What makes a positive learning environment? An interesting question, but one you would think every teacher entering the profession would know the answer to, because who wouldn't enter the profession with no ambition to create anything other than a positive learning environment for the children in their care. And whilst in my first year of teaching I would probably have been quite naive in my initial thoughts to answer that question, in terms of thinking if I spend copious hours planning exciting lessons which engage the children (a) they will learn more effectively because they are engaged, (b) they'll enjoy coming to school and (c) hey! (Quite a big one for teachers) they'll like me. Entering my RQT year I'll always remember the feedback given from my first Head Teacher following a lesson observation, in which she said 'Liz, I love how you engage the children, but remember it's not all about the WOW! It's about their learning journey'. And so, for the next 9 years as a class based teacher I began to explore, be curious about, adapt and change my practice, not only striving to be the best version of me but to create a positive learning environment that would nurture 28 children to also be the best versions of themselves. This wasn't something that would just happen, this was something that would need to be created. A non-judgmental environment where children felt safe, valued, a belonging, challenged, supported, inspired, where trust and relationships became part of our foundation, oh and not forgetting a big spoonful of fun and a little pinch of WOW!
What is positive learning?
Positive learning comes from an array of different ingredients, but the outcomes ultimately are for all pupils to not only improve on their academic performance but also for a pupil's social and emotional wellbeing to be fostered. So, to enable both of these to happen how is positive learning cultivated?
Predominantly the experience of the learner (whether negative or positive) boils down to the facilitator of learning whether that be the classroom teacher, teaching assistant, supply teacher and so on. The adult engaging with a child at any given time is the key ingredient, therefore interacting in a positive manner, modelling positive behaviours and body language and maintaining a positive attitude become the foundation you want to build upon.
Why is a positive learning environment so important?
Cast your mind back to your school experiences, can you pinpoint teachers who created a positive learning environment for you and those that didn't? What did that environment look, sound and feel like?
Which ones do you think of fondly because of their interest in you, their intrinsic motivation to support you, their desire to see you grow and their passion to inspire and engage you no matter what? It's those teachers that gained my respect and improved my eagerness to learn, who impacted on my inner belief system and motivated me to succeed, reducing those feelings of pressure and anxiety. Thus creating pleasurable learning experiences were children thrive rather than ones where the child wants to flee has always been my ultimate goal as a teacher.
I'm sure every single teacher in the profession reading this has experiences of those teachers that they endeavour to emulate and those at the other end of the scale, who basically retired from the profession some time ago but they'd forgotten to tell anybody...and we all know one or two of those! Every single day we influence the children who enter our classroom door, whether we mean to or not, being aware of how you are influencing those children is imperative and as we already know as adults become a long lasting memory.
I've always felt positivity and happiness will encourage children to flourish and experience personal success academically not the other way round, in that achieving academic success doesn't necessarily make you become happier and more positive. And whilst there are some educational settings that place a heavy emphasis on academic achievement, I and many others are hoping the current pandemic landscape will flip the focus to the equally important social and emotional wellbeing of children.
How does growth mindset support positive learning?
There is a very close link between growth mindset and positive learning and so you may have spotted one or two words in bold throughout my blog: nurture, cultivate, thrive and flourish all of which are synonyms for grow. In becoming more growth orientated and embracing the growth mindset principals you begin a journey where you recognise that your abilities can be developed no-matter what your age or position. At Grow Your Mindset we advocate that growth mindset is the foundation for learning and whatever you build on that foundation will become more powerful.
Ultimately, just like when creating a positive learning environment the key ingredient to developing a growth mindset classroom culture is with the facilitator of learning. Unless the staff within the educational setting are role modelling growth orientated actions, language, beliefs and focuses each day the impact will be reduced and the setting could fall into the false growth mindset trap coined by Carol Dweck.
When you begin to embed the growth mindset principles within your classroom and reflect and focus on the mindset messages (language, actions and behaviours) you are giving there are elements which naturally promote positive learning experiences, however there is one big difference. When promoting a positive learning environment once I was home away from the classroom that stopped, my teacher persona and me where different. With my growth mindset journey it has changed who I have become, no matter where I am or the situation I am experiencing my mindset is always there, nudging myself from fixed to growth is exactly the experience I want children to have too, because ultimately this changes your perception of what learning actually looks, sounds and feels like.
10+ strategies for building a positive learning environment
I've already emphasised the close link between a growth mindset culture and a positive learning environment. Here we have put together some hints and tips to give you food for thought. Like the feedback I got in 2009 from my Head Teacher sometimes we just need a starting point.
At Grow Your Mindset we love nothing more than to kick start people's journeys with growth mindset, see them blossom and change their thinking. If you would like more information on how you can build growth mindset across your school curriculum click here or if you'd like to experience our award winning training and coaching then get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a ring on 07803 909838
If you love a good read, why don't you check out our other blogs about mindsets.
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