Tip #12
Safety and Security

What makes a classroom safe and secure? Research tells us that students need to feel physically and emotionally safe to learn. A student that feels emotionally safe and supported will take risks academically; for a student who has experienced trauma, establishing security in the classroom is absolutely crucial. Physical safety plays apart; school policies and procedures should be in place to ensure a student’s physical safety. Just as important, a school should also emphasize a student’s emotional and social safety. Teachers can create classroom environments that establish safety and support for all students.

Creating a classroom that is safe and secure looks different depending on the teacher and their students. Creating a supportive and safe space should feel authentic to you.

There are highly recommended trauma-informed strategies that can serve as suggestions for teachers to benefit all students:

  • Daily routines that are consistent and predictable create a sense of security for students who might have experienced previous and ongoing chaos and unpredictability.
  • Teachers who regulate their own emotions is a model for their students on how to manage stress. Incorporating activities centered on mindfulness and deep breathing further teaches your students self regulation. A classroom where teachers and students practice self-regulation helps build a safe and supportive foundation.
  • A space designated for calming down and reflecting on an explosive behavior is a trauma-informed practice can contribute to classroom safety. Teachers teach students about the purpose of this space to further incorporate strategies to self-regulate.
  • Planning for and discussing with your students any major changes to their schedule can mitigate any fear of uncertainty for students.
  • In previous tips, you learned that students who have been traumatized experience dysregulated arousal. Becoming aware of what events throughout a school day can be overstimulating as well as knowing your student's specific triggers can help teachers prevent dysregulation. For example, a teacher may prepare a student ahead of time for a fire drill and create a detailed plan for the student when the drill occurs.
  • Teachers can use sensory tools (i.e. fidgets, coloring, play dough, weighted blanket) to help calm students when they become triggered or overwhelmed.
  • Teachers can create opportunities for students to not only build relationships with teachers and staff but with their classmates. Keep in mind that sometimes the classroom is the only place a student feels a sense of belonging.
  • Safety and security in the classroom can come from students feeling understood and heard by the adults at their school. Spending a few extra minutes getting to know your student can be especially impactful for children and teens.

Story from the Field

I have learned that creating a safe and secure classroom for students is a combination of many factors. Building relationships is at the core of creating such an environment. I use class building and team building strategies both non-academic and academic to create a positive class culture. These culture building activities help to encourage collaboration among students, no matter who they sit near or work with. Students feel safe to answer and share their ideas with their teams and class.

I also use the terminology “our second family.” It is part of our class culture to encourage students to help one another and to ask for help. When we do anything in our teams, it is emphasized, we do not just give the answers to team-mates who might need a little assistance, we explain it to them; make sure everyone on your team knows and understands. I test this by randomly calling on anyone in their team. I purposefully use the term team instead of group, implying everyone is a critical player.

I also build relationships with my students by greeting them with a smile before the bell. As students leave for the day, I try to leave them with a positive message like create a marvelous Monday or terrific Tuesday. I use the word create instead of the passive word have – for everyone in charge of their life and how they react to it.

As a teacher I compliment and model kindness. I circulate around the room, engaging students in conversation. I show a sense of humor, even if you are the only one laughing! I create a colorful and inviting room, demonstrating student work. I am comfortable with the unknown, honest with the students, and say, “let’s figure it out together.” Clear and consistent rules and procedures also make students feel safe and secure. They know what is expected. Even my board is a color-coded routine that matches their online calendar.

As a teacher, I get excited about the labs/lessons/content. I make sure to explain the WHY of learning. I use project based learning and real-world scenarios that really engage students. I teach beyond the classroom, like Musical Mondays, where they learn some random fact about a singer or band. Or Tranquil Tuesdays where students are taught to meditate and find mindfulness. When I hear, “I want to stay in here all day,” I know that I have really made a warm and inviting environment. When I have a room full of students who return with their friends at lunch, I know I have created a safe and secure environment.

Above all, I have fun. I truly believe I have the best job in the world. I get to play all day and inspire students to go into the medical/science field. Together we explore, discover, experiment and learn about the most fascinating topics in the world. Who wouldn’t want to go to their dream job every day?

Barbara Torrey
STEM Coordinator and BioMed Instructor
Red Mountain High School

Take Action

Reflect on the list of trauma informed strategies that create safety and security in a classroom and the strategies that Barbara discussed in her experience. Have you used any of these strategies? What can you add to this?