Belonging and Emotional Safety

When teachers build the structures that support belonging and emotional safety, they lay the groundwork for students to focus on learning (Sergiovanni, 1994 in Darling-Hammond et al., 2017). SEL teams can support classrooms in creating the conditions for belonging and emotional safety by being responsive to students’ perspectives and needs, affirming all students’ full identities, and establishing structures that create predictability and consistency.

Responding to Students’ Perspectives and Needs

To feel emotionally safe, students need teachers who are responsive to their needs. Responsiveness is grounded in trusting relationships between the teacher and students, and an understanding of how classroom life is experienced by students (Darling-Hammond et al, 2017; Steele and Cohn-Vargas, 2013). To develop a responsive environment, teachers can:

  • Conduct regular student surveys to provide feedback on classroom activities, instruction and climate.
  • Schedule one-on-one check ins to listen attentively to students as individuals.
  • Ask students to write a learner autobiography that provides information on the best ways to support and challenge them.
  • Engage in professional learning that supports relationship-building. The Creating Opportunities through Relationships (COR) modules provide free online learning for educators.

Affirming Student Identities

Students thrive when teachers know them well, and affirm their individual and diverse identities (Steele and Cohn-Vargas, 2013 in Darling-Hammond et al, 2017). Teachers who affirm students’ identities communicate in ways that show that they genuinely care for and respect each student, and that they believe all students’ knowledge, life experiences, and culture are an asset to the classroom community.

 

Teacher can support identity-affirming classrooms when they:

  • Ensure that students see themselves reflected in the curriculum (Steele and Cohn-Vargas, 2013). When choosing materials, consider diversity between and within cultural or socioeconomic groups.
  • Ask students to share from their lives and backgrounds (Steele and Cohn-Vargas, 2013) .
  • Elevate students voices and perspectives (Steele and Cohn-Vargas, 2013) by engaging the entire class in problem-solving conversations when challenges arise in the classroom. Be receptive to student input while consistently helping students look for inclusive, mutually beneficial solutions.

Reflect on how students participate in and perceive the classroom.

Establishing Consistent Routines and Procedures

Effective routines, procedures, and structures do not overly control students’ choice and voice, but create predictability so students know what to expect. These types of consistent, predictable routines help reduce stress and facilitate learning for all students (Darling-Hammond et al, 2017), including those who have experienced trauma, are on the autism spectrum, or who struggle behaviorally.

Carefully planned routines and procedures provide opportunities for student leadership and SEL. Ideally, teachers will develop these routines and procedures before the school year begins, but if not, your team may want to support teachers in establishing or re-establishing their routines in a way that supports SEL. The goal is to make both the procedures and rationale explicit and, as the year goes on, help students actively participate in designing and maintaining an inclusive and safe classroom.

Elementary Example

When teaching first-graders the procedure for walking from their tables to the carpet, talk with them about why it’s important to walk carefully to get there. By making the rationale transparent (e…More

When teaching first-graders the procedure for walking from their tables to the carpet, talk with them about why it’s important to walk carefully to get there. By making the rationale transparent (e.g., we walk carefully—not run—to make sure that we keep ourselves and others safe), you create social awareness around how our their actions can impact others.

Middle/High School Example:

When asking students to brainstorm silently before discussion, build social awareness by discussing different learning styles and explaining that some students need silence to focus on new ideas. A…More

When asking students to brainstorm silently before discussion, build social awareness by discussing different learning styles and explaining that some students need silence to focus on new ideas. Assure students that this is merely a strategy to get thinking started; there will be opportunities for all voices to be heard during the discussion.

Your SEL team can use the tool below to support teachers in planning classrooms routines and procedures.

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Planning Procedures for Supportive Classroom Environments

Teachers can use this tool to create consistent routines procedures that support a sense of emotional safety.

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