Six Ways to Create a Welcoming Classroom

If you’re a teacher, chances are you’re already preparing to begin a brand-new school year. Perhaps you’ve been setting up your classroom, ordering supplies, and planning lessons and activities. Most likely you’re doing your best to anticipate the learning, social and emotional needs of your students. After all, the nonprofit Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) reports that “social and emotional learning [SEL] teaches children to recognize and understand their emotions, feel empathy, make decisions, and build and maintain relationships.” In fact, a 2011 meta-analysis showed that “incorporating these programs into classrooms and schools improves learning outcomes and reduces anxiety and behavioral problems among students.” A recent update to the study reinforced the findings of the 2011 study. But just hoping for a socially and emotionally positive classroom environment isn’t enough. Strategies and know-how are essential to making your classroom a place where all children, regardless of special needs, are able to thrive academically, socially and emotionally. Here are some tips to give you a head start.

Facetime Matters
And we’re not talking about the app. Take time to meet individually with each student on a regular basis. Tailor the meeting format to the individual child’s developmental age. For example, if meeting with a preschooler, or a child with delayed communication or attention issues, keep the meeting brief and let the child take an active role.

Have a plan for resolving conflict when it inevitably occurs
Instead of viewing conflict as an interruption of learning, view it as a learning opportunity. ”When developing problem-solving techniques is seen as a vital aspect of healthy progress, our interpersonal challenges cease to be distractions and take on the color of opportunities for meaningful learning,” writes teacher Mary Kate Land for Edutopia.

Keep in mind that children who misbehave do so for a reason. Instead of sending them out of the classroom or punishing them, take them aside and try to discover what may be causing the problematic behavior. Listen, be empathic and once the student is calm, help them to come up with some more appropriate strategies they can use when similar situations arise in the future.

Look Inward
Though extremely fulfilling, teaching can be a stressful and emotionally draining profession. This is especially true when you’re teaching students with special needs. Take time to decompress and refuel by doing things you enjoy. If classroom situations make you tense, angry or sad, talk with a friend, supervisor or counselor to determine what’s triggering those feelings and to come up with strategies to manage them better.

Create a culture of kindness
Be a good role model for students by treating everyone in the class with compassion and respect. “Whether it’s complimenting students or promoting positivity, being the one to show kindness will help them see it in action, learn gratitude and see how they can be kind through regular, small acts,” suggests Generation On.

Come up with activities that help students to get to know you and each other and find opportunities to discuss topics such as feelings, compassion and empathy whenever they present themselves.

Spearhead an effort toward schoolwide SEL
SEL techniques work better when they are embedded in every aspect of the school culture and among all members of the faculty and staff. There are many SEL curriculums on the market. Do some research to find a curriculum or curriculums that might work in your school or classroom and present it to administrators.

Don’t accept the status quo
Don’t assume that teasing, cliques and disrespectful behavior are unavoidable. Research has shown that “children can learn respect, empathy, responsible behavior and other social and emotional competencies that help them succeed in school and life.”

Generation On suggests holding a school bully summit, enlisting students’ help in creating Rules of Kindness for the classroom, provide opportunities for each student to be “Student of the Week.” During that week, ask class members to write notes to the student of the week sharing positive traits about him or her.

For more information on SEL, visit CASEL.