Monday, September 28, 2009

Establishing the Positive Classroom Climate

I often find myself wondering how it is that we’ve come to where we are. By which I mean, I contrast my own experiences as a student in chiropractic college (1976-1979), my experiences in 2 master’s program taught by distance education (one using course packets, and one online), and that of my students in my 9th trimester course in Evidence-Based Chiropractic. Certainly, the world has changed; the technology is vastly different now. When I began teaching, in 1980, to project something to the class required me to first make a copy of the image, then transfer it using a copier onto a transparency sheet. It was a time heavy process, and I still have my originals acetates that I used back then. Today, of course, we can use PowerPoint to the same effect, and we have invested heavily in the infrastructure to host a variety of technological advances in our classrooms. But this simply affects the means of delivery; we still need to take learning style and expectation into account.

One of the ways we can help begin to do so is to set a classroom climate. According to Linda Hilsen (1), “connecting learning and living is the purpose of education. Establishing and sustaining a positive classroom climate will result in more effective teaching” as well as a more satisfying experience for students. To that end, she has produced information to help aid in setting that climate. Some of these suggestions are common sense, but all are designed to help set the stage for how you will conduct your class and what your expectations are. I offer but a few and refer you to the chapter for the full detail.

- Get to class early and speak with your students as they arrive. I do this every class.

- The first 15 minutes of your first class session is critically important in helping students decide what kind of teacher you are and what they will experience in your class. It is important here to demonstrate enthusiasm about your course. Be prepared and carefully structure that first session. I use a lot of humor in this first 15 minutes, in order to release tension, demonstrate that I know they work hard, and that I share their concerns and understand them.

- A small amount of self-disclosure can help humanize you in your students eyes. I do this by noting a few comments about my kids (who are the same age as my students now), and by noting my interest in cultural benchmarks such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, this seems silly, but what it does is show that I exist outside the classroom, that I have interests and am interesting and that I am willing to make fun of myself.

- Let your students know you are available. You can discuss your office hours, but also note that you are free at other times and are always willing to meet with them. Be flexible, and work out times for meetings.

- Describe your goals for the course and your expectations for your students. I do this, and I also spend some time with certain expectations regarding issues such as attendance, phones in the classroom, bringing children, needing to leave early, etc.

- Learn student names. This is a problem I have had because I have only a single session with my students each week, early on Thursday morning. But I work hard at attempting to link names with faces, and then address students by name. And it never hurts to ask a name.

- Hang around when class ends for those students who want to follow up on an issue. I simply do this each class session.

- Look students in the eye in the classroom as you lecture or as you discuss issues. Be positive.

As I said, this is all common sense, but is often forgotten. I can remember fondly those instructors I have had who took the time to know me, to treat me with respect, and to care about what I was learning. We have all been there, and even now, we are all still there. Keep up all the good work.


1. Hilsen LR. A helpful handout: establishing and maintaining a positive classroom climate. In: Gillespie KH, editor. A guide to faculty development: practical advices, examples and resources. San Francisco, CA; Anker Publishing, 2002:146-155

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