A group of happy students with smiling faces

How I empowered my students to love learning

Passion projects, mindfulness, and gamification are three ways to develop a positive school culture

What if they loved their classroom community?

Building a positive classroom community where all children are accepted and included can be one of the most challenging aspects of teaching, yet it is essential for students to feel safe. Winning over students who feel compelled to pick on others for control and power is a critical first step. This kind of antisocial behavior hurts the individuals who are harassed and creates an environment where no one feels safe. All students need a sense of belonging; they want to be accepted by teachers and, even more so, peers.

Add gamification to lessons. I initially gamified my classroom with Classcraft to increase engagement and motivation. What I didn’t expect was the impact it would have on our classroom community. Classcraft is a gamification platform that allows me to promote social-emotional learning skills by reinforcing positive and pro-social behaviors like teamwork, communication, kindness, and respecting others. The collaborative nature of Classcraft requires students to work together, thereby fostering relationships that might not have otherwise formed. Students are eager to help teammates with learning tasks, and friends celebrate together as they level up.

Just the other day I saw a student finish her independent learning task and immediately check in with a teammate who struggles with reading. I watched as they sat together, one student reading directions to the other and explaining the task. When they finished, they gave one another a high five and then went about the rest of the day. Later on, I asked the early-finisher why she took the initiative to help her teammate. She said, “Well, I know reading is hard for her. She’s really smart, and I want to help her level up. Soon we will be the same level and we can have matching outfits!” Talk about a positive class culture!

Gamifying my classroom has also helped me to develop stronger relationships with my students. Playing together breaks down barriers and builds trust. That trust goes a long way in helping my students to feel that they belong. Our classroom community is thriving, and students know they play a critical role in our success.

What if they loved themselves?

More and more students today are exhibiting signs of stress, anxiety, and depression. As teachers, we know that students often have underlying issues we don’t know about, and emotional outbursts or anger can be a response to multiple contributing factors. Worry about relationships, grades, fitting in, and too much homework are just a few stressors students face at school. Coupled with family expectations, lack of sleep, and even trauma, many of today’s students are struggling to cope with difficult situations and manage their thoughts and emotions.

Mental health is becoming a popular topic for discussion in the education community.
It’s not uncommon for some schools to practice mindfulness as part of their morning routine. England is moving to include mindfulness as part of students’ regular instruction.

Bring mindfulness into the classroom. Students in my school can go to a student support room where they can do physical activity, sit calmly, talk to an adult, and even swing for sensory purposes. Some of my colleagues are taking a more direct approach by teaching mindfulness techniques using resources like Mind Yeti and Smiling Mind. Spark also has great resources to help children navigate tough situations and build resilience.

Related: 8 ways I practiced mindfulness this year

Students can experience so many benefits from practicing mindfulness techniques including increasing attention, reducing worries, and regulating emotions. Less stress and better attention lead to more engaged learning, better grades, and confident students. When students learn to accept themselves for who they are, they are left feeling in control of their minds and bodies and are able to make positive choices.

Reimagining the student experience

We can empower students to take an active role in their learning, building confidence and ownership. Finding their passions and belonging to a supportive and positive community are great ways for students to have a positive school experience, where bullying and antisocial behaviors are minimized and students are proud of their learning.

When we teach students how to manage their emotions and deal with day-to-day stress, we are not only helping them build skills for life, we are also working to create a safer school environment. The skills they learn related to personal care, collaboration, and taking part in a community will stay with them long after they leave our schools.

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