Students are far more capable of absorbing information and engaging with their teachers and each other when there’s classroom safety – safe learning environment.
In a safe classroom, teachers are also better able to provide an education and guidance, promote positive student behaviors and prevent negative behaviors and accidents. Yet, a wide range of factors impact classroom safety, including physical distractions and obstacles and the actions of adults and children. Teachers can’t remove every danger from their classrooms, but they can reduce risks and incidents.
To offer your students a learning experience that’s as safe as possible, you must have a plan.
The tips in this checklist can help any teacher create a safer space:
1. Take the time to learn and teach first aid and CPR skills
It only takes a second for a student or colleague to become injured before, during or after classes while on campus. For example, a student might puncture their hand while using a sharp or pointed tool in class or just by falling on a pencil. Students and adults can have heart attacks, aneurysms, choking problems and other major health events.
Health and safety learning requirements for teachers and students vary by schools and even states. Your school may or may not require teachers to learn how to provide even moderate first aid or cardiopulmonary resuscitation or teach enough of these important skills to students. Before you take any classes on your own, check with your school’s administrative staff about the health and safety certification options available for teachers. Additionally, discuss the level of first aid and CPR skills taught to students so that you can adjust your own training to fill in any gaps.
If you need CPR certification, check out ones that offer free training or low cost certification. For example, the National CPR Foundation offers CPR and first aid certification training for teachers and students alike.
2. Organize the academic environment with safety in mind
It’s incredibly easy for accidents to happen in messy, cluttered spaces. Some students can also feel anxiety or unsafe if the classroom feels too small and packed with objects and people. A classroom that isn’t open and airy makes it more difficult for students to think clearly and feel energetic. Open up the space to make it as safe as possible. For example, remove any items that aren’t necessary and take up too much space, such as extra bookshelves, bins and desks. You can always retrieve these items from a storage area elsewhere in the school when they’re absolutely needed.
The classroom should also have ample space between student desks for you to walk around and for students to move their desks for physical activities and projects performed in pairs or groups. Teach your students to keep floor traffic areas clear of objects that can cause trips, slips and falls, such as backpack and purse straps, beverages and even loose paper. If you have enough space, assign cubbyholes to each student so that they can store their personal items and materials for other classes away from their desks and traffic areas.
Additionally, remind them to always put away any tools or other items that they took from classroom storage at the end of any project and class.
You need to teach students about the safety reasons for maintaining a clean and organized classroom as well. These lessons are especially important in early childhood education classes for children who are pre-K since students who learn these habits at a young age are more likely to retain them as they grow up and apply the ideas to other areas of their lives.
3. Pick teaching methods that keep students always in view
Teachers must watch their students carefully at all times to prevent safety incidents. No matter their age, children are prone to behaviors that can result in unsafe classroom conditions. Students are likely to play with everyday classroom and other items in ways that can sometimes cause harm to themselves and others. Without careful monitoring by a teacher, older students can get into private discussions that lead to arguments and fights.
While you give a lecture, try to make certain that your students know that you’re watching their every move. When speaking, always face them. If you must turn around to write something on a chalk or white board, keep your students under close supervision with the aid of one or more concave mirrors above the board that reflect a clear image of the classroom. In addition, you can keep your students in view and combat boredom by engaging them with physical movement. For example, you might instruct your students to simply stand up at their desks for a task, leave their desks entirely to write something on the board or push their desks aside for active engagement exercises.
Monitoring students might also go beyond traditional face-to-face supervision. Most schools have rules about students using communication and entertainment devices and services while on school property. Staff members might monitor student activities when they use school computers, the internet and social media and cell phones. It’s important to remind students that their actions, including when they use these devices and services and what they say or write, can not only affect their safety, but also potentially lead to disciplinary actions if they do anything that physically or emotionally harms their classmates or their own futures.
4. Focus on creating an emotionally safe classroom
Lastly, safety is about more than physical safety. Students at the start of the year at any age can feel anxiety and frustration as they settle into a new learning experience. They need to feel safe enough to be open about who they are and what they think. They need to feel like they can share their ideas and ask questions without being bullied or shamed for how they see the world. Students actually become more open to learning when they’re less emotionally upset and feel safe.
Make it clear at the start of every school year that your classroom is a safe space for students to speak up in class and come to you when they need guidance. Reinforce this idea throughout the year both by verbally reminding them and performing actions that show them that your classroom is a safe space. For example, always speak to your students with a firm but respectful tone, especially if one or more of them do something wrong. Praise your students as often as possible.
If a negative event takes place where a student talks back to you or puts down a classmate, never lose your self-restraint by acting out with yelling, foul language or sarcastic remarks. Instead, follow the school’s code of conduct at all times and bring in assistance from appropriate administrative staff members, such as the school security guard, counselor or vice principal.
If a major incident occurs where students feel unsafe, help them to feel safer by adding a safety and security class to your curriculum schedule. For example, many students worry about school violence. You might reassure them by making an entire day of learning about this topic and even bring in security experts, such as a school security guard or police officer and a counselor who has expertise in this area, to speak about these topics and answer questions.
As you can see, creating a safe classroom isn’t difficult. You merely need to prepare yourself for potential safety incidents, keep the classroom environment clear of physical and emotional hazards and reinforce excellent health and safety habits with yourself, your colleagues and your students throughout the year.