Students need to feel safe, so they can fully engage in cognitive learning tasks. Research shows that the best learning occurs when students feel safe. Student perception then becomes all important, more so than the mere facts of physical safety. If they are stressed, anxious and in a fear state, then the thinking part of their brain does not function well. In effect the thinking skills of the cortex are hijacked by the lower, emotional part of the brain. When there is not a felt sense of safety, processing verbal information, sustaining attention and focus, and memory recall are impeded (Steele, 2007).
This week, I came face to face with this issue again as a little chap experienced severe separation anxiety. As I held him through his sustained rage, I thought again about the power of fear in a child's life. He was safe with me, but he did not know that. Even my gentle low statements of, "It will be OK. You are safe" did not, could not, register with him while he was in that state. Eventually, the rage subsided and he cried himself into a calmer state. The challenge for me then was to orchestrate the day, our every interaction, to communicate a sense of safety. Now I am conscious that as the weekend passes, Monday approaches. Is it with dread or with expectant anticipation in the mind of this little boy? We all want to see our students skip happily into class, but what strategies have you found most successful for the fearful, the anxious child?
Steele, W. (2007) Trauma’s Impact on Learning and Behavior: A Case for Interventions in Schools. Retrieved April 14, 2012 from http://www.tlcinst.org/impact.html