Face to Face & Virtual Classrooms as Safe Learning Space: Why Now & How?

The research repeatedly validates that in order for students to academically engage in learning they first need to feel safe in the learning environment.

Lack of safety, and the fear and stress that results, halts academic learning. It compromises the executive order thinking – the part that is so important in being able to learn and apply, store and recall information.

If you have ever awakened in the middle of the night, worried about one thing or another, something so big that it makes your heart and head race, you know how hard it is to think about anything else. As your fear and anxiety run away with you, you can’t turn it off. Now imagine trying to learn algebra while all that is going on inside your head.

That’s just a taste of what it is like to try to learn when you don’t feel safe.

Why safe learning space is important now more than ever.

It is easy to imagine the fear and stress that has been experienced these last few months of shelter in place and isolation, especially since schools were closed, long-term, without any real warning. For students that historically have found schools as their safe space, where things were pretty predictable, that reality has been challenged at best, shattered at worst.

As COVID forced society to shut schoolhouse doors along with restaurants, parks, playgrounds, and and and, some students were forced to endure less than ideal circumstances in their home environments. Domestic violence, child abuse, and suicide rates increased drastically as the time of isolation ticked forward. Additionally, unemployment sky-rocketed and those already entrenched in poverty – whether working poor or those living paycheck to paycheck – began to feel the strain of affording or finding the basics of survival. Simultaneously, communities of color and those living where poverty has a high impact were hit harder by the virus itself.

As George Floyd’s death began to come into societal focus, the protests began, seemingly fueled by this straw that literally broke the back of the People. In some neighborhoods, violence, rioting, and helicopters began to become a normal occurrence. If you’ve never spent any time in that chaos, I can assure you it is earth and life shattering. Even those students who are given context and whose families engage in meaningful conversation about what is going on, the unknown is greater than the known. It’s scary!

These are just some of what has shaken the core of our students and staff who now look forward to returning to school within a whole ‘nother set of unknown, unforeseen, and unprecedented circumstances.

More than any other time in the lives of these students will it be crucial to create safe learning space; someplace that, just for a few hours, students know they’re fed, cared for, and supported. This is what will lay the foundation for them to know they can take the risks required to learn:

  •      ·       Risks of asking questions when they don’t know.
  •      ·       Risks of trying and not getting it right the first few times.
  •      ·       Risks of disagreements and conflicts in the classroom, the hallways, the bus, and the playground.
  •      ·       Risks of stretching what is comfortable to expand their learning both academically and social-emotionally.
  •      ·       Risks of relationships with peers and educators.

Safe learning environments are one of the known deterrents of students dropping out. As we come back into schools, those students who were disenfranchised and unengaged may likely view school as “optional” since, “hey, it’s been months and we did fine without it!” Creating safe learning environments that engage all students and support effective learning will be the best tool to keep those kids in school.

What does a safe learning environment look like in my classroom?

Here’s a quick checklist of things that support classrooms that reflect a safe learning environment:

ð      Establish clear and positive boundaries. This builds community and creates your classroom culture. It also supports self-regulation and self-management.

ð      Hold high expectations for all students and communicate them clearly. This increases success for students. Not only do they know what is needed to succeed but they will also know when they have succeeded. This creates agency.

ð      Operate from a growth mindset. Keeping learners looking toward possibilities expands no only learning but innovation and the ability to persevere even when things get hard.

ð      Be sure to build on strengths-based foundations. This frames error as part of the learning process, making it a thing to seek and not a thing to avoid.

ð      Self-reflect on your own professional practice. That’s how YOU embody all of the above!

These are all things we can learn to do both in real time classrooms and in virtual classrooms. While the specifics of each may alter slightly – for example, the boundaries established in a classroom about use of space, leaving the classroom, etc. are applied differently online – the general ideals of each point remains the same.

Looking for more resources?

With Respect offers continuous learning opportunities. We have a FREE live Virtual Ed Series that we offer monthly. July 21, 2020 at 11 AM Pacific Time, the topic of our 45-minute interactive learning experience is “Creating Safe Learning Environments.” In our time together, we will be exploring these same techniques and provide some concrete tools and strategies so ensuring you walk away with, not just what it is, but also how to do it.

Click here to register today to join us!

Want something more? Check out our website to see specifically what we offer to educators: https://with-respect.com/educational-services/