Trust and Safety: A Critical Part of Class Success
When students come to school, there is no way to know the stressors, neglect, abuse, or problems they have faced before they arrive. For this reason, among others, the classroom should be a safe place for your students, one where they feel heard and valued.
The Responsive Classroom “is an evidence-based approach to teaching that focuses on engaging academics, positive community, effective management, and developmental awareness.” This type of classroom has proven to boost academic achievement in core subjects, improved classroom atmosphere, and created a sense of community for teachers and students. So then, how do you foster trust and safety in the classroom?
There are four components to a responsive classroom:
- Positive Community. This can take various forms but some suggestions are:
- Use “Getting to know you” questions for students to answer so that they can know one another better.
- Have students stand for questions like “Were you born in a state other than this one?” Then they can see others who were born in other states than the one where the school is located.
- Know every student’s name and use it regularly.
- Remember the things the students tell you about themselves and follow up. For instance, if a student tells you his grandmother is ill, ask about her.
- Laugh at yourself as a teacher to show them that it is ok to make mistakes.
- Effective Management. Students feel more secure in a classroom where they know what to expect. Having a process and structure to the day gives them a sense of comfort and safety. The environment should be orderly, focused on learning, and full of positive feedback.
- Engaging Academics. After the initial instructional time by the teacher, classroom activities should be active with students “doing” and “applying” what they are learning. Second, the learning should be collaborative as students work with others to test their ideas. Third, the activities should challenge the students to go further than what they already know. Fourth, students should understand how what they are learning connects to life and knowledge as a whole. Fifth, the students use different methods, from drawing, writing, and building, to convey what they have learned. Last, there should always be a variety of choices in the topics to study so that students can choose what most interests them.
- Developmentally Responsive Teaching. Knowing the quirks, interests, personalities, and stage of development of your students can direct and inform your teaching strategies. Understanding that your students will be talkative, full of energy, and competitive will yield different strategies than for students who are at an awkward age, uncertain socially, and transitioning. This can dictate when small group activities should occur during the day, when individual work is optimal, and when whole class instruction is best.
The most important thing you can convey to your students to create safety and trust is to value them as people and to model that for the other students. Whether your day begins with a whole class meeting to outline what the day will look like or the day will end with a “How did the day go today? Where could it have been better?” is up to you, but using the feedback from students to build the best atmosphere can only yield excellent results.