Environmental Factors

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Environmental Factors

Introduction

Our capacity to concentrate and learn is greatly influenced by the environmental conditions we are in. Ambient temperature, humidity and air pressure all affect how comfortable we feel, particularly when they are different from what we usually experience. The weather influences our moods and windy weather, in particular, can be unsettling. Seasonal changes also affect us such as constantly feeling tired during the short daylight days of the winter months. On top of this there are changes in pollen levels that affect many students and varying air pollution levels that affect us all. Finally, there are a multitude of man-made environmental intrusions that can affect our behaviour.

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Wind

In the natural world, prey mammals become agitated and restless when it is windy. Biologist argue that the wind carries away the scent of any nearby predators making the prey animals more vulnerable to attack. Humans today, rarely have such worries, but in evolutionary terms it is a relatively short time since our ancestors needed this important survival reflex. It is therefore not surprising that teachers report that students are noticeably more restless on windy days, even when safely inside the protection of a warm and dry classroom.

Understanding that students will have heightened anxiety on a windy day is useful. It allows us to adapt our practice:

using a calm and reassuring voice
providing extra movement breaks (our instinct drives us to want to move during windy weather)
greater use of background music such as during quiet independent working
Where practical, try to shut out the weather by closing blinds etc.

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Unusual weather

As a teacher in the south-east of England, where snow is a rare seasonal event, I can recall losing all attention from my class as the sky outside filled with snowflakes. Trying to compete with it would of been futile, so I abandoned the lesson and took the class outside for an unscheduled play. I was lucky to have the flexibility and freedom to do so but abandoning a lesson is not always an option. Another year, another class, I just paused the lesson for a few minutes. I gave the students permission to leave their seats and peer out the window and get all the 'oohs' and 'aahs' over with.

Whether it is the first snowflakes or the first rain of the rainy season, it is probably worth pausing for a few minutes to allow all the students to have their curiosity sated. Trying to continue can lead to the use of increasingly negative behaviour management strategies that ultimately distract as much from the learning as the weather.

Sleep Deprivation

Our sleep routine is shaped by what is known as the Circadian Rhythm and this changes with the seasons so that our bodies crave more sleep during the winter months. It is therefore not surprising that everyone tends to complain of feeling tired in the winter months. For students, this compounds the already indaquate sleep hours experienced by the majority of children of all ages. As a class teacher, we have little influence over student's sleep. However, it can be useful to make both parents and students aware of the recommended amounts of sleep. See articles on sleep problems and sleep strategies for more information.

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Strategies

Monitor and manage the ambient temperature. Be aware that some individuals are more sensitive to temperature changes (hyper-thermoceptive) and may be best seated away from draughts (drafts) and/or heat sources including sunlight. Younger students may need to be directed to dress appropriately for temperature. Older students may need permission to remove clothing particularly if removing compulsory school uniform such as jumpers, blazers and tie.
Consider the impact of bright sunlight on students. Again some individuals may have increased sensitivity to light (hyper-photoceptive)
Be aware of external sounds and smells that may be distracting.
This page is still under construction

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You may also be interested in the following pages:

Classroom Behaviour

Sensory Needs

Sleep Problems

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