Creating positive learning environments has so many nuances that we could explore and discuss…
Questions to start us thinking:
- What do we mean by “learning environment”?
- Who is responsible for the ‘positive culture’ of the learning environment?
- How does school culture affect a learning environment?
- How can learning environments include global learning?
I understand environment to represent the external world that has an impact on us. The environment consists of the physical, social, and cultural world I live within and interact with. For a young person, the physical environment of learning begins with their personal space and the classroom. It extends outward to the school, home, local community and our physical and natural world. Human interaction is part of that natural world. I am making a distinction between our culture and socializing here. A person learns their culture. This is the history, myths, values, beliefs, norms, traditions, and artifacts manifest in the curriculum and influences of home and community. Peers, family, organizations, and community provide social exchanges. These are also factors in learning. Humans do not passively react to the stimuli in their environment. We interact, and modify it, whether it be physical world, culture, or relationships.
Positive culture is a subjective term. In my classroom, the core values were reduced to respect, acceptance, and appreciation by Cayle Fiala, my intern. Perhaps I would add empathy, cooperation and learning to the list. Schools are for personal learning and the contentedness of learning in public schools demands cooperation. Achieving a positive classroom climate is the responsibility of all stakeholders in education. The teacher, by virtue of his or her resources, knowledge, and authority takes a leadership role in creating a positive culture. Each student in the school shares responsibility for exemplifying the core values. I encourage them to influence their peers as well. I think our culture should embrace and socialize young people in these values. Families in particular exert huge influence over young learners. The messages from home are critical. As young people become more independent, our popular culture’s values influence learning. We really cannot afford to absolve anyone in the global village from this responsibility.
At times it seems as if elementary schools, high schools, and post secondary institutions exist in a separate reality. They lie on continuum’s of cooperation-competition, reliance-self reliance (suggest others someone). Elementary schools push at the values of high school and post secondary through assessment for learning. Learning is less Darwinian in the elementary school classroom. Failure is less of a disaster. To me, this promotes a climate where the core values flourish. Without fear of the consequences of failure, the only valuable consequence is learning from experience, teachers and students can be risk takers. They can stop seeing solutions as lying within established boundaries. Learning can be untethered in every possible way.
One important way to untether learning is by broadening our experience of the environment (Another is reflecting on our own inner world). I have commented over the years on the ways digital technology opens doors for learning about the world. There are so many ways to link learners together these days. Part of what makes learning authentic is recognizing connections in the world around us. Technology is the quick fix for that. I advocate a studio classroom design with maker spaces, tech tools, and an acceptance of BYOD because this facilitates the core values I think promote a positive learning environment. I struggle with my training and decades of experience to move towards more democratic, student-centered, problem-based learning. I want my classroom to be inclusive and differentiated for the same reason. Sometimes, it even seems to be working.