In a recent OECD PISA Students’ Well-Being Study (2015) conducted to 540, 000 students in 72 participating countries and economies, student anxiety about school work and tests was seen to be related with how supportive their teachers and schools are to the students and not to how long the students stay in school or prepare for the test. The study further dug deeper and revealed that bullying is still the top issue in schools, with a statistical estimate that 1 student per class is bullied a few times a month.
In the Philippines, the Department of Education reported 1, 700 cases of bullying in schools during the academic year 2013-2014. The number, however and fortunately, continues to decline, especially since the introduction of the 2012 Dep Ed Child Protection Policy. As the fight against bullying continues, new forms of bullying continue to grip the youth and young students as access to social media and ownership of mobile devices continue to increase dramatically. Cases of cyberbullying have widely spread. i-SAFE Foundation reported that 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber threats. The Cyberbullying Research Center revealed that mobile phones have been the most common medium of cyber bullying, which is predominantly in ways such as receiving mean or hurtful comments and being the topic of rumors.
Role of Teachers and Schools in the Well-Being of Students
The same OECD PISA study also revealed that teachers, schools, and parents play in an important role in supporting the performance, disposition, and total well-being of students as they navigate school life. OECD Chief of Staff Gabriela Ramos further emphasized that students will perform better if they feel valued, well-treated, and guided. The study remarked that there was a lower number of bullying in schools that fostered positive relationships between students and teachers. Hence, the challenge right now is for everyone in the school community to make students feel that they are valued and guided. In order to this, schools must become safe places for students. Safety here encompasses a lot of meaning. It can mean safety from external threats, whether physical, verbal, or psychological abuses, that harm the being of a person in every way imaginable. It can also mean giving them a learning environment where they are allowed to take risks, commit mistakes, and learn from these beautiful mishaps.
Some Ways to Foster a Fun and Safe Learning Environment
The goal to achieve a safe and engaging learning space or environment is easier said than done. No magic formula, short cut, or perfect model exists for this challenge since it is important to always consider the contexts of the students. Some schools and countries may need to consider threats to security that could result loss of lives. Some might consider safety in learning acquisition. However, the comforting reality is that there are numerous techniques or programs that may be put in place to help foster a fun and safe classroom. Let me take this opportunity to share some that I or my school have put in place.
- Promotion of Growth Mindset
The unnecessary addiction to perfection or even to high grades is not helpful to students. Often times, these expectations bring pressure to our learners that entails stress and decline of self-confidence. Introduction and promotion of growth mindset gives the learner the capacity to take risks, explore, apply, and try new learnings without the fear of being reprimanded. Mistakes are not taken against the learner. Instead, they become means for more relevant learnings to happen. As I wrote in one of my blogs:
Risk-taking is also an important aspect in promoting growth mindset. Students tend to shy away from taking risks because they are very well aware of the consequences, which normally point to point deductions, comparisons to others who have done well, or even simply, being ignored because another student had done better. Yet, risk-taking is needed in the real world. Indeed, there are consequences for the decisions we risk in real life and some of them can be really difficult to handle. Giving space or opportunities for risk-taking in the classroom does not aim for the students to perfect the act of taking risks so that there will be no mistakes or that the risk taken would always equate to success. We are actually letting them learn how to navigate the consequences so that they won’t get stuck on the mistakes and move on to do something better about it. Some students who have neither taken risk nor failed in the classroom find it difficult to manage the consequences of failures in the real world, which often result to some emotional challenges or issues that affect one’s well-being.
- Virtues Project
In the grade school where I teach, the whole school community re-oriented our way of seeing and dealing with student behaviors through going back to the basics of promoting virtues through the “Virtues Project.” The project was not simply about introducing virtues such as respect, self-discipline, or peacefulness to our students. More importantly, it was about letting the students be familiar and mindful of how their actions can affect their classmates, teachers, or even those around them. We wanted to make sure that we speak in the language of the virtues, which highlights the nature of the action more than the person. Hence, instead of saying: “Keep quiet!” or “You are noisy or rowdy,” teachers can say “Let us practice the virtue of peacefulness” or “I believe that we can still practice the virtue of self-discipline.” Calling out the virtues help in emphasizing and inculcating good actions in the mind of students and helping them realize that they are capable of doing such things and hence, being kind to others.
- Effective and Reflective Anti-Bullying campaign.
A few years ago, my school launched the “Not in My School” anti-bullying campaign to address bullying issues. It was a systematic effort and work. All members of the community, including the administrators, teachers, students, and non-teaching personnel, were involved in it. Students were empowered to speak out about bullying cases or incidents that they witness. The crucial role of a by-stander was emphasized. Different subjects in class participated in the campaign. Teachers were trained to understand and properly respond to bullying cases. Our experiences with our anti-bullying campaigns in the past years taught us to work for, design, and execute sustainable anti-bullying campaigns. Parents were also involved as parent forums were opened for parents to talk about and discuss the issues and challenges surrounding bullying.
- Integration of Digital Citizenship in the Curriculum
Digital citizenship covers concepts and skills that teachers, technology leaders, school administrators, and parents should teach and develop in students or technology users for them to use technology tools appropriately. Schools should establish clear digital citizenship programs that empower and help students know what to do if there are unfortunate cases of cyber-bullying or other forms of digital threats. The program should also introduce core virtues such as empathy, respect, prudence, honesty, and kindness among others. However, it should also be integrated in the school curriculum so that the digital citizenship skills are deeply applied to what the students regularly do in the classroom. It should also be the responsibility of all teachers in the school and not just their computer or technology teacher.
In our school, we also empowered our students to become digital by-standers or even to report or call out classmates or other people who engages in these kinds of digital threats. As a 1:1 iPad school, my school prioritizes digital citizenships skills to be reviewed and further strengthened every beginning of the school year. Parents and teacher also undergo digital citizenship workshops. I have written a separate blog about this topic which can be accessed HERE.
Fostering a safe and engaging learning space where students can thrive requires a lot of preparations, critical planning, careful execution, and constant evaluation. However, to become effective, these programs should be systematic and should involve every member of the community. It is not just the work of a teacher, but of all teachers, students, parents, and non-teaching staff. After all, it really takes a village to raise and make a child feel valued and guided.
Bullying Statistics (n.d.). Cyber Bullying Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html
No Bullying (2015). Cyber Bullying in The Philippines. Retrieved from: http://nobullying.com/cyber-bullying-in-the-philippines/
OECD (2017). Most teenagers happy with their lives but schoolwork anxiety and bullying an issue. Retrieved from: http://www.oecd.org/education/most-teenagers-happy-with-their-lives-but-schoolwork-anxiety-and-bullying-an-issue.htm