Most teachers would agree that before students can grow intellectually, they must feel safe emotionally. Unfortunately, once students experience various degrees of failure and frustration in their school careers, they become very adept at devising techniques to insulate themselves from further stress and discomfort. Sometimes it's the way they shrink back in their seats. Other times it's appearing unapproachable or intimidating. It could even be uncooperative statements such as, "I don't do reading."

The following checklist will help you determine the degree to which your classroom or school practices the kinds of beliefs and behaviors that contribute to an emotionally safe community. Use the scale below to rate each item in the checklist. The higher your level of agreement with any item, the more likely you are to see improvements in achievement, learning, on-task behavior, commitment, cooperation, and student responsibility.

Always Do – 4

Sometimes Do – 3

Rarely Do – 2

Never Do – 1

Need for Success

__ I provide opportunities for success to each child in the classroom, encouraging growth from wherever they start.

__ I assess students' abilities and adjust instruction to an appropriate level of challenge for each one.

__ I offer students a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge, intelligence, and mastery.

__ I attempt to build interpersonal skills, positive social behaviors, character skills, and resistance to failure.

__ I attempt to accommodate a variety of interests, modality strengths, and learning preferences in my directions, instructions, motivators, and assignments.

__ I attempt to accommodate tactile, kinesthetic, visual, verbal, and auditory learners.

__ I make sure kids have ample opportunities to move around and help them learn to maintain an appropriate level of alertness and activity without disrupting classmates' concentration.

Need for Dignity and Respect

__ I avoid using humiliation, sarcasm, ridicule, anger, impatience, or manifestations of disappointment in dealing with students.

__ I honor students' needs for respect, dignity, purpose, success, acceptance, attention, and motivation.

__ I model standards of behavior, language, and tone of voice that I expect from my students.

__ I work to eliminate prejudice towards students based on racial or cultural background, physical characteristics, behavior issues, sexual orientation, or academic, artistic, or athletic competence.

__ I strive to stay aware of put-downs or slurs expressed by students or staff, responding immediately.

Need for Power, Structure, and Positivity

__ I sometimes allow and encourage students to make decisions about their learning (what, where, with whom, how, and how much).

__ I sometimes allow students to create, design, or renegotiate assignments to make them personally meaningful.

__ I motivate through access to positive outcomes, rather than avoidance or fear of negative outcomes. I emphasize the positive consequences of cooperation.

__ I consciously anticipate what students, teachers, and parents will need in various situations in order to prevent problems from occurring.

__ I follow through immediately, avoiding warnings or threats.

__ I make students and their parents aware of changes in behavior or performance that could affect grades or promotion.

__ I utilize parents, administration, and support staff for feedback and support (not for punishing students).

Need for Recognition, Attention, and Emotional Safety

__ I attempt to meet students' needs for attention in positive, constructive, and proactive ways.

__ I reinforce positive behaviors with positive outcomes.

__ I communicate with parents regularly and frequently about what their children are doing well.

__ I respect students' active needs and am committed to listening and supporting their feelings and problem-solving skills in positive ways.

__ I respect confidentiality to the degree that doing so will not put anyone in danger.

__ I immediately respond to incidents involving any form of bullying, harassment, or danger.


This article originally appeared in Teacher magazine, published by Scholastic.