tone than the actual message of the words being said? A new study from Cardiff University shows exactly this. The exact same message was delivered to fourteen and fifteen-year-olds and students reacted more negatively to a harsher tone than to a positive tone. Choose your tone carefully with your students and your kids. I guess Mama was right when she said, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar!”
Next, I heard something in a workshop last year that really stuck with me. For every one disciplinary interaction you give a child, you need five positive interactions afterward to reconnect and reset. This was a game-changer for me as a teacher and as a mom. It has helped me connect with my students and at-home kids and realign us after misbehavior.
Creating a Positive Environment: Pick Your Battles
A couple of weeks ago, my son was drawing hopscotch on the sidewalk. My two-year-old daughter, who loves chalk drawings was happy and busy as a bee coloring her creations. She went over to the hopscotch my son had just drawn and started scribbling on it. He firmly told her no, but this caused a huge meltdown. My daughter had just had a vaccine the previous day and she had only taken a short nap. Her meltdown was big. After some minutes of cajoling, she was coloring away in her area and started scribbling into the hopscotch area again. I told my son to just leave her alone this time and it wasn’t hurting him in any way. I reminded him, “Pick your battles!”
As parents and teachers, sometimes we have to pick our battles. It’s important to consistently discipline, of course, but evaluate the situation. I did not want my daughter to think he was disciplining her for just coloring.
Picking your battles helps children feel less anxious. Would you want to live or work in an environment in which you were critiqued for every minor error?
Children are learning. That is their whole entire job. They are bound to make mistakes. Nit-picking your students or children for everything they do that isn’t correct creates the opposite effect. Children who do not feel emotionally safe to take risks, or to fail, feel highly anxious.
When a student or child is highly anxious, learning at school or at home cannot take place. Children must feel safe, stable, and loved in order to learn.
Sometimes we must pick our battles with our students. Evaluate the situation. Are we just being super nit-picky today? Pause and think: If I were to discipline them at this very moment, would it be helpful or would it create a hindrance? What is a better way to address this behavior?
For instance, one morning during homeroom at school, I wrote on the board for students to work on their weekly vocabulary and spelling homework and read independently afterward with no devices. I then saw one of my wonderfully-behaved students with his device out. Before I jumped on the disciplining bandwagon, I paused and walked by him and realized he had an e-book on his device and was reading independently.
I could have disciplined the students that decided to work on a grammar homework sheet that morning. Instead, I paused and thought about the positives. The students choose to do their homework instead of chatting. Even though they should have done it the night before, I let it pass. We still had a talk later about accomplishing their homework the night before and not procrastinating. However, I chose when I wanted to address that.
Picking your battles, taking the time to pause, and evaluating the situation allows us to keep those connections we’ve worked so hard for and create a more positive school and home environment with children who feel safe enough to learn.
Picking your battles should never be an excuse for not consistently training your students or children in the ways they should go. With all of this in mind, pick your battles wisely.
By connecting with students, focusing on positive praise and affirmation, and picking your battles, you are creating a positive environment at home and at school is possible. Children learn best when they feel safe, loved, and in a stable environment. Discipline, training, and instruction should still take place of course. However, creating a positive environment should be one of your top priorities at school and at home.