Creating a safe space

A safe space is an area where individuals do not encounter discrimination, criticism, harassment, or physical and emotional harm. A safe space can both refer to physical locations, emotional and ideological interactions. A safe space is important for learning and creating a sense of belonging and well-being among individuals and communities. While the perception of safety is personal, there are common principles and practices that help create safe spaces.

This category includes the practices and principles associated with creating a secure learning environment for children while taking into special consideration the needs of migratory children. Although this concept has not been formally evaluated as a distinct intervention or program, extensive research underscores the pivotal role of safe spaces in enhancing the well-being of children. In the school environment, there is much that can be done to assist young people in feeling safe.

“Safe” spaces can offer:

  • Reduced feelings of exclusion and enhancing shared sense of solidarity
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Greater sense of belonging
  • Increased trust in communities
  • Lower levels of internalizing (depression and anxiety) difficulties

‘Safe’ schools and other spaces are likely to help to improve student wellbeing including:

  • Reduced feelings of exclusion and enhancing shared sense of solidarity.
  • Higher self-esteem.
  • Greater sense of belonging.
  • Increased trust in communities.
  • Lower levels of internalising (depression and anxiety) difficulties.
  • Being attentive and respectful to diverse cultural heritages and personal life-stories, empowering the students and parents to share their cultural assets with the school’s community, encouraging self-expression and drawing on cultural funds of knowledge (Bartlett, 2017; Cho, 2019; DeNicolo et al., 2017; Dviv et al., 2017; Isik-Ercan, 2017; Medley 2012; Newcomer 2020).
  • Engaging in culturally responsive teaching – ensuring that school activities reflect the identities and values of students from refugee backgrounds and incorporating these into school curriculum and daily activities (Bartlett 2017; Cho, 2019; Due et al., 2016; Dviv et al., 2017; Schachner et al., 2018). It is noteworthy that migrant and refugee students have frequently been found to report attachment with spaces and activities that did not rely on knowledge of English, such as art and sport (Due et al., 2016).
  • Enacting an ethic of care through meaningful dialogue between teachers and students, providing opportunities for students to engage in caring for and with others, showing affection, creating a classroom atmosphere of empathetic and non-judgemental listening, with teachers positioned as students’ allies, having a ‘safe space’ to calm down, and having a ‘safe person’ to check in with (Birch et al., 2014; Brenner, 2016; Busch et al., 2018; De Castro & Angulo, 2016; De Deckker, 2018; DeNicolo et al., 2017; Lazzari et al., 2020; Schachner et al., 2018).

  • Supporting students’ autonomy – taking students’ points of view into consideration and providing them with opportunities to make their own individual choices related to learning and activities at school (Alivernini et al., 2019).
  • Being patient, establishing limits, ensuring fairness in disciplinary actions, ensuring students understand classroom and playground expectations and rules, having predictable routines (Birch et al., 2014; Cho, 2019; De Castro & Angulo, 2016; De Deckker, 2018; OECD, 2018).
  • Encouraging and facilitating parent and family involvement, developing partnerships with community organisations, and seeking opportunities for expanded learning time and opportunities (Bajaj & Suresh 2018; Birch et al., 2014; Bennouna 2019; Betancourt et al., 2012; Brenner, 2016; Busch et al., 2018; Isik-Ercan 2017; Martin & Suárez-Orozco, 2018; Meloche 2020; Newcomer 2020; Rodriguez, 2019).
  • Challenging deficit notions of students, families, and communities, embracing an approach where diversity is an asset as opposed to an obstacle, establishing a growth mindset among students, and confirming students’ potential as learners (Birch et al., 2014; Brenner 2016; Cho, 2019; Minghua 2013).
  • Facilitating positive intergroup contact among students through collaborative projects and mentoring systems (Bartlett 2017; Faas et al., 2015; Schachner et al., 2018).

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