Classroom atmosphere is crucial… and it’s not just about pretty curtains and a matching lamp. The atmosphere that a teacher creates within her four walls can make a successful, productive learning year possible.
The Oklahoma City School District recently approved the Great Expectations (GE) method with unanimous school board support. GE is based on harmony, respect, positive attitudes and the pursuit of academic excellence. According to the GE website, it’s a method that focuses “on the learning climate and the HOW of teaching.”
Background of GE
“Great Expectations is the story of one man’s determination,” said Linda Dzialo, Executive Director of GE. Charlie Hollar of Ponca City founded the Great Expectations Foundation in 1991 with a mission to “transform lives through education.” With 71 model schools (where 90 percent of the teachers participate), the GE methodology continues to spread in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri and beyond. Dzialo believes, “in the next three to five years we will have a major presence in United States education.”
The GE Classroom
“GE has two important components which are the foundation of how to be a great classroom or an exemplary school,” said Dzialo. “When a teacher goes through GE training the teacher receives tools for developing a climate of mutual respect. In addition, we [GE] give teachers strategies so their students can achieve academic success and reach their full potential,” said Dzialo.
In a GE classroom, you will not find rules posted with the negative “Don’ts” of what not to do—rather, you will find positive “Do’s” of what is expected. GE demonstrates positive reminders of what all teachers want their classroom to be: a productive, successful place for learning.
Things you will see in a GE classroom include:
• Students on task and working cooperatively.
• A climate of mutual respect among students and teacher.
• A word, quote and life principle posted each week.
• Teachers modeling expected behavior.
• Students willing to take risks in a nonthreatening environment.
Things you will hear in a GE classroom include:
• Creeds recited by both students and teacher.
• Students and teacher speaking in complete sentences.
• Celebrations of successful moments.
• Integrated lessons relative to real-life experiences.
What Teachers Think
Tami King, GE instructor and fifth grade teacher, supports a Great Expectations approach. “There are so many benefits to implementing the classroom practices of Great Expectations! Students are actively engaged, and they become critical thinkers. They learn how to communicate effectively, to work cooperatively and to be self-directed in their learning. Students are empowered, and it is truly a joy to watch them blossom and become more self-confident.”
To instill a platform of mutual respect among classmates and teachers, students engage in team-building activities that foster a positive, productive, non-threatening classroom climate. King explains, “Team-building isn’t just beneficial to a class—it’s a necessity in creating a climate of mutual respect. That climate doesn’t just exist between the teacher and the students; it exists between the individual students as well. The kids have to feel as though they are in a safe environment in order to be willing to take risks necessary for growth. Providing team-building opportunities in the classroom allows for the students to bond together… they embrace the eight Expectations for Living [see sidebar]. The entire atmosphere of the classroom changes—the children work together to succeed, and they build each other up.”
Visit www.greatexpectationsok.org for more information about the Great Expectations Foundation.
The Basic Tenets of Great Expectations:
The beliefs of Great Expectations, as based on research by multiple educational experts, theorists and researchers.
• High expectations. Students respond to high expectations by reaching up to achieve them.
• Teacher attitude and responsibility. Positive attitudes shape students.
• All children can learn. No matter their circumstances or labels placed upon them, all children can learn.
• Self-esteem. Help students realize they are capable.
• Mutual respect. Mistakes are used as growth opportunities.
• Teacher knowledge and skill. A skilled teacher helps children to achieve academic success.
Expectations for Living
In a GE classroom, these expectations are posted, recited and practiced daily.
1. We will value one another as unique and special individuals.
2. We will not laugh at or make fun of a person’s mistakes nor use sarcasm or putdowns.
3. We will use good manners and allow others to go first.
4. We will cheer each other to success.
5. We will help one another whenever possible.
6. We will recognize every effort and applaud it.
7. We will encourage each other to do our best.
8. We will practice virtuous living, using the 36 Life Principles (found at the Great Expectations website)
Julie Dill is a National Board Certified Teacher from Oklahoma City and mother of two.