About Katie Sluiter

Katie Sluiter is currently an 8th English teacher in West Michigan. She has taught middle school, high school, and community college and has her Masters Degree and is currently working on her doctoral degree in Teaching English. Her writing has been featured on Writers Who Care, The Nerdy Book Club, and Dr. Bickmore's YA Wednesday. She is a member of the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE) and ALAN (the Assembly on Literature of Adolescents of the NCTE). She is a National Writing Project participant, has presented at both state and national conferences, and has been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan multiple times.

This year I will begin my “lucky” thirteenth year in the classroom in my current district, and my second year teaching junior high. One of my strengths as a teacher is my classroom management. It’s been something that has come naturally to me ever since my days of student teaching and I credit it all to creating a safe environment within my classroom for students to write and discuss openly.

In the past, I’ve been asked what my management strategies are, what some of my discipline plans look like, and what activities I use to get students to write/discuss without feeling like they will be attacked or mocked. I don’t really have a set of steps or easy step-by-step plan that you can pin to Pinterest. My method is organic: I build relationships with my students and their families.

A few years ago, our district went through Capturing Kids’ Hearts training. I realized quickly that what they were doing was showing teachers how to build relationships–something I had already been doing for years. Some teachers still had difficulty even though they followed the steps–greeting students by the door every day, creating a social contract with each class, etc. Students still didn’t seem to view their classroom as a “safe zone.”

The truth is, if you want students to feel safe and confident in your class, you need to open yourself up and be vulnerable with them. You need to show them that you and your room are safe.

Putting ourselves “out there” is difficult. We can tell students that their writing journals are places for them to experiment, that their reading notebooks are places to make any connections, to put down any thoughts, and that discussions are safe places from put downs and ridicule, but until they see proof that they won’t be judged they won’t do it. This is where modeling vulnerability and being supportive are important.

I admit that because of my 11+ years of experience as a high school teacher, my strategies are geared more toward that age group, but I am learning that it’s as important–if not more so–to gain the trust of middle school students quickly.

I do this is by sharing about my life outside of the classroom. I tell my students about who I am. I let them know I am not just a teacher who sits at a desk and grades, but I am a mom and wife too. I am a citizen of the world, just as they are. I tell them stories about my experiences. I vocalize the connections I can make to what we read in class, the vocabulary words we encounter, even the latest current events. I tell them stories about my kids and my life. I write beside them and share my writing–the whole messy process–with them.

I become real to them through our shared classroom space, and I open the door for them to become real with me and the rest of their classmates.

Time and again I find that my student’s enthusiasm for my class and the quality of their work improves when I give them more than just directions, but when I give them a piece of myself as a model.

I strive for my classroom to be a place where cliques and gossip are left at the door. Where students can be put into groups without having worry about a conflict. Where students easily share themselves and their work. Where everyone feels at ease to discuss, agree, and disagree.

What are some of your strategies for creating a safe place within your classroom?

Creating Safe Spaces Within Our Classrooms

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