In most schools, safety is a hot topic. Tons of hours go into writing policies and procedures to ensure that, in the face of danger, everyone knows how to defend and protect themselves. Millions of dollars are spent on constructing a safe fortress: Intercom systems, guards and cameras at the building entry, bulletproof glass, locks on all the doors, unobstructed hallways, fire alarms…the list goes on. While these safety measures are essential, it is imperative that we not only understand the value of creating a safe external environment, but also helping our students create an internal safe environment.
First, why is this important? Years of neuroscience suggest that when a person feels threatened, the parts of the brain responsible for cognitive functioning shut down and the parts of the brain responsible for protection (fight, flight, and freeze) become activated. Obviously, in school, we should be supporting our students’ ability to think clearly, make rational decisions, engage in positive and purposeful behavior, attend and engage in learning. Turns out, the human brain can only do all of these things when the human body feels safe.
So let’s understand what feeling safe actually is. Think about when you feel safe. What is your breath like? What is your body experiencing? What thoughts stream through your mind?
Possibly, you noted things like:
My breath is slow and evenly paced.
My body feels calm, relaxed, and content.
I am thinking about things I enjoy and I am grateful for.
Your breath, body, and mind create your inner state. This inner landscape directs how your brain activates, either for growth and learning or protection and defense.
In your classroom, there are probably tons of external safety measures. What likely has not been explored is how to help students create them internally.
Here are a 3 research-based suggestions:
- It is not about the things (locks, alarms, guards), it is about being connected to the people we are with. In school, as an educator, it is most importantly you. Odds are, when you feel safe internally, your presence will help your students achieve that state as well. When you are stressed and overwhelmed, your energy may not be as pleasant to be around. Feeling calm, and having an ability to stay fully present, in the moment is key. Your wellbeing matters.
- Providing opportunities for students to stop and turn inward a few times throughout the day to sense what is happening within the breath, body, and mind will not only empower them to become more self-aware, but it also helps them generate a calm state from within.
- Belonging is essential for connection and safety. Do your students feel they belong? Are there daily reminders that they are seen, heard, and valued as a part of the classroom community? Without a sense of belonging, students do not feel safe to be who they are and will not be able to fully learn and engage in what you are teaching.
I want to leave you with another quote that is helpful to remember as we create safe spaces for our students: