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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

How to create a positive school environment

Students need to understand they are part of a larger community, writes Bill Delbrugge

Positive school environments instill in their students a bold curiosity towards their educational goals. Jeff Topping / The National
Positive school environments instill in their students a bold curiosity towards their educational goals. Jeff Topping / The National

Positive school environments are not developed through gimmicks or flashy equipment-filled entrance halls. They are created through helping students find success. This may seem simple but it is true, success breeds success and the culture of a school must be designed to promote this simple but powerful concept.

Positive school environments instill in their students a bold curiosity towards their educational goals. Schools should offer students unparalleled opportunities to undertake problem-solving and exploration via hands-on activities. Interactions between faculty and students should nurture integrity, empathy and kindness to stimulate their development as individuals and as members of society who care about others and the world around them.

A teacher’s primary task is to help students overcome their fears and discover their ability to innovate and solve problems.

Students need to find success if they are to build the confidence and capacity to take risks and meet difficult challenges. However, it is also important for students to learn from their failures, to persevere when things are hard, and to learn to turn challenges into opportunities.

During their educational journey, students should gradually take ownership of the learning process, build and value friendships with peers and relationships with teachers and come to appreciate their own individuality and their responsibility to the wider community.

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This journey should span classrooms, stages, laboratories and playing fields.

Every student is a unique individual who needs a secure, caring and stimulating environment in which to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially.

I have never met a student who told me their desire in life is to be a drain on society and to be unsuccessful. However, many students in schools throughout the world do not find success because the educational team of the student, teacher and parent are not working in concert with each other to achieve the same goal.

It is also important that we allow each student to have their voice heard in what they would like to accomplish in school and achieve in life.

We, as educators and parents, must make sure we give guidance to the student but they must also have input to where they would ultimately like to find him or herself.

A positive school environment will help students meet their fullest potential by making sure the student, teacher and parent team communicates openly to be sure they are all on the same page and understand what the educational team is trying to accomplish. This will allow all three partners (student, teacher, parent) to find success.

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With the teacher as a guide, providing access to information rather than acting as the primary source of information, the students' search for knowledge is met as they learn to find answers to their questions. This in turn allows students to have their voice heard and builds intrinsic motivation in learning for the sake of learning rather than learning for the sole purpose of mastering knowledge that will be on a test.

For students to construct knowledge, they need the opportunity to discover for themselves and practice skills in real world situations. Providing students access to hands-on activities and allowing adequate time and space to use materials that reinforce the lesson being studied creates an opportunity for individual discovery and construction of knowledge to occur.

Equally important to self-discovery is having the opportunity to study things that are meaningful and relevant to one's life and interests. Developing a curriculum around student interests fosters intrinsic motivation and stimulates the passion to learn.

Much of what defines a positive school environment also moves beyond its academic programme. A positive school environment promotes a student’s artistic and athletic excellence and provides opportunities through extracurricular clubs and activities for students to find their voice and excel.

Some of life's most important lessons, such as winning, losing and being part of a team, are learned through participation in athletics, musical ensembles and club activities. These organisations are a positive and powerful motivator for students to perform better in all parts of school life. By encouraging commitment, determination and teamwork students will benefit greatly as they apply these skills to other areas of their life.

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Helping students to develop a deep love and respect for their community and society helps them understand the world is better because of their accomplishments and contributions. Students need to understand they are part of a larger community and we must all work together for everyone to find success and happiness. Only through a society that collectively meets its goals will we have peace and prosperity for all. As educators and parents, we need to make this as strong a priority as any test grade.

Only through quality programmes, both academic and extra-curricular, where building on student strengths and developing their talents to achieve success is a cultural norm, can a school truly build a positive school environment.

Bill Delbrugge is director of Dunecrest American School in Dubai