Part 4: Transforming a Year 3 Class into a Learning Community

Let us return to my challenging Year 3 class in 2008; where over the course of eight weeks, I transformed an extremely difficult class into a vibrant learning community characterised by respect, empathy, honesty, an inviting atmosphere, and a lively exchange of ideas (Otero, 2001). This was brought about through the creation of a safe learning environment and my efforts to develop positive relationships with all my students, particularly the more challenging ones.

Dealing with challenging behaviours

As I will discuss in more detail in a later post, one of my greatest challenges of this teaching experience was dealing with eight year old “Roy”, a student liable to throw things at the teacher, run away from the class, and draw the teacher into power struggles. After observing and analysing his behaviour (from my position as the second pair of “eyes” in the classroom), I set out to counteract the major causes and reinforcements of the negative behaviours.

I sought to build a positive relationship with “Roy”; circumventing his attempts to draw me into power struggles by maintaining a calm, gentle demeanour, quietly ignoring his attention-seeking behaviours, and removing him from the class to let him calm down (e.g. sending him on errands). I tried to be a positive male role-model, treating him with respect, and working to engage him in his learning. These actions significantly enhanced the “safety” of the classroom learning environment.

Meanwhile, I sought to develop a strong rapport with all my students, taking an active interest in their lives, and listening to their ideas, thoughts, and silences. I noticed “Edward”’s short-sightedness, a possible reason for his delayed literacy development. I also discovered Roy’s passion for aeroplanes and the Fremantle Dockers, loaning him my military aircraft books and commiserating over the football each Monday morning.

While most of my informal interactions with my students occurred during Morning Fitness, when I walked around the oval with my student ‘entourage’, I also spent some time at Recess and Lunch talking to students. I even played football with the boys on several occasions.

Developing positive teacher-student relationships

By really listening to my students, I was able to develop strong, trusting teacher-student relationships, with enormous positive impacts on our classroom environment and learning. It was in this environment that I began to uncover some of the hidden anxieties my students were bringing to class, and this knowledge helped me to respond to their behaviours and emotional needs.

I sought to be open and honest in my interactions with my students, sharing my experiences, humour, and passion for learning. I accepted their eccentricities, and nurtured their interests through engaging learning experiences. I was sensitive to students’ emotional needs, and encouraged them to talk about their troubles with someone they could trust. I explained that while problems may be out of our control, sometimes we need to talk about them. Several students chose to confide their concerns in me, and I supported them in the best way I could, referring one serious case to the school Social Worker.

Responding to Parental Concerns regarding Bullying

During the course of my Internship, I discovered that Daniel’s emotional problems were being exacerbated by another student’s spiteful bullying, and the firm resolution of this issue led to an improvement in his classroom behaviour.

Later, when a parent alerted us that her daughter was being bullied, we uncovered a wider, more serious problem involving a number of girls in our class. While my colleague dealt with the perpetrators, I supported the victims, sharing my experiences of bullying as a child and suggesting strategies for dealing with or avoiding future incidents. Our swift response helped to resolve the issue, leading to a more harmonious classroom environment.

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