Maintaining A Healthy Learning Environment

By Sonya Barnes                                                                                                                                         3/8/2020

A welcoming classroom can be beneficial to student learning, but how can you keep it a sanitized and healthy environment, and how can you keep the focus on learning if they have to be out due to that illness?

It is currently flu season, allergy season and, unfortunately, Coronavirus is making its way around. In other words, students missing school is highly likely as we get through the last several months of school, and it is right during testing season. In addition to keeping a clean classroom, there are some things that we can do as educators that can help keep the focus on learning, even if a student can’t be in the classroom.

Student cleanliness

Some students have healthy habits, but most do not because they just don’t think about it—I know I didn’t as a kid.  And, while hand sanitizer is great, especially as they walk in the door first thing, nothing beats a good washing with soap and water. Create a routine to have them wash up as soon as they enter, as well as when they use the restroom or before and after meals.  Posting steps for how to properly wash hands can be good, as well. The CDC has some that you can print at this link CDC Handwashing Posters. Also, encourage them to bring only what they need to school to avoid the number of items around.

Classroom cleanliness

Many of us already make it a practice to wipe down our desks and other surfaces, as well as keep hand sanitizer in the room on hand, but are you involving the students so they are consciously aware and a part of it? Alcohol wipes for keyboards and bleach wipes for desks, switches and other surfaces can be helpful, but expensive.  A cheap spray bottle with a disinfecting cleaner, as well as one with rubbing alcohol can be used on paper towels or even reusable rags like a cut up t-shirt or towel that the kids can have access to and be tossed in a bucket to be taken home and washed when full.  Healthline.com recommends using a 90% or greater rubbing alcohol on electronic items so it will evaporate quickly.  Check out their website for other cleaning tips using alcohol here.  At the end of the period or the day, depending on how often they transition, have students take the time to wipe down their work area.  Keep in mind, this may be something that will need to be taught and modeled repeatedly, and you may still want to do a wipe down at the end of each day, as well.   If you have items that cannot be easily cleaned or disinfected, I highly suggest tucking them away for now, or working to replace them with things that are.

Community Classroom Supplies

Many of us have a community location for paper, pencils, erasers, scissors and all the other things that a student may use. If you teach a contained classroom with the same group of kids, using pencil pouches to hold all their items at their desk and having a clean-up time at the end of the day to wipe them down can be helpful.  If you don’t have a pencil pouch and lack the funding to purchase, look at gallon freezer bags as an inexpensive substitute that you may even be able to get donated.  If you have students that change classes, encourage them to keep a bag or pouch of these items in their own bag and carry around. If a community area is a necessity, have alcohol wipes to wipe down utensils and handles, or just be generous and give them the writing utensil. 

Planning lessons

Yes, this needs to be part of it.  Kids are going to be out, and some may not be able to have someone come to school to pick up work.  Hopefully, at this point in the year, you have an idea of the technology access your students have at home, but a quick poll can tell you—maybe a quick bell ringer!  With this information, you can develop lessons and activities that they can access electronically.  Many schools have access to google drive, Schoology, or Google Classrooms, so capitalize on that and begin adapting your lessons and activities to start teaching the students how to access this.  Perhaps partnering with your school administration for a schoolwide adoption or working with your team or the technology instructor, if you have one, could help with this process. If technology is not an option, perhaps planning the unit in advance and copying it as a packet they carry with them back and forth could be a good alternative.  Communication will be key as to the best way to keep them informed.

To maximize success, definitely make contact with your parents to let them know that it will be coming back and forth and a clear idea of what the expectations will be (i.e., what will be daily classroom or homework, what they should do in the event they are absent, due dates, where to find this information, how to contact you with questions in general or to help their child while they are out, etc.).  I can hear your arguments as I write this—what if they lose it; what if they go home and work ahead and finish it early? Well, a master copy at school to work from can help with lost copies (laminated or in sheet protectors that can be wiped down and sanitized could be helpful) and sending a google drive copy of the packet to parents can help, as well. This could be an email, through a communication app you use, or even just having it in their google classroom and making sure the parents have been invited to access it, or create a parent classroom they can access materials or ask questions/get help if they are helping can be beneficial.  And, if they happen to work ahead, they can use class time to review or complete an enrichment menu activity to reinforce the learning.

Don’t be afraid to listen if the students want to talk about it—this could be a great chance to dispel rumors or fear, as well as educate them on facts.  Keep yourself informed by following updates directly from the sources handling it, linked here—the Center for Disease Control – CDC, World Health Organization – WHO and your local health departments and school board (sorry, you’ll have to find that link on your own!).  While local news media may be helpful, you are going to want to get the bigger picture that they may not be able to cover in a short segment or, sadly in these times, may not be as accurate or thorough as we need it to be. 

It is always a good practice to be flexible and supportive to the learning needs for a successful learning environment, but as we navigate through this season, it will be even more important to do so with a positive and caring attitude.  Be healthy, fellow educators!

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