When kids feel happy, it’s pretty amazing what they can achieve. It’s really that simple. Getting an entire class to feel safe, loved, engaged and important – in other words, happy – takes some work, but the payoff is worth it.
Two streams converge to bring about this happiness. One relates to the social health of the class, and the other relates to their work. Each stream impacts the other, either blocking or encouraging the smooth flow of the other.
Social Health of the Class
The social health of the class depends on how kids experience themselves in relation to others in the group. It is SUPER important to note that this is never based on the luck of the draw.
There is no such thing as a “bad” or “difficult” class.
The social health of each group is absolutely shaped and formed by the teacher and students. The class norms, made up of teacher expectations and shared agreements, set the tone for how the class relates to one another. How the teacher models and upholds these norms will determine how successful the class will be in developing a healthy class culture. Much of this blog will go into detail about how to do this – all day and every day.
When the social health of a class is out of balance, there tends to be a lot of disruption and confusion. Some kids cope by telling others what to do. Others try to see how far they can push the limits of unclear boundaries. Others check out completely. In an out-of-balance class, many kids are self-conscious and worried about being teased by those who are acting out, so they aren’t eager to participate. This lack of safety and mutual respect blocks the smooth flow of learning.
It should go without saying, but here it is anyway. The work we ask children to do should hit that sweet spot of being sufficiently challenging without being frustrating. Since every child learns at a different pace and in different ways, this requires an awful lot of awareness and flexibility on the part of the teacher. It requires a deep understanding of each child, and a presence of mind in every moment of what needs to change and adapt to meet the needs of the group AND everyone in the class. When the work misses this mark, kids disengage, either out of boredom or frustration. When kids disengage, they act out or check out, which negatively impacts the social health of the class.
The Happy Balance
When the social health and the engaging work of the class are flowing in a balanced way, from one into the other, you get a happy classroom!