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Structures that Foster Belonging and Emotional Safety

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Students need to feel that the classroom is a safe space where they can voice their opinions, take risks and make mistakes. Emotionally safe classrooms are responsive to students’ needs and perspectives, affirm students’ identities and have consistent and predictable routines and procedures. When challenges or problems arise, students are empowered to engage in open discussion and come to inclusive and mutually beneficial solutions. Find out more about creating structures that foster belonging and emotional safety from CASEL

Example of a student comparing how their identity can change in different cultural contexts

1. Affirm all students’ full identities  

For students to feel that they belong, they need to be able to see themselves in the curriculum. Consider carefully the materials and resources you choose to ensure they reflect diverse cultural and socioeconomic groups. Changes might be big, like the book you choose to study, or small, like the images in a slideshow or the names in a scenario. 

Provide opportunities for students to share their background and experiences in the classroom. Cultural and language differences are an asset that can be harnessed and shared (so long as the student is willing). Try to move beyond superficial ideas of culture to scratch below the surface (see Edward T. Hall’s Cultural Iceberg). Include families by getting students to interview their parents/carers.  

Identities are fluid and multifaceted, changing in different contexts and over time. A timeline is a great way for students to reflect on how they have changed socially, emotionally and physically over time. Or try asking students to compare the different cultures in their family or in their home versus the host country.

2. Establish structures that create predictability and consistency 

Having consistent routines and procedures that support all learners helps students know what to expect and fosters emotional safety. Routines are particularly important for students who have experienced trauma as it provides stability and helps reassure them that life will be OK.  Early years and elementary school teachers excel in creating predictable routines. What routines do you use in your classroom? Consider how students are expected to enter or leave the classroom, how they work in groups, or how you get their attention. Routines take some time and thought to begin with, but once a routine is established, your classroom will run more smoothly and students will be able to focus on the learning. Emotional check-ins are a predictable ritual you can use to start a class or advisory session. Check-ins build self and social awareness, empathy and relationship skills while also allowing the teacher to respond in real-time to students’ needs. See IFSEL’s free check-in slides, create your own, or ask students to create check-ins themselves! 

An example of circle time prompts. Students all sit in a circle on the floor and choose one of the prompts to share. Students always have the right to pass if they don’t feel like participating. 

In my Health class, each lesson starts with one of three “Creating Connections” routines, depending on the day of the week. Creating connection activities allows students to start the lesson in a calm way and connects students to their peers, the teacher, themselves or the curriculum.  Our three “Creating Connections” rituals are Circle Time, Journaling, and Mindfulness.

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Structures that Foster Belonging and Emotional Safety

Preschool

K-3

3 - 6

Middle School

High School

Adult

Emotionally safe classrooms are responsive to students’ needs and perspectives, affirm students’ identities and have consistent and predictable routines and procedures.

Learn More

Structures that Foster Belonging and Emotional Safety

Preschool

K-3

3 - 6

Middle School

High School

Adult

Emotionally safe classrooms are responsive to students’ needs and perspectives, affirm students’ identities and have consistent and predictable routines and procedures.

Learn More

Structures that Foster Belonging and Emotional Safety

Website

Article

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PDF

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Preschool

K-3

3 - 6

Middle School

High School

Adult

Emotionally safe classrooms are responsive to students’ needs and perspectives, affirm students’ identities and have consistent and predictable routines and procedures.

See More
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