Safety first

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We feel, therefore we learn; learning is an emotional journey. But what if all we feel is, threatened, angry, scared, sad and unwanted, then what do we learn?

The first thing to consider for education organisations is safety! If safety is compromised, learning is compromised. Safety is everything, a child and even an adult learn only when they feel safe. Some common threats to safety seen in many schools are:

  1. Abusive language
  2. Bullying
  3. Racial discrimination
  4. Gender discrimination
  5. Microaggressions
  6. Body shaming
  7. Lack of health and safety, child safeguarding policies
  8. Patriarchial dominance
  9. Digital safety
  10. Lack of emergency protocols

While some of the safety issues are taken care of by the following state, country or international standards for safety; emergency protocols, health and safety, child safeguarding policies are mostly covered under the authorisation of a school or educational institute.  But alarmingly many other issues are still prevalent and more threatening.

Let us focus on some existing issues; firstly it is hard to identify these silent safety risks, therefore educators need to be very vigilant. Here are a few ways of identifying safety risks:

  1. Some teachers in your school use abusive language when disciplining students.
  2. Students form cliques and always work in cliques never allowing “others”.
  3. There is a culture of favouritism, supremism and indifference.
  4. Your school does not have a social-emotional learning (SEL) programme and/or coordinator.
  5. Your school does not have diversity in teaching staff.
  6. Student agency and student voices are not valued.
  7. Undesirable behaviour is always punished but good behaviour is never acknowledged.
  8. All important positions are held by the male gender.
  9. There are no firewalls for digital content accessed by students in school.
  10. All decisions are made by heads of sections without any input from teachers, students or parents.

There are many more ways of identifying an unhealthy environment that leads to students feeling anxious, unsafe and distant. There needs to be a unified approach to creating a safe haven for students.

Firstly, schools and other educational institutions need to hire diverse staff, representing different genders, colours, accents, interests and experiences. This creates harmony in the school culture as there is always that one person a student can find who speaks their language or has the same interests. Students can connect better with people around them as they get used to differences. They learn to agree to disagree and most importantly they learn as they feel safe.

Next teachers have to model caring and mindful behaviour. Use of anger and foul language should not be allowed or tolerated. Teachers’ arrogance, anger and rude behaviour are one of the main reasons students fear to share ideas and even ask questions. If schools can have zero tolerance for plagiarism, they can also enforce zero tolerance for rude behaviour! Another prevalent issue is reprimanding students for their mistakes and never rewarding their efforts. After some time students run into the danger of not caring about it and there comes a breaking point after which students do not care at all about anything. This leads to poor self-esteem and hidden insecurities which become massive identity issues as they grow up. Always encourage when learning, never discourage when teaching.

Finally, students should be discouraged to be part of strong cliques, this leaves out shy or new students, leads to bullying of students who are not in the clique and changes the behaviour of students on both sides, in the clique and outside. Students need to be made comfortable with handling unknown and unfamiliar circumstances so they won’t try to get into a comfort zone to try to “fit in”. I still remember one of my students confiding in me about vaping in school; the reason shared by the student was that she was trying to be normal to “fit in”. Therefore mixing students into different groups in the classroom really helps them to get comfortable with the unknown and unfamiliar.

Safety first is not only a requirement it is a necessity. A student who does not feel safe tells us many things about ourselves, our systems, and our culture. Create a happy space for a happy learning experience to foster a happy person who will create a happy future and a happy world.

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