Monday, 10 November 2014

What do we talk about when we talk about "climate"?

Classroom climate makes a significant contribution to effective teaching, according to the Sutton Trust's review of evidence.  Now it's back on the agenda it's even more likely that classroom climate will crop up at interview.   Describe the climate in your classroom.  What do you understand by classroom climate?  How do you create an effective classroom climate? So what is classroom climate?

Essentially it's the characteristic atmosphere/ambience/feel of your classroom.  The adjective positive tends to be attached to the notion of climate.  Kyriacou talks about a positive classroom climate that is "purposeful, task-oriented, relaxed, warm and supportive and has a sense of order".  Bucholz and Sheffler encourage readers to aspire to a "warm and inclusive classroom environment" in which "cooperation and acceptance" is fostered.  There's some danger here that the notion of climate could descend into a spiral of woolly pleasantries.  My classroom provides a warm and welcoming environment in which everyone is accepted and supported.  That seems sceptical, perhaps, but climate is important and it's too easy to launch into a string of vague but positive-sounding adjectives. 

You can get around this by talking about the philosophy that underpins the way your classroom operates.  This philosophy must be rooted in pupil progress - after all, if pupils aren't making progress then what's the point?  Ask yourself what it is about the climate (ambience/feel) of your classroom that enables pupils to progress.  This philosophy should be rooted in inclusivity - this is about all children not just some children.  How do all the children in your classroom know that they are valued, that their learning is important?

Think about the other elements that characterise your classroom practice.  Is the climate pupil-centred or teacher-centred?  Are pupils encouraged to reflect on their learning?  Is pupil ownership a characteristic of the climate in you classroom?

However you see and describe your classroom climate, you need to place yourself at the centre of it.  There's not a contradiction here if you see your classroom as child-centred - you are central to the establishment of this type of climate: you are responsible for the way it is.  Rogers uses the phrase "the nature of teacher leadership" to describe this: through teacher leadership, pupils know how things are (i.e. expectations are clear).

Thinking about classroom climate gives you a critical platform to examine how what you say you believe matches up to what you do in practice.  You may say (to your friends, tutors, mentors, head teachers, etc.) that you believe in one set of principles, but in the classroom you may work to a different set of principles (driven by what feels like necessity, or accepted practice, or by what you really believe).  Brookfield describes the friction “between what we say we believe and what we privately suspect to be true” as cognitive dissonance.  You could ask yourself about how closely the climate you aspire to is matched by the climate in reality.

It's worth thinking about this carefully before interview - you want to end up in a school where the values are in line with your own.

1 comment:

  1. Useful & timely.
    Here's my practical post about stages in the development of a positive classroom climate: