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A Happy School Atmosphere: We All Contribute

A Happy School Atmosphere: We All Contribute

Educational Pathways - Issue #2

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How do we get kids to maintain a smile in school? Can school be so enjoyable that a youngster is unwilling to be absent?

All educators know that the atmosphere within a school contributes as much to the success of the student as the curriculum. More importantly, it has a great more bearing on whether or not a child develops a love for learning and a love for Yiddishkiet and Jewish Life.

The challenge of creating a positive atmosphere transcends the debate of whether our schools need to become more goals oriented, and more accountable for their results. It is about making school a place where children feel challenged but competent, where they work hard but enjoy it, where achievement is the product but not the sole objective.

This is of course, an issue far too complex and a discussion much too robust for this space, however, schools open this week, and the temptation to at least say something is too great to pass up.

The creation of a positive loving atmosphere is the joint responsibility of the professional and the parent communities.

I want to make two points:

The first is that while the responsibility to create a loving happy environment in school is that of the professionals, parents have a significant role to play.

The second is that making the school a happy place is as much as worthwhile pursuit as developing the school curriculum.

The creation of a positive loving atmosphere is the joint responsibility of the professional and the parent communities. It filters down from the top when the entire professional staff is on the same page philosophically, when the school's objectives and how to get there, are clearly understood and bought- into by everyone; when everyone feels that his contribution is essential.

If, for example, the school's approach to discipline and classroom management is the joint effort of faculty and administration, it facilitates school-wide harmony. When both faculty and administration, are on the same page and supportive of each other's role, children know what is expected of them and what the consequences of non-compliance are. This breeds a feeling of security and promotes personal responsibly among the students. It also creates a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere.

It also percolates up from the bottom. When teachers are comfortable with their responsibilities and the demands made of them, they project that same sense of wellbeing into their environment. It is when teachers feel overburdened and unsure of whether they can meet unrealistic expectations, that they unwittingly preside over a tense and insecure atmosphere within their classrooms.

We all agree that schools are asked to shoulder an ever increasing responsibility for the raising of our children. The expectations of a teacher half a century ago did not include the kinds of social and emotional development responsibilities we now expect. Nor was any school held accountable for a "child left behind". Teachers have never been better prepared professionally or more dedicated to the well being of the "whole child". Parents can contribute to the creation of a positive school atmosphere by showing teachers their appreciation for undertaking such a demanding job and for being totally dedicated to it.

It's the little things that teachers appreciate. Not that a salary increase would be unwelcome, but that alone will not make for a happy environment. A brief note, a small token, and an occasional thank you with a smile. Additionally children need to hear appreciative remarks about the school and its staff, at home as well.

The Second point: A parent once told me "I don't care how much my son learns as long as he is having a good time doing so". What he meant to say of course, was that if the child learns to love the learning process then how much ground is covered in whatever text, is not important.

There are many ways through which a teacher makes the academic program more exciting and interesting. Hands-on creative activities help empower a child who may be struggling with the demands of the curriculum. Varying textually based learning with student oriented discovery and self propelled activities takes out some of the sameness of the day to day classroom life. Last week a youngster contrasted his school and camping experiences for me. "In camp you never know what to expect, but in school every day is the same".

Creative classroom instruction facilitates differentiate instruction and helps a teacher meet the individual needs of his students. We all recognize the fact that when he feels competent a child is able to do what is expected of him, he feels successful and success breeds success. But that is a discussion for another time.

While it would appear, that most of the burden for creative instruction falls upon the teachers and administration, parents can also play a vital role. Parents can help facilitate both curricular and extra-curricular activities. Parents associations can form a cooperative alliance with the teachers to make available resources both human and material it would empower and encourage teachers to be more creative and plan for things we can only dream about. That once a year fair, field trip or performance could evolve into daily creative activities which could make the classroom a truly remarkable place to be.

Making school an enjoyable place to inhabit and learning a fun thing to do should be a goal to which all of us could be dedicated. 

Rabbi Nochum Kaplan serves as the Director of the Merkos Office of Education.
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