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Creating Safe Schools

The issues of our world impact schools and classrooms all over the world. Teachers and students are constantly navigating the issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and colonialism within the classroom each day regardless of whether they recognize it or not. Classrooms can be places where students learn about oppression and privilege or we can pretend that they are "neutral" and "objective" places where those issues don't exist. When schools either ignore or are ignorant to the issues that impact the lives of students and the world we live in, we do our communities and students are great disservice. One of our main functions as teachers is to ensure that all students feel safe, cared for and respected within the schools they attend. Therefore, I've put together five suggestions for teachers to work towards creating a safe and caring environment for their students.

1. Understand that your students (including yourself) play duel roles within society in either oppressing others through our words and actions or being oppressed by others. Create a classroom culture with your students that encourages open dialogue about these roles and how the school can work to ensure it is looking after the interests of all students.

2. LGBTQ students are often our most vulnerable within our schools. When we are not actively supporting them through GSA's or other initiatives we are turning a blind eye to the issues they face. I work with at promise youth in Edmonton's inner city and am faced with the fact every day that the LGBTQ youth population has some of the highest rates of suicide. Our schools and classrooms can be war zones for LGBTQ youth and teachers need to do a much better job of understanding and being an ally with this population. Ask your students how you can best support them and create a safe community at least within your classroom.

3. If you teach in Alberta, you're teaching on Treaty 6, 7 or 8 land. At the very least you must acknowledge this fact as a teacher. Indigenous students in Alberta have an alarming drop out rate and many have horror stories to tell about their experiences within the public school system and facing systemic racism from staff and students. Schools must be places where youth feel welcomed, cared for and have the safe spaces to express themselves and their cultures. Colonialism and its impacts continue to this day and teachers must understand how that impacts all of our students.Teachers could learn a lot from reaching out to Indigenous communities to build bonds of trust and respect. Education is a community effort and for all of us living on these lands during these times, we have to build a better relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

4. Poverty impacts learning. There is really no debating it as far as I am concerned. For those of us who work with students who are living in poverty it is imperative that we understand the barriers and limitations that poverty puts on students when they are trying to learn in class. You will be much more effective if you can be an empathetic shoulder to lean on rather than getting frustrated with your students who fall asleep in your class or can't pay attention because of the life issues they're dealing with (homelessness, addictions, etc.). When you signed up to be a teacher, you signed up to be an advocate for your students. If you believe that all students should have a fair shot at succeeding within our school system, then you have to be an advocate against poverty and I encourage you to work with your local community organizations and students so our government can implement strategies to end the suffering of thousands of children in our province. Those students need to know that even though society has generally abandoned and neglected them, their teacher, family and community can be supports in their lives.

5. You're not alone. As a teacher, you know that there are incredible people and resources who would love to support you on your journey to create more safe and caring classrooms and schools. We have an incredibly political job that just suggesting that schools should be places where we can deal with issues of racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and sexism can cause even the most progressive administrator to sweat about the backlash.  However, if schools are to be places where we teach our youth about democracy, fairness and justice then we can not hide from the difficult issues of our world. We can not afford to be ignorant, neutral and objective to the issues that face our students lives and classrooms. Therefore, it is imperative that you reach out to your colleague's and the teaching community to find support in creating safe schools for our students. And if you can't find anyone in your immediate circles for support, just contact me....it's kinda my thing ;)

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