Thursday, April 05, 2007

Climate Control

A classroom has its own climate - an environment that fosters a certain set of attitudes and behaviors not unlike that of our planet. Is it an El Nino or a La Nina year? Has the build up of greenhouse gases made our already thin ozone layer that much more transparent? As a result, do we experience more hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, and expanding deserts that make this place seem more and more inhospitable?

A classroom has its own climate - the forecast may be bleak or sunny, warm or cold, engaging, supportive, or combative or indifferent. The weather may follow regular and predictable patterns, or its sudden hail storms may baffle forecasters and make them look the fool. We look back at our history and realize that on this day 30 years ago conditions were more favorable, and we wonder if history might repeat itself. We hope.

But the environment has changed dramatically and the Jet Stream has shifted away from its course. Turbulent weather is the only thing we see ahead. Is it all out of our control?
Lucky for us that teachers are the barometers of their classrooms. We can tell the conditions just by looking at them. Even with a storm raging outside, conditions on the inside of classrooms can greatly be influenced by the teachers that live there.

In a study funded by The National Institute of Health, educational researchers found that highly skilled, engaging teachers can eliminate achievement gaps. The key word here is "engaging." They suggested that U.S. education focuses too much on teacher qualifications and not enough on teachers being engaging and supportive.

Conditions must be just right. The right combination of skill and craft, expertise and encouragement, mix and mingle in a way that produces the desired effect - the perfect day - 72 degrees, a light breeze, sunny, low humidity, high visibility, and no allergens or pollutants to bother the senses of those most sensitive.

This week the air conditioning in my building didn't work. It's spring in Florida - not the time to be without my AC. I only have so much control over the climate in my classroom. But the control I do have I use to make my classroom an interesting, engaging, relevant, and safe place to learn.