For this course reflection, I decided to connect program standard 5, which focuses on the learning environment, to how teachers get ready for the first day of school, which was the topic for Module 2. Program Standard 5 states: “The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being.” I interpret program standard 5 to mean that teachers should create an environment for their students that makes them feel loved, wanted, and safe. It is a place where kids can make mistakes and get right back up, a place where they can say the wrong thing and be encouraged to know that mistakes are proof that you’re trying. I think that creating a safe and welcoming environment is of utmost importance—before the copies of first day busy work or posters on the wall—because when those children walk into the classroom on the first day of school, they need to know right away that they are wanted there, and that they are going to be safe to be who they are, physically, emotionally, and intellectually.
In her article The First Day of Class: How it Matters, Linda K. Shadiow references philosopher Nel Noddings to describe an “ethic of care” that teachers should instill in their classroom. This ethic includes four components: modeling, dialogue, practice, and confirmation. My interpretation of these components take modeling to be how you show respect to your students and those you interact with; dialogue is those conversations that you have with students that go deeper than the academic content; practice is the way that you reflect on your teaching each day with the guidance of student responses of their learning; and confirmation is when you trust that students are trying their best with each response and contribution they make in class and that teachers should be respectful and understanding of those responses. All four of these components add up to creating a good first day of school as they immediately let your students know that they will be able to feel safe intellectually in the classroom.
While reading Shadiow’s article, I stopped to reflect on my own teaching. I have been teaching for almost six years now and know the importance of trust and safety in my classroom. I am consistently telling my students that it’s okay to make mistakes, and I have students who frequently raise their hand to “take a guess” on a topic we are discussing. I encourage these attempts at learning because I know it means that my students feel safe to be wrong, and even when they are wrong, they are learning. Nearly every day, I remind my students that nobody in the class learns the same way that they do. I share experiences of my own learning, and my learning compared to the other elementary teachers in the building. I think that it gives them comfort to know that their teacher can make mistakes, too. Building this kind of trust needs to start on the first day of school, so that students never doubt their safety or security. A teacher needs to know her students before they walk in, so she can address them by name as quick as possible. One of the biggest ways that teachers create a safe environment also has to do with their classroom management plan, which should be created before the first day of school. Teachers need to know how they are going to handle disruptions and misbehavior so that when it happens, she can execute her plan carefully and calmly, and never make her students feel that their physical safety is in jeopardy. If students experience an emotional upset at home or with peers, or even in the classroom, they need to feel safe approaching their student for some emotional safety and security.
According to Shadiow, in classrooms where teachers are eliciting an ethic of care, “…students are also invited to exhibit those components themselves. Learning is thus amplified—both the students’ and the teacher’s; new meanings of “learning” and “teaching” are built” (Shadiow, 2009, p. 199). When students feel physically safe, they are not in constant worry that they will get punished for something they say or do. When they feel emotionally safe, they do not have to hold in their sadness or anger or frustration when something happens at school that they are having a difficult time processing. When they feel intellectually safe, they do not have to worry that they will be ridiculed for an answer or embarrassed to raise their hand. When students feel safe, they hold the capabilities to learn and thrive. When they feel safe, the learning environment thrives for both student and teacher.
Shadiow, L.K. (2009). The First Day of Class: How It Matters. Clearing House, 82(4), 197-200.