After an educator thoughtfully prepares to teach healthy living, it is important to work together with students to establish classroom/learning guidelines for the classroom with both student and teacher input. The degree to which educators can successfully establish emotionally, psychologically, and physically safe learning environments for all students affects the degree to which students feel comfortable discussing health concepts. A classroom with consistent and predictable emphasis on respectful communication can lead to reduced bullying, intimidation, and silencing.
Students’ confidence in the safety of their learning environment allows them to:
- Ask questions of themselves and others
- Engage in meaningful self-reflection
- Express personal views that may differ from others
- Express their own uncertainty on specific issues
- Recognize, respect, and accept diverse perspectives.
When establishing your safe and inclusive classroom environment, the following guidelines should be consideredi:
- Be an open-minded facilitator who is sensitive to the attitudes, values, and feelings of others.
- Encourage students to think critically and respond respectfully to one another.
- Communicate with warmth and sincerity.
- Recognize and respond effectively to biases, prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination in the classroom.
- Listen carefully to students' questions, concerns, worries, and thoughts. Observe and be aware of non-verbal communication (e.g., body language).
- Get to know the students. Use a variety of teaching strategies that help build respectful relationships with the students like those found in the Teaching Strategies section of this guide. Address the needs of individual students as required. Try using check-in circles before and after instruction, giving students an opportunity to articulate how they are feeling.
- Be open to conversations and questions about identity (e.g., race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.).
- Share positive feedback with students whenever appropriate.
- Avoid criticism. Value all students' opinions and realize they may change over time.
- Respect the values and beliefs of all people.
- Provide students with an opportunity to “pass” regarding sharing personal information they do not wish to disclose.
- Intervene immediately if incidents of verbal or physical harassment take place. Be sure to name the discriminatory words or actions (e.g., that statement is racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, etc.).
- Answer questions honestly when you know the correct answer. If you do not possess accurate information regarding a topic, say so. Research the answer and report back to students at a later date.
- Remain sensitive to the attitudes, values, and feelings of others that may be the same or different than one’s own.
When they are provided with an atmosphere of trust, validation, and inclusion, learners feel like valued members of the group who can offer their own ideas, thoughts, and analysis while working towards an understanding of different topics. This is an important part of supporting student mental health and self-confidenceii.
During classroom discussions, some learners may choose to take risks by revealing aspects of themselves to others; however, not all learners will do so. The extent to which students take such risks is demonstrated by asking questions in front of their peers, expressing opinions, disagreeing with one another, and analyzing their own positions on topicsiii. Learners’ willingness to take these risks is built from previous successful experiences gained by participation in learning strategies that encourage many different views to be shared openly and honestly, in a safe and accepting learning environment.
i Beben, Alyson. (2004). Helping teens to make healthy decisions about sex and relationships: A resource for educators (1st ed.). Brampton: Peel Health Department. Available at: https://www.peelregion.ca/health/helping-teens/download/geninfo/pdf/prepare.pdf
ii Ophea. (2015). Level Up. Retrieved from: https://teachingtools.ophea.net/sites/default/files/pdf/level_up_-_program_guide.pdf
iii Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013). Supporting minds: An educator’s guide to promoting students’ mental health and well-being. Queen’s Printer for Ontario. Retrieved from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/reports/SupportingMinds.pdf