The Learning and Teaching Environment | Steve Barkley

The Learning and Teaching Environment

Working on the environment should be a continuous focus of leaders in schools and in classrooms. Simon Sinek shared this statement that reinforces our need to focus on creating an environment that supports and encourages those that we lead.

“Because we are social animals, we respond to the environment we are in. Leaders are responsible for the environment. Leaders are not responsible for the results. They are responsible to the people who are responsible for the results.”

What is the environment we want to create for our students as they return to a school building and classrooms? Teachers are not responsible for the learning that happens; students are. Teachers do need to create an environment that encourages and supports students diving into purposeful learning with high expectations and beliefs in themselves. School administrators, instructional coaches, and teacher leaders are not responsible for the teaching that occurs; the teachers are. The leaders are responsible for the environment. What actions on the part of leaders guide teachers to maintaining an ever-increasing belief in their ability to grow and impact the success of all their students?

Sinek reminds us that its consistency that builds the desired environment. Too often some major “events” are planned to message caring or appreciation but it’s the day-to-day repetition of leadership actions that embeds the desired message.

In the past year, I have had several educators join my podcast and share insights regarding the importance of creating an environment for learning and teaching and some strategies/behaviors for leaders to consistently implement. Consider listening to their podcasts to extend beyond the thoughts shared here.Students in deeper learning classrooms are excited about school and engaged in the subjects they are learning.

Brittany Cabrera: Joyful Coaching, Bringing More Joy to Teachers and Students

“I think it really comes down to two things for coaches and leaders. Keeping things simple and connected. Those two things really go hand in hand because the more that we connect with the people that we are working with, the easier it is to keep things simple and to focus on growing that personal side and growing who we are.

When you talk to teachers, they want their leaders to know them. They want to connect just like kids want to feel that their teacher knows them. Teachers are no different because we’re all humans. It doesn’t matter if you’re short or tall, young or old, we all have the same basic needs. Teachers need their leaders to connect with them. They need to know that their leader finds them important enough to ask “How are you? How are you doing? How are you dealing with all of this? and How are you feeling?” These connecting questions are honestly quite simple, but often get overlooked. Sometimes joy and love have been given this frivolous vibe when actually they’re the most powerful things that we have. I think it’s time for leaders to realize that love and joy are actually the keys to getting us all what we want.”

Heather Lyon: Building Student Engagement 

“There are really four levels of engagement, from least engaged to most engaged: non-compliant, compliant, interested, and absorbed. In the classroom, we obviously don’t want non-compliance which is not engagement. We often accept compliance as engagement and compliance are really just doing what you’re told to do, even if you don’t really want to do it. What we should be looking for are interested students and absorbed students. We can create environments to foster interest and absorption by altering the tasks that we ask students to do and thinking about what is motivating the student extrinsically and intrinsically.
I would say that relationships matter more than anything, especially if we are talking about non-compliance, compliance, and interest levels. If I am non-compliant, I’m basically saying that I don’t care about you and I don’t care about the impact that this has on you. If we’re in compliance or interested, what we’re saying is I want to make sure that I don’t disappoint you by not doing this work.

While we do not want learning to be connected exclusively to the relationship that the learner has with the person who they’re learning from, not taking that into consideration, is a big misstep. Teachers should not be apologizing at the beginning of the year when they are taking time to establish relationships. I believe you can establish relationships through the learning process. Activities like circles, like notebooks that might be passed back and forth, build opportunities for students to create relationships with their peers and developing relationships with home and family. All those relationships have a huge impact on engagement.”

Dr. Marie-Nathalie: Partnering with Teachers: Creating the School Environment

I asked Marie-Nathalie, what do you think are the best ways for school leaders to support a staff re-engaging the in-person school community?

“Well, I’ve often said that the only power a leader really has is to create a context where people can flourish. I think that is going to be really important in the upcoming school year. Teachers work incredibly hard and most of the time they feel underappreciated by parents, students, and by the administration. Anything that a leader can do to energize teachers and to bring enthusiasm to their work and appreciation is worth it. In some ways, every meeting is an opportunity to uplift the staff. Whether it’s having teachers writing little notes in a basket to a randomly selected person or teachers sharing an effort or an experiment that they did that week and how it went. All these things that engage people into talking to one another are really important. The best leaders we know from research lead by trust and respect and by bringing the best out of their people. That’s going to be truer than ever this coming fall.

What are conversations that you want to be facilitating with staff as you plan for a new school year? What reflection might you do regarding your leadership behaviors?

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One Response to “ The Learning and Teaching Environment ”

  1. Tom Lengel Says:

    Regarding Heather Lyon’s description of having ‘interested and absorbed’ students, I am reminded of the adage that “students don’t care how much you know [as a teacher] until they know how much you care”.

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