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LPA Design Principle 1: Making Your Classroom a Safe Place to be a Learner

Photo by Taylor Wilcox

I’ve been thinking about how to clarify the practical implications of the first of the LPA’s ‘design principles’ – as a result of which, here are:

Ten key points for teachers to bear in mind

This Design Principle (DP1) is the foundation on which all the other design principles of the LPA rest. You must work constantly to make sure that this foundation is secure and visible.

  1. It means making your classroom a safe place to think, explore, venture ideas, discuss half-baked thinking, make mistakes, be confused and frustrated, have a go and keep trying and bouncing back till you’ve “got it”. It does NOT mean ‘safe’ in a general “Health and Safety” or “Warm and Fuzzy” sense of protected from all kinds of challenge: on the contrary, it means safe to be challenged and to stay with it.

  2. It means be vigilant, honest and inquisitive about anything we do or say that could possibly, inadvertently, undermine that feeling of safety.

  3. For example, it means not showing, by our words or behaviour, that we value fast, correct answers about slow, developing competence and understanding, and not implying, in any way, that children who regularly deliver fast correct answers, without effort, are in any sense ‘brighter’ than those who take more time and engage in trial and error.

  4. It means finding all kinds of smart, practical ways to make mistakes, ignorance, effort and confusion seem absolutely normal and inevitable in the classroom – removing any last possible shred of shame attached to these feelings and experiences.

  5. It means talking to the children/students about the ‘harsh realities’ of worthwhile learning and giving them a realistic picture - through showing them many examples, including from your own life, past and present - of the effort, struggle and ingenuity that lies behind all powerful learning.

  6. It means showing them how to let you know when they are feeling unsafe, and responding to that information.

  7. It means making sufficient time for children to grapple and struggle, alone and in pairs or groups, with challenging things.

  8. It means distinguishing, in your own mind and the students’ minds, between Learning Mode and Performance Mode, and always making it clear to students which mode is appropriate and desirable/necessary at any moment. (It means understanding why this way of thinking is preferable to Fixed and Growth Mindset thinking).

  9. It means putting in the effort yourself to embed these habits in your own practice so they become indelible.

  10. It might mean making a poster of these points, in language and imagery that is accessible to your learners, displaying it the classroom, and constantly referring to it, especially when you catch yourself falling short.

Read about the core principals of the Learning Power Approach here.

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