When people think about setting the tone in the classroom, they might think about teachers laying down ground rules, outlining expectations, or generally holding stern faces as a non-verbal way of communicating to the learners the gravitas of their learning!
Whilst these things might feature in your own approach, the period of setting the tone in the classroom tends to be a longer one than many people imagine.
Instant impact does not necessarily need to be made in the first 10 minutes, or even in the first lesson. During Secondary School, students’ days are filled with huge amounts of stimuli so they tend to move on quite quickly as they go from lesson to lesson.
Additionally, if you put too much emphasis, or stress, on making a big first impression, you may end up making a bigger first impression than you’d intended…and not in a good way!
When setting the tone in your classroom, visualise yourself putting together a jigsaw puzzle with your class. Now imagine you’re the only one who can see the full picture. You’re the one in control, directing your learners as the pieces start to slot into place. It will take time to get it right but will be worth it when you can all see the full picture together.
Hopefully, you’re not puzzled by that analogy(?!) but, if you are, worry not because we’ve also put together these 7 tips for setting the tone in the classroom.
1. Decorate the room
This might not be one of the first things you think of but it does make a difference. After all, it’s one of the first things students notice, particularly if they’re already familiar with you!
Informative posters and inspiring displays – perhaps some model student work from past years – can really help to set the tone of your lessons and help your students to more readily understand what they are there for!
Additionally, getting your classroom looking just right helps you feel settled and in control of the environment. It gives you a feeling of belonging to that room as well as self-satisfaction in your surroundings.
If it’s not your regular room, then it might be useful to take some portable displays or have a PowerPoint slide ready (if possible) as students join your lesson. Anything visual with purpose to the teaching can help you feel less alone and increase the students’ focus towards learning.
If you need to boost your resource bank for decorative classroom items then the following links should serve you well:
- Classroom Display Resources and Tools
2. Don’t be afraid to show emotion!
To be clear, we don’t mean feel free to share your teaching woes with your class and burden them with your true feelings about management (for example)!
Though it’s perfectly fine to laugh at something (positive) that you find funny, or show concern at a delicate issue.
Don’t feel like you have to prescribe to terrible, clichéd advice like ‘don’t smile for the first term of teaching’ or ‘come down hard on the first student to step out of line’. We’d advise against this, particularly strongly in respect of the latter! (I have heard these bits of advice many times in my career and I’m guessing there are many teachers out there who have too!).
A balanced set of emotional display can help your students really recognise you as human. When this happens, they will likely find you easier to relate to, more interesting to interact with and, dare I say it, it might even help their empathy towards you in your job of teaching them!
3. Be consistent
Consistency is such an important feature of successful teaching and it’s no different when setting the tone in the classroom.
Things such as staying fair in criticism/praise and providing equal opportunities across your classroom go a long way towards building trust and earning respect.
Students appreciate boundaries when applied consistently. Despite any backchat when told off or awkwardness in praise, they enjoy (in their own way) fair treatment that becomes highly reliable. It helps to increase the class’ motivation and the overall feelings of unity.
4. Be clear in communication
Make it known that every voice in the classroom is important but that only one voice should be heard at a time.
If any students feel uncomfortable speaking out loud then you can offer alternative methods of communicating. Mini whiteboards are great for helping them answer questions or visualise feelings whilst other physical aids can assist learners in communicating their levels of understanding.
It’s also important to stay strict in listening to those who put their hands up (or whatever your system is for speaking). Resist the temptation to listen to the loudest voice as this encourages shouting out from select individuals whilst other, more reserved students shrink back into their shells.
We should aim to restrict interruptions from other students, but this also applies to the teacher. At times, we can be our own worst enemy in interrupting a student who’s on their way to a fantastic answer because we get uneasy waiting for more than 2 seconds!
5. Do your research
Of course, this one is mandatory anyway due to issues surrounding medical requirements, safety concerns, and learning specifications, etc.
However, it’s good to pay attention to a couple of snippets of information outside of the necessary stuff. Without divulging personal information that might compromise your students in any way, it’s good to make your students aware that you are a teacher of details!
If you display a healthy knowledge of them as a group as well as individuals then it can keep them slightly on edge in a good way!
6. Be organised
This seems like the most obvious of all but it really matters. Having everything (seemingly) running like clockwork instills a natural level of authority.
In addition, having your lessons nicely prepared will enable you to pay attention to the students rather than fumble around for essential documents/plans, etc. It will put you in a position where you can flex your educational muscles as opposed to getting yourself warmed up!
If it helps – particularly coming into a new term – it might be useful to practise or rehearse the opening of your lesson so that it almost becomes second nature. Again, this will empower you in your teaching from the get-go.
7. Introduce some elements of ownership
When setting the tone in your classroom, a timely introduction of student ownership can help your students in caring more for their educational environment.
Simple things such as having equipment monitors or routine classroom tidies can help to promote a sense of pride in their learning base, whilst practices such as peer reviews/help sessions can assist in boosting their care for one another.
Placing trust in your students to care for the learning environment can also help to boost self-esteem as well as their sense of belonging.
So, there we have our 7 tips for setting the tone in the classroom. Of course, there are many more than this and each needs to be flexible to suit your specific teaching needs. Things are rarely black and white in the teaching world!
For this reason, we’d also recommend the sharing of good practice when you strike gold on a particular strategy. What has worked for you might help someone else in their practice and, if not, it’ll likely inspire them to try something new.
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