Set the children free

Classrooms should be designed in such a way as to encourage learners to be imaginative and free to explore.

Classrooms should be designed in such a way as to encourage learners to be imaginative and free to explore.

A classroom is a place where pupils should be given space to think. They can be challenged to then think further and move beyond their normal conceptual boundaries. For this to happen, teachers themselves need to be comfortable enough to be ­challenged. School is one of the many places where pupils should be allowed to find their mojo — their personal sense of freedom and their true selves. A classroom should be designed in such a way that the simple act of stepping into it can become a life-changing experience. It should be a place that pupils, looking back on their lives, remember and say some of the best moments in their lives were experienced there. It is important to remember that our job as teachers is not to change our pupils. Rather, the function of a teacher is to inspire change. It is our duty to create an open environment that invites exploration with minimal restrictions. Many pupils come to school looking for a place where they can be given a chance to be something, do something and be part of something worthwhile. It is crucial that as teachers we know this, understand it and respond positively in our practice.
Where do I start?
There are many activities you can introduce with your pupils. Take, for example, leadership. In the beginning of the year, place pupils in groups. Ask them to choose a group leader by voting for one preferred candidate who will be their leader for the rest of the term. The following term, ask them to choose a new group leader. Eventually, across four terms in a year, every pupil will have had an opportunity to exercise some form of leadership responsibility and initiative. This will give them a chance to experience the basics of democracy. The process will also build their self-esteem, boost their confidence and teach them to be more responsible.
How much control must I practise?
As teachers, we set the tone and atmosphere in our classes. In other words, we control the weather. Pupils usually respond to class situations as they experience them. So, if you do not teach good manners as a basic behaviour for your pupils it is highly unlikely that you will end up with well-behaved and good-mannered pupils. It is vital to monitor your pupils’ growth process. Teach them the basic skills and leave the rest of the qualities to develop unassisted by you. This means you cannot always play the hero for your pupils. Sometimes you will need to step back and allow them to experience emotions such as anger, disappointment, pain, joy and so on. Experiencing such diverse emotions will help them to grow further as human beings. Your duty as a teacher becomes that of a facilitator, who assists pupils to develop appropriate coping skills. You set the tone, but you do not ever prescribe behaviour.
How do I keep my pupils motivated?
Your pupils must be encouraged to develop self-motivation skills. Their inspiration has to come from within (intrinsic motivation). Every single day you need to consistently keep giving them new stuff to do. For instance, you can have daily vocabulary and spelling competitions in which they compete against you or against each other, or even in groups. Every single day the group points must be collected and the winning group rewarded with something special, such as coming to school in civilian clothing or spending an hour playing video or any other educational games (depending on the resources available in your school). Each pupil must be given a task they will perform in the classroom context so that they will learn communication and public-speaking skills.
How do I keep myself motivated as a teacher?
Motivation is infectious. If a teacher remains constantly upbeat and positive, it rubs off on the pupils. They become like you and they even begin to reflect some of your characteristics. If you read constantly as a teacher, your pupils tend to copy this and do exactly as you do. What is of great importance is to love what you do. If you are passionate about your job, then the chances are that you will always use that passion to do what you do best. Being the best at what you do is a cumulative process. It means you start small and keep growing every year until you operate at the highest level of your ability. A motivated teacher is the main reason why pupils come to school every day, because they get blessed by your positive energy, attitude and behaviour. In order to do all these things successfully, it is important to know that pupils are not objects. Rather, they are young human beings who need nurturing, lots of love, support and guidance. As I always say: “Go out there and create magic!”

Xolani Majola is an educational policy analyst

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