Camp Culture – Creating an Ideal Learning Environment – PART I

There is no wi-fi in the mountains, but you’ll find no better connection

Before your dive into this blog post let’s take a pause and grab yourself some writing tools. Take just a few minutes and reflect on the following prompt;

Picture the ideal learning environment for students. Consider what it looks like, what is sounds like, and how it feels to be there.

Now ask yourself, are the things you described the exception or the rule in your classroom? Generally speaking, the characteristics that describe most educator’s ideal learning environment fit into the exception column, but this isn’t meant as a jab. Let’s be clear; the regular presence or absence of the elements that make up an ideal learning environment is not a measure of your worth as a teacher. Research shows that classroom culture is shaped by multiple stakeholders and factors outside your classroom (administration, other teachers, school climate, and parents just to name a few) so recognize that if things aren’t operating within the “ideal” description you’ve jotted down, it may not be due to a lack of trying on your part. However, it doesn’t matter if you find yourself living or vacationing in the land of “far from ideal” there is hope. You have the power to address the culture of your classroom because the what you do in your classroom trumps all. The same research which acknowledges the influence of others on your classroom learning environment also backs up teacher instigated interventions as significantly more influential. You are Willy Wonky and it’s your chocolate factory.

Now you might be saying, “Sure, fine, whatever, but YOU haven’t been in MY classroom. You have no idea what it’s like. It’s rough. Like I routinely have kids standing up screaming, ‘I volunteer as tribute’ levels of rough.” You’ve got me there and I fully acknowledge that I do not know your students or classroom better than you. However, I do know that shifting even the most toxic classroom can be done, that it’s never too late to do so, and there are models for it you can steal and tweak to make your own.

Bold claim, right? How can I say this with a straight face? Well after the fall of communism, the countries that made up the former Soviet bloc began rebuilding, both physically as well as socially. One country in particular, Romania, had its work cut out for it. Decades of blatant and brazenly public political corruption had soured the mood of the country, especially its young people. A 2004 survey revealed just how bad things were; when asked “how does someone become successful” the most popular pathways selected by over 50% of the country’s youth were “theft” and “breaking the law”.

Romania found itself starring down the barrel of a future where its citizens were more likely to engage in armed robbery than they were to engage in civic participation, a situation that would make any other reconstruction effort moot. Faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, youth leaders in the country proposed an unorthodox solution; take kids camping. They named their proposal Viata (life) and said they could reverse decades of toxicity and negativity if the state would pay to send hundreds and hundreds of Romanian youth to camp for just one week. Lawmakers were dubious to say the least, but there were no other ideas on the table, so they agreed.

Participants were surveyed both before and after their camp experience in four areas; team building, perception of one’s own abilities, personal empowerment and most importantly trust. When the data was tabulated, the results were staggering. After just one week of exposure to “camp culture” participants reported an increase in all four areas with the largest jumps in the trust category. A single week of “camp culture” helped reverse decades of social decay. Imagine what the gains could be for your own learners if they were immersed in a similar culture for an entire school year.

Our next blog post explores the elements of this “camp culture” and how they can help create an ideal learning environment in your classroom.

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