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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional
Planning, Organizing and Managing Your Learning Environment
Theresa London Cooper

Planning, organizing, and managing your learning environment at the onset of the school year, sets a tone for success. There are a number of conditions I established within the first two months of my teaching that supported a healthy learning environment.

Planning ahead is extremely important. Before the first day of school, I planned a number of lessons that were necessary to lay the foundation for a well-run classroom. Carolyn Evertson, a classroom management expert refers to a formula, 3=33, which means three weeks of practicing the necessary procedures will yield 33 weeks of sound instruction. Therefore, it is important to reflect on the essential procedures that must be introduced to the students starting on the first day of school. I established procedures for a number of concerns:

  • How to enter the classroom
  • What to do once seated
  • How to ask permission
  • How to resolve a conflict
  • How to submit homework
  • What to do on a fire drill

Each one of these procedures became a routine that students carried out on their own without my prompting. Other procedures were established on a “need to know basis.” I do, we do, you do is the formula. Students must be able to visualize what is expected. Modeling is critical. A great deal of guided practice is necessary before students can become independent.

We also set boundaries that governed student and teacher behavior. After talking with the students about the best ways to establish a learning environment, we decided on just a few “working agreements.” Most of their ideas fell under the four agreements listed below:

  • Be prompt.
  • Be prepared.
  • Be productive.
  • Be polite.

We discussed how each looked, felt, and sound. We talked about self-management and making wise choices. I found that taking a proactive stance Another effective strategy I used was placing “good” telephone calls to parents. It made a quite a difference in the parent’s response when it was necessary to discuss some of the challenges I observed. The telephone calls allowed parents to see that I acknowledged the strengths of their children before noting the areas of concern. When you establish a positive rapport with parents, they are usually much more receptive to later communications regarding concerns and challenges about their children.

Organizing the space, materials, and students was another major concern for me. It is important to think about how to use space to facilitate a classroom community. Usually at the onset of my year, I arranged the desks in an “E” shape. I wanted the students’ attention on me and my demonstrations. As the year progressed, the “E” shape easily supported group and partnership activities. Generally, I worked with large groups of students, so center activities were placed in folders that were portable and easily relocated to a student’s desk. During the first week of school, we discussed the materials and how they were arranged and could be maintained. Procedures for the organization of space, materials, and students were established.

Lastly, managing the students and monitoring their progress was necessary to inform my instruction. It is important to decide upon a system of monitoring your students that works for you, as you will be collected data and using it for later groupings and differentiated instruction to meet their needs. For example, focusing on three or four students per day will help you get to all of your students by the end of the month. One effective method of recording your observations is using self –adhesive labels to jot down what skills and strategies students have mastered. The labels are transferred to a notebook, which lists each child’s name on a page. By the end of the month, you have gathered very specific data on each student that are used to inform your instruction and can be shared with other stakeholders.

Managing the rest of the students while working with a smaller group is also a challenge. However, working with your class to develop an “ I Can List ” is an effective way to keep students meaningfully engaged. Because students learn at different rates, and complete their assignments at different times, an “ I Can List” is a practical way to have students take more responsibility for their learning and practice meaningful and controlled choices. The list should be posted in a visible spot so that students may refer to it. It is critical that the list reflects “meaningful activities” which students can do independently. You also want to make sure that all the items on the list reflect choices that you know are helpful to your students.
As professional practitioners, planning, organizing, and managing materials, lessons, and students are essential to a healthy learning environment. What routines and systems have you implemented thus far? What are your next steps?

Do you have a comment or question about this article? E-mail Theresa.


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