Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thursday Tip: How to Create a Safe Environment

One of the biggest compliments that my students have ever given me was that they felt safe in my classroom.  In addition to educating students, I strongly believe that a student will not learn anything if they do not feel safe.  Knowing that my students feel safe is a goal that I make for myself every year.  Each year, that looks different because my students are different.

I've spent some time reflecting on the things that I do that help to create an environment where my students feel comfortable telling me their fears, taking risks, and failing.

1.  Keep Calm - Over the last year, the rage in t-shirts has be the "Keep Calm And…" craze.  This is my motto in my classroom.  No matter what a student does, I am the one who chooses my reaction.  If I choose to freak out and go ballistic on a student, that safe environment will crumble in a second. This doesn't come natural to some people.  So my suggestion is to count to 10 before you react.

2. Monitor Your Tone - I'm not a yeller by nature, but I've been in classrooms as a student myself where the teacher was, and I sat at my desk with a knot in my stomach every second, terrified that I would do something to set my teacher off and I would become the target of the yell. Over the years, I've taught with yellers and I've witnessed the fear and intimidation that comes with it.  Even sarcasm creates an unsafe environment.  When I participated in Love and Logic training several years ago, one suggestion that was provided was to whisper.  This action takes the sarcasm and anger out of what you have to say.

3.  Give Students A Voice - Students want to be heard during the day.  They crave being a part of the instruction.  Even as teachers in professional development times, we want to talk, take part.  Provide an opportunity for students to do so as well.  In my class, I provide reflection time for my students not only to reflect on their learning, but also to reflect on my teaching.  This doesn't happen in every single lesson or every single day, but often it is in the form of the following 3 questions:

  • What was the best part of the lesson?
  • How could I make this lesson better?
  • On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best lesson ever, how did I rate?
I've used the feedback to influence the upcoming lessons for the week and to thoughtfully reflect on my practice.

4. Include Students in Decisions - At the beginning of the year I spend a TON of time building community with my students.  Like many of you, we create class rules together.  I do this by using a Placemat Consensus with my students. After groups create their list of important rules, we discuss as a class and then create a class list.  Another thing that we do the first day of school is create job descriptions for students and for teachers.  These are then posted in our classroom and referred to daily. I let my students make decisions in little areas as well - which playground to play on, reading or writing first, the way we line up, etc.  When students feel like they are making decisions, when you have to say today we have to do it this way, no one bucks the system because they usually have decision making power. *My students do not make ALL of the decisions in my classroom - only the ones I can live with.

5. Give Students Your Time - TIME spells LOVE for kids, and different kids need different things.
Each day, I schedule a group of students to eat lunch with in the cafeteria.  We call it the Lunch Bunch.  I only have about 5 kids in each group.  During lunch we talk about their lives - books they are reading, swim meets, families, sports, anything they want.  Sometimes this turns into a tutoring session.  Students ask questions about the lesson, work on skills they want to improve, etc.  I bring my iPad with me so we can look up information if they are curious about a topic.  We use Wonderopolis to peak our curiosity as well.  It's my favorite time of the day.  I'm not teacher at this point, but someone who is interested in them as an individual.  

These are my top 5 ideas for creating that safe environment, but I'm really interested in hearing yours.  Add them to the comments below. What do you do or what do you plan to do to create a safe environment for your students?

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