I found two pieces of advice from What I Wish My Professors Had Told Me (Collins, 2016) and one from Let Caring Shine Through (Bondy and Hambacher, 2016) particularly useful and applicable to my experiences teaching, both formal and informal.
The first piece of advice from Collins was to put students over content. With all the testing and work put into lesson plans it can be easy to believe that understanding the content is the end goal, when in reality the end goal should be improving your students lives. Focusing on the students as people rather than as sponges to soak up the knowledge will provide a better platform upon which to build relationships, relationships that are important to creating a classroom that feels safe and welcoming.
Collins also reminds us that we cannot be quitters, there will be hard days, classes we do not enjoy, students that are disruptive and make us want to bash our heads against the closest wall, but that we need to persevere and we need to remember the good days. If we are not focused on the task at hand, but rather thinking about how much nicer an office job would be or what we could do with that extra money, our students will suffer. As teachers, making sure we have a positive attitude about work will make it easier to engage students. It will make it seem like less of a burden to remind little Johnny that he needs to turn in his last assignment for the fifth time, and it will make it less of a burden to help him redo when he says he lost it. It will make it easier for us to engage our students.
Finally, Bondy and Hambacher remind us to teach with urgency. Don’t give students the time or permission to fail. By keeping our expectations clear and high, and maintaining good interpersonal relationships, students will want to succeed, thus becoming more engaged.
In order to create a safe and engaging environment for my students I plan to implement the advice I have mentioned above. My biggest goal however, is to simply be approachable. When I was a student I always felt the most comfortable and safe with teachers I knew would take time out of their day, whether during class, lunch, or immediately after school to answer a question about the lesson or provide help with a homework question. In the most general terms I plan to create a safe and engaging classroom environment by being as welcome as possible to every student who walks through my classroom doors.
You can find an interesting article about the effectiveness of greeting students at the door here.