Emotionally Safe Classrooms

You may completely understand the importance of creating a safe classroom atmosphere, but if asked by an administrator or other stakeholder to explain, would you be able to put it into a language that they will understand? Let's face it, that language is one of data and research. So it follows that you'll need to have that data and research in your back pocket in order to make others see where you are operating from and convince them that your methods are sound.

I recently picked up The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning through Movement by Traci Lengel and Mike Kuczala (2010), and while I'm still working my way through it, I came across this interesting piece on emotional climate in the classroom and its effects on learning. It considers how the brain prioritizes information:

1. Survival: if this need is not met, the student will not be "in a position to work at optimal levels."

2. Emotional State/Stress: If a student feels stressed or has emotional distress he or she will be unable to learn effectively because the "parts of the brain that use higher-level thinking strategies and critical-thinking skills shut down when an individual's emotional state is compromised" (Souza as quoted in Lengel 9). This is a great piece of information to have at the ready when asked why emotional well-being in a classroom is so important-especially when many teachers are working in an atmosphere where the expectations are simply on cramming information into students' heads in order to pass  high-stakes tests.

3. Receiving Data for New Learning: it's simple and it's clear-if priorities 1 & 2 above are not met, then priority 3 is never going to be satisfied effectively.

Now we can probably agree that this is common sense in some ways, but when you can explain it to others in the way listed above, then you are speaking their "language" and are sure to get your point across.

Being able to put language, based on data and research, to what you are doing is a prime step in getting others-especially stakeholders-to buy into what you are trying to accomplish in your classroom.


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