“Happy Children” is the theme of our September Back to School night. It sounds like an obvious goal for children to be happy at school, but it is too often overlooked as a component of effective learning. Most teachers recognize that children need to have their physical needs met and their academic capacity challenged, but some may overlook the importance of smiling faces and truly happy children. Teachers at Dancing Moose understand the significance of the social/emotional aspect of teaching and learning. In fact at Dancing Moose, being happy is the heart of the classroom for teachers and students.
Teachers refer to children as friends because they are just that—friends. Of course the teacher is the guide, the facilitator, and a figure of respect in the classroom, but the most significant identifier is that she is a friend to students, and students are friends to the teacher and one another. The concept of being a friend is an inclusive, respectful, and necessary ingredient for feeling happy at school. Each child deserves to feel like an important part of the classroom community, and when children connect to the teacher and one another, their mood is elevated and their mind is ready to explore, concentrate, and achieve.
Creating and maintaining a happy classroom is a goal that deserves regular attention. If a child feels unappreciated or perhaps even devalued by anyone at school, his or her ability to feel the calmness necessary to discover and absorb new information is compromised. The effect is detrimental to all of the classroom goals for teaching, learning, and feeling good about oneself. We will continue to emphasize ways that children can respect and support one another to keep a healthy pulse on learning at Dancing Moose.
Educators like to use the words “student-centered” teacher, but that means different things in different contexts. I’d like to explore what being student-centered means at Dancing Moose. First of all, you’ll notice that there is no teacher desk. Teachers are not situated at a central place in the room; they are at various places around the room with children. They are working with small groups, sharing lessons with a few students at a time. Teachers are constantly observing students without interrupting and making notes about what they need to reteach next time around.
Teachers want to make sure that children always have an opportunity to think, create, and move around the room. Instead of constantly filling students’ minds with information, teachers think of great questions to stimulate students to make connections and come to new and brilliant conclusions. Of course, teachers still guide their students: they provide many opportunities to share new information, allowing children to contemplate the information, talk about the information, and formulate opinions about the information. This is the essence of learning; it is the essence of student-centered teaching.
Teachers maintain a calm and interested demeanor. They provide a model for children to focus on their own projects. By providing an abundance of interesting lessons in a calm, yet stimulating environment, children are relaxed enough to concentrate and let their personalities shine. Reprimands are not needed in a stimulating environment where children are engaged in thinking and learning.
One of the essential components of this effective environment is a small student-to-teacher ratio. Small ratios are essential to maintain a focus on learning rather than maintaining control of large groups of students. These small ratios provide an opportunity for teachers to listen to, laugh with, and truly enjoy their students. A student-centered environment makes a joyful learning experience for everyone.