This article is an excerpt from the LD@school learning module Supporting the Well-Being and Mental Health of Students with Learning Disabilities. Click here to access this module.
Classroom Environments that Support Student Well-Being
According to the discussion document, Ontario’s Well-Being Strategy for Education (2016), “well-being is a positive sense of self, spirit and belonging that we feel when our cognitive, emotional, social and physical needs are being met” (p. 3). Well-being is fundamental to overall student success.
A sense of belonging and school connectedness is central to promoting well-being for students with learning disabilities (LDs). Educators play an important role in creating and advocating for a safe and supportive school environment. Indeed, according to the Ministry of Education document, Supporting Minds, “creating a positive classroom environment” is one of educators’ key roles in supporting students’ mental health and well-being.
This article presents strategies for fostering a safe and inclusive environment in your classroom and school.
Build Positive Relationships
Build rapport with your students by:
- greeting each of your students by name as they enter the classroom
- making time to interact with each student individually
- listening to their comments, concerns, and worries while modelling empathy
- showing your interest in their stories and experiences
Get to know each of your student’s strengths, and help them leverage their strengths to experience successes. This is crucial because resilience develops out of individuals’ existing strengths.
Engage parents, caregivers, and the community via regular communication as well as through volunteering and mentorship opportunities. This will not only help you learn more about your students, but it will also build trust with these partners in education.
Arrange the Physical Environment
Strategically organize the classroom by:
- assigning seats to students at the beginning of the year (Note: adjust seating throughout the year based on individual and whole class needs)
- arranging furniture to ensure all students are able to see you and the board
- establishing routines for distributing and collecting material in an orderly manner
An organized classroom provides structure and predictability for all students, which can help to reduce stress levels. At the same time, it is important for students to understand that change happens and that they have the skills necessary to cope with change.
Set High Expectations
Have high but realistic academic expectations for all students. Engage all students in their work by carefully planning learning tasks based on the principles of differentiated instruction and universal design for learning. Support all students to feel successful.
Establish clear and consistent behavioural expectations with your students. Involving students in setting behavioural expectations can improve compliance. Be sure to address bullying and peer victimization in your discussions. Consider revising expectations halfway through the year; expectations should change over time, as students become better able to manage their own behaviours.
Provide Feedback and Reinforcement
Acknowledge and praise positive behaviours. Depending on the student and the situation, this can be done in front of the whole class, individually, or through communication with parents/caregivers. Remember to recognize and reinforce students’ efforts and not only results.
Reframe mistakes as learning opportunities. Coping with challenging situations can build a sense of competence. Mistakes are ‘teachable moments’ and can help students learn how to cope with future mistakes and failures, and feel more comfortable taking risks. It is important to support students in learning from their mistakes and failures by modeling and normalizing those experiences. When a student takes a risk, praise them for their effort. When a student makes a mistake, respond in such a way that they feel validated for trying, rather than ashamed of getting it wrong.
Provide effective coaching and supervision. For example, periodically review the rules and expectations, supervise students by regularly scanning the classroom, move around the classroom and occupy the whole space, and quickly deal with problems in a calm and positive way.
Use humour. Humour helps students feel comfortable and at-ease in the classroom. However, make sure you keep your humour positive and try to avoid sarcasm.
Help students access the supports they need. A positive classroom environment is one where students feel comfortable expressing their feelings. Encourage students to let you know if they or their peers are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Help them learn to ask for what they need.
For a designed, printable version of these strategies, Click here to access the document Strategies for Creating a Positive Classroom Environment.
For more information on supporting students with Learning Disabilities and Mental Health issues (LDMH), click here to access our learning module Supporting the Well-Being and Mental Health of Students with Learning Disabilities.
Hurlington, K. (2010). Bolstering Resilience in Students: Teachers as Protective Factors. What Works? Research into Practice. Research Monograph #25. Retrieved from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/WW_bolstering_students.pdf
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2016). Ontario’s Well-Being Strategy for Education: Discussion Document. Retrieved from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/about/WBdiscussionDocument.pdf