How to create a safe classroom

A safe classroom is a place where students are free to be themselves and further discover who they actually are. It’s about creating an environment in which students feel safe not only physically but also emotionally. A classroom where they feel confident asking and answering questions, as well as contributing to discussions and activities, is far more conducive to learning.

With that goal firmly in mind, let’s look at some ideas for making your classroom a safe place for all students.

7 tips for creating safe classrooms

1. Set classroom rules

With help from your class, come up with a set of classroom rules. Ideally, you’ll want to do this at the start of the semester or school year, though doing so at any time is fine. By sitting down, having a discussion, and drawing up the rules together, you give your students a degree of ownership; they’ll be following rules that they had a hand in creating.

Most importantly, as you create each rule, discuss why they’re important. This is in stark contrast to the typical “because I’m an adult and I said so” explanation that’s given to students in many areas of their lives.

Once you’ve decided on each rule, have the students create a few large Class Rules posters and stick them up around the class where they can be clearly seen.

Zero-tolerance rules

Among your rules, be sure to have a couple that you won’t tolerate under any circumstances, like hitting and name-calling. These rules should have the most severe consequences, such as a trip to the principal’s office or a call to the student’s parents. If a student breaks one of these rules, ensure that you’re consistent in following through on the consequences; doing so reinforces how unacceptable that behavior is. In turn, this makes that kind of behavior less likely to occur in the future.

Woman listening with hand to her ear
Photo: Freepik

When anyone is talking, everyone listens

Nobody likes it when people talk over them or refuse to listen to them. Including a rule that emphasizes the importance of listening when someone is talking in your class significantly contributes to a safe learning environment. It reminds students that what they have to say is important and will be heard. This develops their self-esteem and gives them the courage to speak up and contribute more in class.

To enforce this rule, lead by example by listening intently when a student is speaking. If someone starts speaking out of turn, kindly ask them to stop — because you’re trying to listen to the person speaking. This alone will elevate the speaker’s importance in the eyes of the whole class.

2. Develop their empathy skills

If a student is unkind to a peer, help them understand the effects of their behavior by asking how they feel when something similar happens to them. Encouraging your students to reflect on the consequences of their actions can help them to develop important skills like empathy and introspection.

3. Group exercises

Include many tasks that require students to work in pairs and teams to expose them to working with different students. When students move beyond their cliques and work alongside other peers, they’re able to build a more genuine and inclusive classroom community. Be sure to also vary their teamwork experiences by placing them in both heterogeneous and homogeneous groups, as well as occasionally allowing them to form their own teams.

4. Remind them that trying is more important than being right

Many students don’t even attempt to answer questions or participate in discussions because they’re afraid of being wrong — they’ll do anything to avoid the perceived shame of not being right. To encourage participation, make your classroom a place where giving something a try is worth celebrating. Praise students for guessing as much as you would for being correct, especially if it’s a student that doesn’t participate much or if it’s new material.

Naturally, this is easier said than done, but with persistence, you can create a classroom culture where more students are willing to put themselves out there to participate in activities, even when they’re not sure they’re right.

Elementary-school-wall
Photo: Stephanie Byrd/Pixabay

5. Decorate your classroom with students’ work

Recognize good work by posting it all over the walls in your classroom. By doing so, you’ll create an environment where examples of their accomplishments and hard work surround students, which raises their self-esteem. This best lends itself to visual work, such as paintings and posters, but you could extend it to other work — like a “great writing wall,” for instance. As an added bonus, you’ll be breathing more life and color into your classroom.

6. Recognize student’s work or effort in different ways

As well as putting their work on display, you should recognize student achievement in as many ways as possible. This could be as simple as having a student stand up in front of the class and acknowledging a particularly good piece of their work, a great effort, or a significant improvement. This provides a confidence boost to the student in question and encourages other students to work hard. Public recognition is a great motivator and communicates to the class that their efforts are worth celebrating

However, the students’ accomplishments or efforts don’t have to take place in school for you to recognize them. You can ask parents to let you know about students’ extracurricular achievements and celebrate those in class. This could include sporting events, musical recitals, or success in any outside hobby, as well as any particular challenges they may have overcome.

7. Don’t take yourself too seriously

Some educators have unfortunately gotten into the habit of being stern and straight-faced with their students around the clock. Why so serious? Yes, there are plenty of times when you need to be, but it’s also important to smile and laugh with your students when the opportunity presents itself.

For instance, if one of them says something amusing, maybe even a little cheeky, and everyone laughs, join in. If you’re reading something as a class and something funny happens in the story, draw attention to it and enjoy it alongside your students.

More importantly, laugh at yourself. If you drop your marker or board eraser, causing a few kids to titter, you could jokingly refer to yourself as a butterfingers. If you’re writing something down and misspell a word or make a mistake (which can happen when you’re writing and talking at the same time, right?), don’t skip over it — own it!

Person holding big smiley
Photo: rawpixel/Unsplash

Let them get to know you

Finally, don’t be afraid to give your students a glimpse into who you are as a person: Tell them stories from different points in your life, especially if they’re relevant to the lesson. Regale them with tales about things you’ve recently done in your free time. Talk about your interests and hobbies. Give them an insight into who you are and what it’s like to be an adult.

Many teachers put up a barrier, as they feel it’s important for maintaining their image as an authority figure and strengthening their rapport with their class. However, the vast majority of students are actually more likely to comply with your directions when you let loose because they want to maintain the approval of an adult that they’re fond of. Most importantly, they’ll feel more comfortable around you, making your classroom the safe learning environment that you’re striving to create.

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