Music Teacher Strives To Encourage A Productive School Climate

COURTESY PHOTO

Haverhill Cooperative Middle School and Woodsville High School choral and music teacher Christina Flateau, at right, is shown with WHS juniors Allie Snell and Kendra Fry.

WOODSVILLE, N.H. -- The media is constantly reporting on incidents of school climate issues. Inspired to make a change and understand what constitutes a "good" school climate, choral and music teacher at Woodsville High School and Haverhill Cooperative Middle School, Christina Flateau, has set out to understand what encourages a productive school climate.

Flateau is hoping to be the next recipient of the prestigious Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical. This honor gives one teacher from a New Hampshire school a year off from teaching to conduct research about education. Past recipients have studied such topics as contemporary history issues through the use of art, interactions between senior citizens and students and implementing technology into the classroom.

Flateau came to Woodsville High School in 2006 after graduating from SUNY Potsdam's Crane School of Music where she received a BA in Music Education. Flateau is known for taking time to get to know her students on a personal level; her philosophy towards teaching is that you have to be willing to listen to your students. "It's not always easy to listen to a 15-year-old rant about things that make them angry, but if you can remain calm and allow them to get their frustration out, you find they trust you and will be much more open to their learning in your presence."

It is obvious by looking at Flateau's interactions with her students that her philosophy works. Julia Bowman, a senior who has taken many of Flateau's classes since her freshmen year commented, "She's completely exceeded the responsibilities of a teacher. She has helped me grow not only as a musician, but also as an individual. She's helped me develop my skills to become more than I ever thought they could be, and I'm really thankful for the positive influence she's had on my life."

If she is awarded the sabbatical, Flateau plans to travel around the State of New Hampshire and administer a survey to participating schools to determine what variables negatively and positively affect school climate. Her study will analyze the topic of school climate from the view of teacher-student interactions; a little researched topic as most research in this area focuses on student-student interactions and its affect on climate.

Because Flateau teaches at both the high school and middle school, she has made many observations about the different schools' climates. "Monday mornings are begun with an assembly at HCMS, a weekly event that focuses nearly entirely on social development. Students are awarded for being cooperative, assertive, empathetic, responsible and using self-control. Each student begins the day in Morning Meeting, and then goes about his academic day. By contrast, WHS begins with a bell that brings you to your first period class, where kids get right down to business. We have assemblies, but the intent is to honor the academic achievement of our students."

Students at Woodsville High School know the importance of school climate. Dennis Ruprecht, a freshman said, "With a positive school climate, students and faculty are able to collaborate and work together in an effective confident way. If we have a positive school climate everything else will just follow ... the climate is what we make [a good school]."

Flateau is being assisted by her husband AJ, a science teacher at Woodsville High School; Brent Walker, principal at Haverhill Cooperative; and Woodsville senior Justin Woods to help her form her proposal. If Flateau receives the sabbatical, Woods will work with her from college interpreting data and giving input when needed. Woods says, "I am excited about helping Mrs. Flateau with her proposal. I've been thinking about becoming a high school science teacher, so learning anything about how education works is interesting to me. I will be interested to see, if Mrs. Flateau gets the sabbatical, what students from around the state say negatively and positively affect their day. Possibly I'll even be able to use this information in my own classroom."

The final product of her study will be an educational blog where Flateau will post her findings and share them with educators around the world.

Flateau submitted her application Jan. 20 and will find out if she receives the award by mid-April. More information can be accessed about the sabbatical program at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation's website.

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