Making Room for Safety in the 2021-2022 School Year

One of the most important things a teacher can do to impact the lives of their students is to make their classroom a "safe space"—both physically and emotionally. This is crucial because, for students to learn, they need to feel safe. Physical safety has even been linked to higher academic performance, fewer risky behaviors, and lower dropout rates.

Because of their daily interaction with students—and their positions of influence in the lives of students—teachers play an important role in establishing a safe, supportive learning environment. In fact, positive teacher-student relationships can have long-lasting effects on the social, emotional, and academic development of youth.

So, how do you create a safe classroom? Let's start with some physical safety basics.

Because of the pandemic, the first aspects of physical safety that usually come to mind are COVID-19 precautions. Although vaccines are still not available for children under the age of 12, according to the CDC, research from the past year has shown that reopening schools for in-person learning does not seem to significantly increase community transmission of the virus, especially where schools are able to follow COVID-19 public health guidance.

According to the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), the ideal is always to have students attend school in person, which is how they learn best. This means working with public health officials to get community spread of the virus under control, along with layers of safety measures within the school to help keep students, teachers, and staff safe. 

The following are some important considerations for teachers, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as you prepare your classroom for COVID-19 in the 2021-2022 school year:

  • Ensure that you have the supplies you need to support proper hand hygiene and cough etiquette
  • Reduce the use of communal/shared objects, including optimizing educational technology to limit the transfer of papers and other materials among students and between you and your students
  • If possible, increase the circulation of outdoor air
  • Modify your classroom layout to space students out as much as possible
  • Know what to do if a student in your classroom has COVID-19 symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test; consider creating a daily classroom map or seating chart so you can readily identify who was within 6 ft of the student for more than 15 cumulative minutes within a 24-hour period
  • Know the policies and procedures for temporarily resuming remote learning following a COVID-19 case in your classroom and whether extra planning time or technical support will be available 

Just as physical safety plays a role in academic performance, so too does emotional safety have an impact on learning—emotions can influence a student's ability to process information and accurately understand what they encounter. Below are a few steps you can take to ensure that your classroom is an emotionally safe space for optimal learning:

  • Have clearly defined and communicated anti-bullying policies for your classroom
  • Ensure that your classroom is culturally responsive and diverse
  • Create student ownership of the room: instead of store-bought posters, use student work and ask students to create informational posters
  • Don't underestimate the power of positivity—students feel more connected with their schools and communities when an adult provides encouragement to become actively involved both within and outside the classroom
For more resources on safe supportive learning for the coming school year, be sure to check out the CDC Resources for Teachers and Staff Resuming In-Person Learningand theNational Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments.
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