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Virginia Journal of Education

Tips for Creating
a Safe Learning

by Rebecca Alber

I visit a lot of classrooms. And I'm always fascinated by the variety of ways teachers launch the new school year and also with how they "run their rooms" on a daily basis. From these visits and my own experiences as an instructor, I'd like to offer suggestions for keeping your classroom a safe, open and inviting place to learn.

Build community all year long. Routinely include activities in your lessons that allow students to express their thoughts and ideas, build relationships, and practice collaboration. This will help grow and maintain a feeling of emotional safety in your classroom.

Post student work. When displays of students’ work dominate the walls, there is student ownership of the room.

Have non-negotiables. Along with classroom rules and procedures, students must know non-negotiables right out of the gate. My biggest non-negotiable? Name-calling. We have to tackle such things as name-calling head-on or else kids won't feel safe to be themselves, let alone learn.

Admit when you don't know. Students appreciate when we show our humanity. Saying "I'm not really sure. Does anyone else know or might they like to look that up for us?" is powerful stuff.

Remain calm at all times. Once a teacher loses it with a class or student, it takes a long time to rebuild that feeling of safety and trust. Step right outside the door and take a few breaths. It's worth it.

Take every opportunity to model kindness. They will follow.

Circulate. Mingling lets you monitor their work, yes, but it also gives you a close view of any tensions or negative energy brewing with groups or between students. Also, circulating gives you great opportunities to overhear a student sharing an idea or question that you can use with the whole class.

Address grudges early on. If tension is building between a couple of students, create time and space for them to talk it out while you mediate.

Follow through with consequences. Students need to know there's a consequence for serious infractions. They need evidence to believe they are safe in each classroom.

Smile often. The antiquated saying in the teaching profession is “Wait until Christmas to smile.” This is just plain silly. Let the children see those pearly whites often and genuinely. The more smiles we offer to students, the more we will receive.

Use every opportunity to model patience. They will notice.

Give kids a chance to problem-solve on their own. It's so much better when ideas and solutions come from the student. This is a chance for us to ask rather than tell: "What might be some things you can start doing so you complete your homework on time? How about I write them down as you tell them to me?"

Laugh with your students. The message this sends: Learning doesn't have to always be so serious, nor do we. Sometimes, when tensions are high, like during testing or when crazy things are happening out in the world, we need to laugh together. It's okay.

Offer options. If we start an assignment with, "You will have three choices," kids may even get excited and are often much more willing than when we say, "The assignment is...." By giving kids choices, we send a message that we respect their decisions.

Art and music feed the soul. Incorporate both of these routinely in your lessons.

Alber is an instructor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education. Originally published September 9, 2011; ©; The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Entire article can be found at


How Your Students Can
Help Wounded Marines

For the second year, the National Museum of the Marine Corps, located near Quantico, Virginia, is seeking the help of students of all ages through its “Art for Wounded Warriors” program. Managed by the Museum’s teacher-in-residence, the program offers young artists a chance to contribute art that will be displayed in recovery facilities around the country to brighten the days of wounded Marines.

Students who would like to participate should create a drawing, painting or coloring, along with an optional supportive message, on an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper, including their name, hometown and grade level on the back. The works of students of all ages and abilities are welcome.

All works of art must be submitted in a flat, rigid envelope and mailed to Art for Wounded Warriors, National Museum of the Marine Corps, Attn: Teacher-in-Residence, 18900 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Triangle, VA 22172-1938. They must be postmarked by December 10, 2011.


‘Being an American’
Essay Contest Underway

“How does the U.S. Constitution establish and maintain a culture of liberty?” If one of your high school students can answer that question with originality, organization and a depth of analysis in 1,000 words or less, both of you might be a bit richer.

That’s the question for the Bill of Rights Institute’s annual “Being an American” essay contest, which is being sponsored for 2011-12 by the History Channel. The contest is held to promote dialogue among students about our nation’s founding principles.

Winning essays will be chosen in five national regions, with first-, second- and third-place winners in each region earning a cash prize of $1,000, $500 and $250, respectively. In addition, the teacher sponsor for each winner also receives $100.

The contest deadline is December 15; submissions should be made at More information is available at


Science, Math Teaching
Fellowships Available

If you’ve earned a content degree in math or science within the last five years and are committed to teaching one of those subjects on the high school level, you may be eligible to apply for a Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Teaching Fellowship.

Renewable for up to five years, the Fellowships are worth up to $150,000 and allow promising new teachers access to professional and leadership development opportunities, financial resources, teaching materials, and a national network of past and current Fellows. Deadline for applications, which are submitted online, is January 12, 2012.

To learn more about the Knowles Foundation and the KSTF Teaching Fellowship, visit


Dollars and Sense
for Our Students

Too many people caught in upside-down mortgages that hastened and deepened the recession claimed they didn't understand the terms of their loans. They didn't understand that real estate can depreciate.

Virginia's next crop of young adults should be more financially savvy. Starting with this year's seniors, Virginia students will be expected to complete a one-credit course in economics and personal finance in order to earn a diploma. The requirement was added so that students will "function effectively as consumers, workers, savers, investors, entrepreneurs and active citizens."

One course is probably not enough to master all that; some adults spend a lifetime still not getting the basics quite right. But students, listen up: We can guarantee you will be tested on this — often.
--from an editorial in the Roanoke Times


JFK Library Looking for
Examples of Courage

Some will tell you that real examples of courage on the part of legislators are hard to find today, but the folks behind the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest beg to differ.
The annual contest invites high school students to pen an essay about an act of political courage by an American elected official who served during or after 1956. Sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and supported by John Hancock Financial, the contest offers a first prize totaling $10,000. The winner will get a $5,000 cash prize and $5,000 in a John Hancock Freedom 529 college savings plan. The winning student’s nominating teacher gets a John F. Kennedy Public Service grant of $500 to be used in school projects promoting student leadership and civic engagement. In addition, the winning student and teacher get an expense-paid trip to Boston where they will be honored by Caroline Kennedy at the annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award ceremony in May.

 A second place winner receives $1,000 and up to five finalists each receive $500. For more information, visit the contest website at Deadline for entries is January 7, 2012.


NEA Site Promotes
Internet Safety

Texting, gaming, surfing, instant-messaging, social-networking—being online is now an essential part of daily life for tweens, teens, adults and just about everyone else. To help everyone spend that online time safely, the NEA Health Information Network has created, offering educators access to high-quality information and resources.
The site’s goal is to be a one-stop center for know-how, tools and links that can help Internet users better understand the risks and benefits of the cyberworld. Some of the leading cyber-issues addressed currently on www.bNetSavvy include cyberbullying, protecting privacy, sexting, and the proper and safe use of social networking sites.
To stay current on Internet safety topics, visit the site and sign up for the bi-monthly e-newsletter.



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