Students Need to Feel Safe & Cared For
Tomorrow begins Anti-Bullying Week 2016. Our Middle School has planned some critically important activities and presentations. As I was walking today, I reflected on two experiences and their relationship to creating safe, comfortable learning environments.
These experiences involve my favorite pet, dogs. I have always loved large dogs. In fact, small dogs make me anxious because they often run around and bark at my ankles. It is not often that I feel threatened by big dogs either. I always ask the owner before petting one, but am not afraid to interact with them given the green light.
Scenario #1: I went to a friend's house and her family has two Rottweilers. One of them I have heard about for years, that she can be unfriendly. When I arrived, the dog was out in the backyard. My friend brought me outside to show me her deck. She then proceeded to open the gate so they could come in and said, "Let's find out if she likes you!" (WHAT????) Luckily she seemed to. My friend then handed me treats to give her. (WHAT?????) It turns out her dog took a liking to me and actually spent most of the evening by my feet under the table. Despite the fact that I knew in advance she might not be friendly, my friend created a safe environment for me to interact with her.
Scenario #2: I am an avid walker and my route consists of two ways to get home. One is to walk a short trail through some woods and the other to pass through fields of a middle school. One day I chose to walk through the field of the middle school. I had my ear buds on and as I turned onto the fields, I heard a growl. Upon turning around, a dog was standing behind me that had clearly gotten out of its enclosure and was extremely angry. I walked slowly away as a police officer drove in and asked me if I was the one who called about the dog. After replying no, he drove his car closer, but I noticed he did not get out right away. I am incredibly thankful I was not attacked or bitten by the dog. Perhaps having my ear buds in, and not hearing him approach, kept my body calm enough that he did not sense fear in me. To this day, I avoid that area of my walk.
How does this connect to students? If students feel their environment is safe and they are cared for, such as at my friend's house, they are more likely to connect with us as educators and take risks. However, if they feel threatened, as I did by the dog in the fields, they could continue to feel that anxiety and want to avoid the area that causes that. Why would we want to purposely go to an environment that makes us anxious, uncomfortable and sometimes unsafe?
As educators, we should always remember that our actions, words, tone of voice and body language can have an enormous impact (both positive or negative) on our students. Once they feel uncomfortable, it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to build a meaningful relationship with them.