Creating a Positive Classroom Environment

A positive teacher-student relationship is the fundamental and necessary building block for learning. Students will want to learn when they respect and trust you, and when they believe you have their best interests in mind. A welcoming environment will also help students feel a sense of security and belonging.
Respect for the primary language and culture
Your goal is to help your students learn English and grade-appropriate subject matter. At the same time, it is important to show your students that you respect their primary language and to model for them that you, too want to learn phrases in a new language.
For example:
• Learn to say their names correctly.
• Avoid the temptation of giving your students English language names unless they make this request.
• Invite your students to share basic phrases in their language—good morning, good-bye, see you tomorrow, and other phrases that everyone can learn and enjoy using on a daily basis.
• In addition to the usual—posters, maps marking students’ origins, and playing international music—
label classroom objects in the languages your students speak and in English.
• An imbalance in numbers of students from a particular language background might make it easy
to give a single student’s language a quick pass-over. Be certain to include everyone.
Simply stating the main idea in this paragraph cannot convey the importance and weight of incorporating it in teaching English learners: Make diversity and learning about diversity part of your curriculum. Make multicultural education the standard—visually, aurally, and within the curriculum.
• If you do not have time to study a particular culture, country, or region, you and your students can do daily or weekly “fast facts”—a few quick facts about aspects of a student’s culture.
• Let students share special holidays and events.
• Encourage them to bring items from home that help other students understand aspects of that student’s culture.
• Encourage students to write bilingual stories either at school or at home with their parents’ assistance and allow them to share these at school.
Literally hundreds of research studies show that learning climates that are respectful and inclusive of students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds help them to succeed academically. Conversely, years after schooling experiences, students remember when they have been belittled, alienated, made to feel ashamed, or embarrassed about being different, as well as frustrated at not being connected to the curriculum. As part of their research study, Dunlap and Weisman (2005) asked teachers to name the challenges that non-white students must overcome to be successful in school. Consider these two sample responses from teachers:
“Non-white students have difficulties with not just the language but traditions . . . ”
“Yes—language is a very obvious one, but they also have to overcome the challenge of culture. They celebrate days that we don’t, for example, Thanksgiving. We assume our children are familiar with these events, but they are not.”
Inviting and encouraging your English learners to have a voice in your classroom and including their language and culture will assist them in becoming successful students and endear you in their memories for years to come.

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