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The Power of a Positive Learning Environment

It was a cold gloomy Monday morning at the beginning of October and I was slurping down coffee just to get the sleep out of my eyes. To my surprise, the minute the clock ticked 8:15 AM, excited and energetic St. Philip students came bounding down the hallway. Giggling with stories from the weekend and excitedly bringing in trinkets and drawings to show their teachers. Now this got me thinking that we had something special here. Something that I have not seen myself everywhere, we have kids excited and energized to learn. I thought that the magic we have here at St. Philip needs to be shared with teachers and students everywhere because students getting excited about school helps build that initiative that students need to succeed in future studies. Today, I am going to provide some tips about ways to get students excited about school.

Tip #1: Create a positive and welcoming learning environment. Students are more likely to be excited about school if they feel safe, supported, and respected.

As the school year drags along it is sometimes easy to forget the small acts of encouragement that make a difference in the social-emotional aspect of a student’s life. Some examples of ways to create a welcoming environment are greeting students at the door with a smile. Get to know the students, address them by their name, and ask them about their weekend. Sometimes a child’s whole attitude can change when they know someone cares and is interested in them at school as well as at home. It is also important to create a classroom dynamic where students feel comfortable speaking up and sharing ideas. This goes along with making sure that there is no negative talk in the classroom and no punishment for asking a question or stating a comment that the student wishes to express. The more open a student can be, the more comfortable they will be, and who doesn’t want to be in a place where they feel comfortable?

Tip #2: Make learning relevant and engaging. Students are more likely to be excited about school if they are learning things that they are interested in and they see as relevant.

At St. Philip, it is a lot easier to curate our curriculum based on student interests because of the size of our school. Because of our small community, we can take input from students and spend time on the subjects they are interested in or use real-life interests to make learning a concept more exciting. For example, our middle school students were very interested in learning about preparing meals at home for themselves that are easy enough to do without the help of a parent. The teachers decided to curate a cooking class unit during their elective time with a focus on making simple meals to help the preteens gain more independence and improve their confidence. It is also important to give students the autonomy to choose their learning projects. This way the teacher can still curate the curriculum but the students can have the independence to choose the specific topic. Technology is also highly utilized at St. Philip and other schools across the country to make learning more engaging. At St. Philip, we use programs like IXL and Secret Stories to make subjects like phonics and math more exciting to students. In Cognition Today, a psychology-based blog, came to the scientific conclusion that:

“Fun and play in classroom learning reduce the rigidity of the curriculum, which allows more student autonomy. It gives a sense of control to the students. People have an innate need for growth (self-determination theory), which comes easily if there is autonomy, relatability, and a sense of competence. Fun and play allow a student to maximize all 3.”

Tip #4: Provide opportunities for students to collaborate and learn from each other. Students are more likely to be excited about school if they have opportunities to work with their peers and to learn from each other.

Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, an educational consultant once said:

"Collaboration is the key to developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills."

When students can work together and gain important skills for both life and education, they will be more excited about the opportunity's collaboration brings them. At St. Philip, our 5th graders were tasked with working together to create a timeline beginning with ancient Egypt. They were tasked with making a simple historical timeline but instead created a beautiful timeline with artwork they both illustrated. While working together they were able to make a simple timeline into a well-illustrated and creative project. When students have the opportunity to work with peers they can allow their strong social connections to convert to strong collaborative relationships when it comes to school. Sometimes the best cheerleader for your success is the friend sitting next to you and vice versa.

Tip #5: Celebrate student success. Students are more likely to be excited about school if they feel good about themselves and their accomplishments.

Celebrating student success might sound obvious as to why it helps students become excited by school but not because they want to brag about their accomplishments or flaunt them to others but for a child’s social and emotional well-being it is beneficial for them to build confidence in themselves and their accomplishments. At St. Philip, I find it easy to walk down the hallway and compliment a student on their artwork in the halls or their cute sparkly shoes. Sometimes a small gesture like that can make all the difference in a student’s attitude and confidence which will help them down the line have confidence in their educational abilities.

Students getting excited about school is going to provide them with the initiative they need to be successful in school and life. I encourage all those reading this article, whether you are a parent or a teacher, you make sure the environment provided to your student is causing that excitement for learning within your child. Additionally, when talking about school or asking a child questions about school you should show enthusiasm and passion. Kids mirror emotion and they will learn that if school is something you are excited about, they will get excited as well. By following these tips, I hope you can help your students or children to become more excited about school. When students are excited about learning, they are more likely to succeed academically and to develop a lifelong love of learning, which as educational professionals, is all we can hope for.

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