4 Step Guide for Creating a Safe Classroom Environment
By Rachel Wells
A classroom should be a place where students feel safe physically, socially, and emotionally. Where children are free to be themselves, participate, ask questions, and further discover who they are. The benefits of having a safe classroom include fewer physical injuries, fewer hurt feelings, and a strong sense of community. When a classroom is built on a foundation of safety and respect, learning will follow.
With the goals of physical, social, and emotional safety in mind, let’s talk about some ways you can make your classroom a safe and inviting place for all students.
Make Sure Your Classroom is Clean, Organized, and Inviting
A classroom that is safe makes it possible for teachers to teach, and for students to learn. Students should walk into a classroom and not be overwhelmed by what they see. If a space is too distracting, it becomes a challenge for students to focus and do their best work. Hang up a select few posters that are useful, and remember to keep it simple.
Create a home for all of your things, and add labels (using pictures or words depending on the age level). Students should easily be able to find the items they need, and clean up with little to no help once they learn where classroom items belong. Regularly check materials and equipment and remove any items that are broken or no longer safe.
Keep hazardous materials (including scissors, thumbtacks, and cleaning supplies) out of reach and in a locked cabinet. Consider the amount of time kids spend on the floor, and make sure electrical cords are tucked away, and unused outlets have safety covers in them.
Be sure to hang your schools evacuation plans for emergencies (fire, tornado, earthquake, intruder, etc.) by your classroom door so everyone in the room can see what to do. Practice drills regularly, and be sure students clearly know what to do in case of an emergency.
Keep You Sight Lines Clear
Position yourself in your classroom so that you are able to see all your students, as well as your classroom door at all times. The same rings true for outdoor activities. Position yourself to see all your students, and don’t stay in one place. Also, remember to bring a phone or walkie-talkie outside in case any emergencies arise.
When organizing the physical space of your classroom you want to set it up in a way that encourages safe movement and interaction. Students should be able to easily move their desks or find floor space, in order to work with partners or in small groups. When arranging your classroom space make sure you can easily walk around the room to engage with all your students and keep an eye out for any unsafe behavior.
Build a Sense of Community
A safe classroom is one where students feel comfortable asking and answering questions, and contributing to discussions and activities. Building a sense of community in your classroom from day one will set the tone for a successful school year.
Practice inclusion by teaching empathy. Help your students understand how their actions affect others and encourage them to take time to reflect on their actions and responses. Plan lots of opportunities for students to work together in pairs and in small groups.
Remember to acknowledge efforts, not just achievements. If you want students to feel safe enough to participate and answer questions, let them know that trying and putting in their best effort is the most important thing. No matter what a student says when answering a question, respond with a respectful answer. If a student says they don’t know the answer – remind them that they just don’t know it YET!
Build a Sense of Ownership
Work with your students to come up with a set of classroom rules. By sitting down and working on your rules together you empower your students while giving them a sense of ownership. When deciding on each rule, discuss why it is important, what it would look like in practice, and what the consequences will be if the rule is not followed. Doing this together means your students will be more likely to adhere to the rules. Be sure to write your class rules on a poster, have everyone sign it, and put it on display for everyone to see. Remember – kids need boundaries to feel safe, so follow through with agreed upon consequences.
Another way to create a sense of ownership in your classroom is by decorating your walls with student work, and wherever you can, include your student’s names and pictures.
One of a teachers most important jobs is to create a classroom environment where students feel safe and respected. Safety is essential in creating a healthy, fun, and welcoming learning environment. Without safety in mind, classes like Apollo After School would be a lot less fun! Remember your students are always watching you, so demonstrate and be a role model for safe behavior.