As many of us could personally attest, high school is a singularly important time in a young person’s life. During this trying time, young people need adult guidance to help them navigate the various personal and academic challenges they will face. Given this, high school teachers have a crucial role in ensuring a supportive environment for young people to learn and develop.
Creating an encouraging learning environment not only involves turning a classroom into a comfortable learning space but also one where students feel safe, engaged, and motivated. To create such an environment, teachers have to encourage active participation, respect, and a shared sense of identity among their students. In this article, we’ll look into several ways in which teachers and other educators can develop learning environments that better meet the needs of high schoolers in their care.
Differentiate Instruction and Teaching Strategies
As the world becomes more aware of the importance of diversity, there also emerges a greater recognition of the value of different learning styles and preferences. Given this, teachers have to accommodate students that face learning challenges, including children of migrant families and those with learning disabilities. They may also need to give more advanced students more appropriate challenges to keep them engaged.
Differentiation has long been used successfully in international schools where students may come from hundreds of different foreign school systems. A typical high school in Singapore for international students will take steps to accommodate their diversity, largely to ensure that everyone is truly engaged in their learning. Teachers in other school systems can use the same principles to ensure that their students remain motivated to learn.
Set Clear Rules and Expectations
Teens already have more than enough unspoken rules to follow so their school should avoid adding to this stress. To avoid potential issues, teachers and school administrators should always set clear rules and expectations regarding behavior, academics, and participation at the start of the school year. This will ensure that students understand and appreciate what their school expects them to do. This turn, will help them stay out of trouble and engaged in the learning process.
Teachers should encourage, not force, students to actively participate in class discussions and other school activities. To do this, it will be helpful if teachers could get to know their students at an individual level so that they can better choose how to encourage participation. Even if students don’t end up participating as much as the teacher would wish, providing encouragement can still be beneficial as it may make students feel valued, which may then make them more engaged in learning in other ways.
Know the Students
Having an interest in what individual students do, who their friends are, and what they enjoy can be key to creating a friendlier, more engaging learning environment. While having real positive relationships with students is ideal, even simply knowing who they are and showing an interest in them can make them feel more motivated to learn.
Provide Actionable Feedback
Oftentimes, students that struggle with schoolwork simply don’t understand what they are doing wrong. Unfortunately, many are given vague advice by their teachers or punished with little explanation. This can leave students in no better position than before and it may even cause them to resent their school.
This makes it especially important for teachers to be very considerate and specific with their feedback. Any advice that’s given should be something that they can reasonably expect the student to follow. It may also be helpful for teachers to identify any possible signs of neurodivergence or other personal issues a student may have when giving feedback.
Model Respectful Behavior
Teachers are not perfect but they have a responsibility to be role models for the teens in their charge. Doing this can involve learning about conflict resolution, identifying potential stressors for high schoolers, and making efforts to use appropriate language around the young people in their charge. By always striving to respect others, teachers will not only help encourage respectful behavior in teens, but they may also enjoy benefits to their own lives as well.
Make the School a Safe Space
When students feel discriminated against, they may start to dread going to class and purposefully disengage from school activities that they deem will make them a target for more harassment. Given this, teachers and other school staff should strive to prevent and address all instances of bullying and discrimination in schools. This is especially relevant in situations where there are students that can be potential targets for “othering” by their peers. By seriously addressing bullying and discrimination, students may feel more confident and inclined to participate in class.
Involve Parents and Guardians
Many teens may be unengaged with learning because they feel that their parents have no interest in their progress. To mitigate this, teachers and school administrators should regularly communicate with students’ parents or guardians about important school activities or any specific issues a student may be facing. Regular communication may encourage parents to be more active in supporting their teen’s learning, which may have positive implications for their academics as well as their self-confidence.
Teachers play a key role in building safe and engaging learning environments, and this is especially true in high school settings. Adolescence is a difficult time, and as such, teens need experienced and conscientious adults to guide them through the many challenges of growing up. By being proactive and empathetic to the needs of their students, teachers and other school personnel can create a classroom environment that is not only conducive to learning but also makes students feel valued.