BACK TO SCHOOL: How to Cater to Students’ Emotional Needs to Create an Engaging Environment

Elisa from the BEC PD Department

We all know that the first day of school is incredibly challenging for students emotionally— whether they’re starting Kindergarten or eleventh grade. And upset students can’t focus or begin to adjust to their demanding new routines.

Here are some tips to help you ensure each child’s emotional needs are met—so they start the school year ready to learn!


Tip #1: Satisfy the Lower Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy First

On the first day, students are most concerned with satisfying the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy- their need for safety, love, esteem, and physiological comfort- within the confines of your classroom walls. Whether they realize it yet, they will have plenty of questions about the coming school year, and about you as their teacher!


Tip #2: Answer the Essential Questions 

Most importantly, make sure you immediately (and positively!) answer the essential questions that they’ll need to feel comfortable, such as:

  • Am I in the right room?
  • Where am I supposed to sit?
  • What are the rules in this classroom?
  • What will I be doing this year?
  • How will I be graded?
  • Who is the teacher as a person?
  • Will the teacher treat me as a human being?
  • Will the teacher respect me and understand my culture, background, and needs?

Students need to feel safe in the school environment- they will learn better if they feel welcome and important. It is up to you to make sure you meet the emotional needs of your students in the classroom, by carefully considering every detail.


Tip #3: Create a Welcoming Environment 

What message did you send to your students when they walked into your room today? Often, the only buildings more stark and uncomfortable than schoolrooms are prison cells! Does your home have hard plastic chairs, fluorescent lights, white cinder block walls, and someone else’s laminated posters on the walls?

The way you attend to the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of your room directly influences how students behave. Help students realize that you care about their comfort and learning. Bring in lamps (available for pennies at garage sales), pillows (with removable covers for sanitary reasons), music (instrumental for quiet working periods, lyrical for transition times or to enhance a lesson), and fresh flowers or potpourri. Research on the brain has shown that small details that will engage your students’ five senses make classrooms more conducive to learning.


Paying attention to the comfort level in your room will go a long way to ensure that students trust you and feel comfortable in their new environment, paving the way for a productive and collaborative school year!

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