As we prepare to return to school this year, knowing how to set the tone for an inclusive, productive classroom environment is essential. Since 1976, Facing History has offered industry-leading tools for establishing a classroom climate that deepens empathy, demands intellectual rigor, and invites a plurality of student voices. And we equip teachers with lessons designed to build this type of climate in our Back-to-School Toolkit. But something as seemingly basic as how we set up the physical space of our classrooms can also have a significant impact on classroom culture and learning outcomes.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt said that the essence of being human is participating in moral discourse with others. "The things of the world become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellows. We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human." In a reflective classroom community, students work together in an engaging study of our past, and of our world today. Knowledge is constructed, not passively absorbed. And students, with both hearts and minds mobilized, are seen as subjects actively engaged in a community of learners. A trusting classroom atmosphere like this creates the space for deep, democratic learning. The creation of an environment like this requires a thoughtful approach.
As any Facing History teacher will tell you, many of our lessons begin with stories of identity. To introduce identity, and to start thinking about the various aspects that make up our own identities, we often use an Identity Chart teaching strategy.
I have been a teacher and assistant principal at Stuyvesant High School for 14 years.
Our school is located in lower Manhattan, just a few blocks north of the World Trade Center. We are one of New York City’s specialized high schools and draw students from all five boroughs. We have over 3,000 students in our 10-story building.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, my express bus dropped me at the Center's North Tower and I walked up a few blocks to school. I settled in for a busy day in the first week of classes.
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Who says that going back to school can’t be a blast? Check out how Facing History and Ourselves educators from around the globe bring a bit of fun into the first few days of class.