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PTLLS Adult Education: How to establish and maintain a safe and supportive learning environment

Updated on January 16, 2015

It is very important that a teacher is able to maintain a safe and supporting learning environment in their classroom. The concept of ‘safe environment’ is very diverse; when we speak about ‘safe’, in this subject, we don’t just mean phisicaly but also mentally and in regard of the feelings.

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Risk Assessment

First of all a teacher should make sure that their learners will be physically safe. This means, for example, making sure that the building respects the rules of health and safety: making sure the fire exits are easily accessible, making sure the structure is appropriate for the learners needs (for example, making sure a physically disabled learner can access the building through lifts or ramps), making sure the classroom is adequate (making sure there are no wires or hazards where the learners will be sitting/walking), risk assess the room and all the equipment they will be using during the course. After that, a teacher should assess the classroom and make sure the learners will feel comfortable in it: making sure the heating or the air conditioning works so that the learners won’t be too hot or too cold; making sure there is enough air circulation or at least an available window to open in case of poor air circulation. After this preliminary assessment, a teacher should start planning the course in a way that the learners will have enough breaks and chances to get refreshments: this means acknowledging the need for a few breaks in the session and putting it in the lesson plan, also making sure the toilets are accessible and the kitchen is accessible. If there is not a kitchen accessible, the teacher can make sure there is at least a way to provide water and a hot drink.

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Ground Rules

When starting the course, a teacher should make sure they create a safe environment in the classroom: this means making sure everybody is comfortable with everybody else and nobody is trying to bully other people. In order to do so, the first step that a teacher should take is the establishment of ground rules. When working with adults it could be better to have ‘commonly agreed ground rules’ so they can agree with each point and find elements to discuss. This is good because when they get to decide the ground rules it’s more unlikely that they are going to break them. When working with younger people it’s better to set some basic important ground rules (such as: arriving on time, no bullying, switch off mobile phones, no swearing) and then give them the chance to find some rules themselves and discuss them in the class (tutor implemented ground rules). In this way they get to agree together to the rules and if they break them, the teacher is going to remind them that they have set those rules themselves. After the ground rules a teacher should be the best example of this behaviour in order to promote respect: this includes the teacher arriving on time, have the mobile phone switched off and respect all the other rules that the learners and the teacher agreed on. The best way to promote respect within the classroom is for the teacher to respect the learners: simple things like using first names, value the time that the learners are spending on the course, maintain confidentiality, showing that they care about them, this could be the key for promoting good behaviour and respect.

Learner motivation and ground rules

Building Trusting Relationships

A teacher should also make sure that the learners can socialise and build relationships; doing this there will be less chances of disrespectful behaviour and bully behaviour. In order to obtain this, there are few things a teacher can do, for example: provide the learners enough occasions to socialise (organising ice breaking activities, coffee/tea breaks, group activities); organise the seats so that the learners can look at each other’s, always mix the groups during the activities so that nobody gets left out. It’s very important that a teacher always gives the learners constructive feedback. This is very useful both for the teacher and learners because by understanding the mistakes they are able to move on and improve for future learning. Giving constructive feedback can also be a way to value a shy learner and make them feel more confident about themselves. If the feedback is negative, it should never focus on the bad part but it should be given in a positive and constructive way in order to help the learner to improve. This can also help to build a trusting relationship between the teacher and the learners, because in this way the learners will know that the teacher is always honest and more important the feedback for the sole purpose for the learner to improve. Peer observation is also a good way to provide feedback. In this way both learners (the observer and the observed) have a chance to reflect on their own work and their own improvements.

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