Schools take up a significant portion of a student’s time. Students go to school in hopes of learning, but not everyone’s home situation is created equal. It is imperative that teachers take into account students’ day-to-day lives before making judgments on a student’s behavior. By humanizing students and understanding their circumstances, teachers allow them to reach their full learning potential. Implementing safe spaces at school invites students to feel more comfortable in the classroom and ultimately leads them onto a better path to success. Teachers have different ways of defining safe spaces and identifying what they look like. A safe space can be a set period of time where groups can come together to discuss their experiences, or a literal spot in the classroom where students can alleviate stress. In either case, educators should consider building more healthy spaces where students can decompress in order to bolster their own personal wellbeing.
In order to build the most ideal ambience within a classroom, educators should do their research and consider what other schools have implemented. With access to the internet, educators can acquire a plethora of resources regarding this topic.
- Respecting Sexual Orientation: Here, Rights, Respect, Responsibility: A K-12 Curriculum provides a detailed lesson plan that teaches students to respect LGBTQ+ youth, as well as identify the discriminatory issues within their own communities. The lesson is intended to last about 50 minutes, for a target age of 10th grade. The activity encourages its students to make their own changes towards a more solid school environment, teaching advocacy, lobbying, and policy change.
- Anti-Bullying: USC’s Rossier School of Education writes lesson plans that act as mental health resources for students and teachers. The plans aim to build social-emotional wellness skills among students for combating bullying. The site administers four activity plans, each one outlining the objective, possible lesson instructors, necessary materials, and a thorough procedure. These assignments range in length, but all are short enough to complete in a single class period. Many of the activities can be morphed to fit almost any age range, though they would work best with younger students.
- Dialogue For Affinity Groups: Everyday Democracy prepares a downloadable guide for creating affinity group conversations. The guide contains sample lesson plans for constructing dialogue in race-based affinity groups, as well as a blank plan that educators can use to create spaces for other identifiers. The guide outlines a timed introduction, closing, and discussion that allows students to feel comfortable talking about their issues. Activities for each of the identifiers span for about one hour. The plan also contains notes and tips for facilitators and room for mixed-group dialogue.
- Necessity of Safe Spaces: Communities In Schools describes why secure environments are necessary schooling components in this article by Dale Erquiaga. He explains that kids are often faced with adult-sized problems and placed in situations that educators will often underestimate. When faced with life-threatening circumstances, students are less likely to prioritize their schooling. This article encourages teachers to take these circumstances into consideration when administering their classes. Such students should be able to rely on their schools for additional, needed support. Resultantly, safe spaces have become a necessity among many educational institutions.
- Social Emotional Learning: This article aims to stimulate educators to utilize social-emotional learning to organize safer spaces in their schools. The author encourages teachers to build stable communities using four strategies: prioritizing classroom relationships, encouraging creativity as a means of self-expression, creating warm and inviting spaces, and incorporating self-reflection and mindfulness. With these strategies incorporated, students can “feel safe and supported in order to reach their greatest potential.”
- Affinity Spaces: Teaching Tolerance characterizes the necessity of affinity groups across school campuses. The article illustrates examples of students who benefitted from access to an affinity group at their schools. including one transgender kid who built the courage to come out to his teachers and request correct pronoun and name usage, all as a result of the LGBTQ+ affinity at his school. Having an affinity group available can help students feel more understood at their schools. This article provides instructions for organizing affinity groups and preparing for pushback, as well as guidelines for the perfect affinity space.
- Informational Sites
- Creating Safe Spaces: This post from Jennifer Gunn of Concordia University in Portland, delineates the history and importance of safe spaces in schools. The page thoroughly describes their methodology in a way intended for those who may not know much about them. The page is divided into sections that address creating safe spaces in regard to specific circumstances, including those impacted by trauma, race, gender, and sexuality. Within each paragraph, the author links numerous relevant articles and studies that identify how to design an ideal safe space.
- Resources for Educators of the Marginalized: Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives built an extensive list of resources intended for educators to meet the “intellectual, emotional, social needs of all children.” The page is divided into resources for teachers of undocumented, immigrant, and refugee students; Muslim students; and transgender students. It provides links to resources for teachers, students, and parents. They include legal directories for identifying the students’ rights, system-wide policies and practices, and auxiliary organizations.
- Spaces for LGBTQ+ Youth: The Campus Pride Safe Space Program provides training and plans for schools and institutions interested in providing support for their LGBTQ+ students. Schools can contact Campus Pride officials, whose information is located on their webpage, and participate in programs to receive safe space training in person or online, or become the trainers for their own institutions. Schools interested in hosting workshops or learning more about LGBTQ+ issues can utilize this resource.
Many factors can come into play when it comes to a student’s performance in school. Any teacher should consider the fact that students walk into different home situations when they leave the classroom. No matter the situation, however, schools should be able to serve as a place of refuge for any student. For some, a safe space can be a small break from schoolwork, for others it can be so much more. Regardless, teachers should consider the atmospheres of their schools before evaluating each student.
- NAIS: Identity, Affinity, Reality: This article from the National Association for Independent Schools’ (NAIS’) Winter 2012 magazine issue illustrates the implementation of affinity groups from an independent school lense. The article gives examples of ways that independent schools have identified the need for and implemented identity-based affinity groups in order to strengthen their inclusive atmospheres. It provides advice for discovering where to begin, building common language, and supporting affinity group leaders. Independent school teachers, especially, can gain a better understanding of circumstances specific to their schools by reading this article.
- 20 Tips for Creating a Safe Learning Environment: Edutopia presents a list of 20 tips for minimizing the student-teacher gap and building a more comfortable learning environment for students. The list advises teachers to model vulnerability and builds strategies for humanizing both students and teachers. The strategies serve as small changes that a teacher can make to their classroom in order to console students who may be struggling. By creating a more serene environment, an educator can help students feel more at home and ultimately advance their learning and wellbeing.
- Example of a Safe Space Corner: This article portrays one elementary school teacher’s understanding and implementation of a safe space in her classroom. She defines safe spaces as “designated areas where kids can choose to go to calm down, take time to process, or just be alone.” She designed the spot in her classroom to serve students who may be experiencing intense stress or trauma. She acknowledges that, by creating physical safe spaces, teachers come to think less about a student’s disruptive behavior, and more about what might be causing the disruption.