Archive | November, 2022

Emotionally Safe Learning Environments

5 Nov

This blog post was originally published in December 2011. Occasionally I revisit my old posts to see if I still agree with them. 🙂

Student-centered and emotionally safe pedagogy is an attitude.  It is not a handbook of tips and tricks, to help us survive our days.  It is being physically and emotionally present when the student needs us. It is also thinking more about the process than the product. And in these classrooms the focus is in creating, not copying, no matter what the task is – this applies to art as well as note taking!

I think today, in 2022, the learner-centeredness and focusing on supporting students’ emotional safety is more important than ever! But this may require a perspective change for educators and administrators. A big one. Shifting from perceiving students as disobedient, uncontrollable, mean, or acting out, to understanding that these behaviors are indicators of trauma in students’ lives.

We cannot deny the effects of trauma in our classrooms!

Students need our help, so that they can learn how to self-regulate, or to use better ways to get their needs met. SEL is important and necessary in education, but it may not be enough. I think in 2022 we all need to learn how to use Trauma Informed Practices to create emotionally safe learning environments. Emotionally safe classrooms are flexible by their nature and they have rules that are consistent and justified. Ordering other people arbitrarily around is only a way to show your power over them.  Being considerate is generally understood as a virtue, and showing the same politeness to children does not go without rewards. Treating students as individual human beings feels like basic courtesy to me.

The central values of safety, co-operation, individuality, and responsibility help students to build a realistic self-image together with the teacher and classmates – and these all are central SEL skills we all need to be successful in the society. These values also create the foundation for an emotionally safe learning environment. Most often these values are expressed in the classrooms and discussed with the students. Ideally the wording of the rules is created in cooperation with students, and confirmed with the signatures of the teacher and students, before posting them on the wall for further reference.

Stress-free atmosphere is the first principle for creating an emotionally safe growing and learning environment. Focusing on learning process instead of the product helps to create the feeling of having enough time, which enables students to focus on their own learning instead of external factors that might disturb their concentration. This also supports learner agency. Knowing that their thoughts and ideas are valued helps students to think and express their thoughts more freely.

More thinking equals more learning.

The one situation when most of us feel threatened or unsafe is while we are receiving feedback. In an emotionally safe classroom feedback becomes a natural part of the learning process, and thus stops being scary.  While utilizing students’ daily self-evaluation and teacher’s verbal comments, the feedback system actually becomes a tool for the students to control their own learning. This automatically holds students accountable for their own learning and helps them realize how much they already have learned. Ungrading is a growing movement among teachers!

I mentor students pursuing their M.Ed. degrees In Learning Experience Design and Curriculum & Instruction, and try to follow my own advice. Therefore the most important question I ask every day is: How can I support your learning today?