A wise educator once said: “We create the weather in our classroom as soon as we walk in. We can make it rain, we can make it sunny or we can make it overcast and gloomy. As educators, we control the climate in our teaching and learning spaces.” That man was one of my university lecturers and the words have stuck with me ever since.
January 17th 2014 marked the 72nd birthday of the great boxer and social provocateur Muhammad Ali. A man who is notable for changing the face of competitive boxing and for publicly opposing the Vietnam War when most other celebrities and personalities were inclined to make token and expedient gestures of support. There is much that is inspiring about the life of this complex and not always likeable man, but it is undeniable that Ali embodies many of the virtues and qualities that we, as educators, wish to instil in our students.
Vision… Ambition… Resilience… Motivation… Tenacity…And a commitment to life-long learning.
These are all qualities that we can gleam in the life and achievements of Muhammad Ali.
So, as holidays begin to draw to a close and we begin to collect our thoughts in preparation for 2014 academic year, let’s pause to consider how we might go about setting the right tone from Day One in our classroom. What can we do to make sure that the weather is optimal for smooth educational sailing? How will we ensure that the dark storm clouds of adolescent angst and the difficulties of a student’s home life can be escaped within the sunny confines of our classroom?
Many educational theorists speak of the importance of decorating the walls of your teaching space with examples of student work. Some advocate for motivational posters, whilst others posit that diagrams or flowcharts or scaffolds to assist students in their learning are optimal. An ideal approach might be a combination of all three. However, few of us have the luxury of a dedicated teaching space we can call our own and many schools prohibit the posting of things to walls for fear of damage to surfaces. What then does one do?
One suggestion for setting the right tone for 2014 and adjusting the “climate control” to learning, might be to give each student a small motivational card or print-out to keep at the front of their English exercise book alongside their goals for the year. Alternatively, you could make finding and affixing an inspirational piece part of the goal-setting and objectives mapping activities within the first few lessons of the academic year.
An excellent website you could use, or have your students use, for finding inspiration this year is Zen Pencils created by the Australian artist Gavin Aung Than: http://zenpencils.com/
There you will find an amazing collection from this incredibly gifted visual artist. Many of the posters and comics are adaptations of famous inspirational quotes or literary extracts. The animation makes the words both highly accessible and memorable to students. There are also a number of free posters available here: http://zenpencils.com/free-posters/
As we embark upon the journey of a new school year let us be mindful that we, as teachers, are “The Weather Makers”[i].
All the best for 2014!
- Anthony Bosco
[i] I have shamelessly borrowed this expression from the noted Australian scientist, environmentalist and global warming activist Tim Flannery. Hopefully, he won’t mind my use of his book title as a metaphor for controlling the metaphoric climate of our teaching and learning spaces.