Sunday, 18 May 2014

Back to (Teaching and Learning) Basics - Making Students Feel Safe and Valued

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou 

Making our students feel valued and cared for is vital to their well being while in our care.  This does not mean we need to be their friends or create an overly relaxed environment in our classroom where the student is always right.  It is much more complex and delicate than that.  Some classes will take longer, a lot longer, than others.  However long it takes, all classes need you to preserver and work through issues to attain that feeling of everyone in the room valuing one another and feeling safe enough to work well, express their ideas and achieve.

We teachers really do have such power to shape the experience that our student shave when they are with us in our lessons.  We are the ones that create the atmosphere and the attitude our students have in our classrooms.  This is no mean feat and can seem like it is out of our control on some days but the truth be told, it rarely is.  When I started to think about what making students feel save an valued involved everything I came up with I felt that well of course I do that - but do I?  All of the time?  I have made mistakes, we all have.  What we do has an impact so we need to keep trying our best to do it well.

Below are some ideas I have been mulling over and trying to follow in my own classroom day to day...

High Expectations - Having constant and consistent high expectations is a must.  Never accepting a half hearted answer or and refusal to take part is very important.  Sometimes the outcome will be different that you were expecting but it should always be of high quality and the student should have tried their best.  This can take time with some students who prefer to shrink into the background in class but it is so worthwhile.  Language used in class should always be corrected and expressed in as formal a manner as you expect in their work.  Negative behaviour should always be stopped and a discussion helped as to why it is not acceptable.  The key to this correction is to be mindful of ensuring the student knows it is ok to make mistakes as long as we correct them.

Address Issues Openly - If an issue occurs in the classroom such as a student saying something inappropriate or offensive it should always be addressed there and then.  Students will do this... probably fairly often.  They are in the process of growing up and at times don't realise the seriousness of their words.  It is our role to not be shaken by these things and see it as an opportunity for the whole class to learn.  Students can very quickly feel unsafe if they see that inappropriate or offensive language is seen as ok in the classroom.  On the other hand they can very quickly feel safe if they see that you will deal with such issues.  It is not what is said it is how you deal with it that leave the mark on students.

Never Get Personal - Students can push our boundaries in the classroom but it is so vital not to make personal comments in response.  The smallest thing can very easily be taken to heart and held by that student for far longer that it is in your mind.  Not reacting to a student who is out of control in any way or trying to push buttons is always the best approach.  They are the children, we are the adults.  Children see you as their moral compass in the classroom and will build a mistrust towards you if they ever witness you making a personal attack against a pupil or even about a pupil in their absence.  If you feel you are unable to cope then seek assistance rather than stay in the negative situation.

Get to Know Them as People - Take the time to get to know your students.  What clubs do they attend in school?  What are their hobbies in their free time?  Can you pop in to see them in their club?  Getting to know their interests and chatting with them about those interests is a really lovely experience and with time can really build a strong bond between child and adult.  Bringing interests you know the class have into your lessons from time to time where appropriate is a great way to let them know that you know them as people not just student in your class.  It is also important to get to know your student's home situation.  This information should generally be treated with care and confidentiality and used really only to inform your approach to the students within your setting.  Knowing them and their situation goes a long way towards creating a safe environment where they feel valued.

Maintain Your Classroom Environment - The room you teach a class in and the state of that room can really make a difference to how students feel about their time with you.  I don't think a classroom need be a work of art (unless you are that way inclined) but keeping it tidy and presentable really does make a difference.   If the walls are tatty, displayed work is outdated, posters hanging off, tables not well arranged or resources strewn all over the place then you are sending a message that you do not care.  How can students feel safe and valued if they are receiving subliminal messages that you could not care less?  Make the classroom appealing and well ordered and the students will feel that you value your time with them in that space.

Value Student Contributions - When students make a wonderfully profound contribution to your lesson, as they do from time to time, make sure you celebrate that contribution and make them feel valued for it.  If a student produced a wonderful piece of class or home work then make sure you hold that piece of work up as excellent practice and show it off to other students, perhaps even display it in the room.  How you value students will vary form student to student.   Some students will value a public shower of praise while others will cower in shame.  Some students will value a phone call home to celebrate the achievement while others will be mortified at the thought.  This comes down to knowing your student well. However your value their contributions just make sure you do.

 Other post in the Back to (teaching and learning basics) series are below.

  1. Introduction
  2. Lesson Objectives
  3. Reviewing Learning
  4. Language in the Classroom
  5. Marking and Feedback
  6. Assessment and Planning Loop
  7. Attitudes to Learning
  8. Challenge
  9. Enjoyment
  10. Pace
  11. Expectations

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