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for RIM Facilitators, Coaches, Trainers, Retreat Leaders and Evolving Humans in General
By Colleen Sorensen
Creating a syllabus for my college course is an expectation. It is basically a contract between the professor and students as to how the course will flow and how the grades will be assessed. I have been creating syllabi for nearly 25 years. What is newer to me is creating a “Guidelines and Agreements” contract. It establishes how we are going to show up and behave while in a collective learning space together. This is a separate document that I go over line by line during the first week of class, while I just reference the syllabus for the students to review on their own time.
Why do I take precious class time to review a “Guidelines and Agreements” document that could easily be read outside of class? Because this document is my first step to creating safety for my students and myself in how we will behave together during the semester. Creating safety…I didn’t realize until 17 years into my teaching that it was my job to establish an emotional safe space in my classroom. No one ever discussed the importance of or how to “create a safe space” with me. If teachers had been doing that in my student experience, I was oblivious to it.
In 2016, I discovered Jack Canfield, Creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Success Principles, and took some coursework in Jack’s teaching philosophy, called “The Canfield Methodology”. Within his Train the Trainer program, I started hearing phrases like “gradients of safety” and “creating a safe space for my students”. Ummm…hello! Why have I never heard these terms before? I was a good teacher, I had good reviews from my students, yet something was drawing me in, inviting me to consider this new idea of taking a conscious look at my teaching style, my classroom, and asking myself if my students really felt safe during our 75 min/2x per week for 16 weeks together. That’s 2400 minutes that I have with these young adults, that is a lot of opportunity to create a space of safety that encourages growth, a sense of belonging, and a place where one always feels welcomed!
Some of the things in my G&A document include statements like:
I spend time explaining and discussing what each line means…especially the last one about sharing other’s experiences without their permission. I encourage lots of discussion within the group throughout this process and in the end, I have each person acknowledge their overall agreement, while also identifying any push back from anyone to discover a win-win. Also, I follow a cardinal rule of never mentioning my intention of creating a “safe space”. How my students feel is completely up to them, not me. By saying something like “this is a safe space” or “this classroom is intended to be a safe space”... those words feel
Within one or two semesters of adding a G&A contract in my classroom, I noticed some new comments I had never seen before on my open-ended feedback questions at the end of the semester. I ask two questions:
Responses to these questions started including words and phrases about feeling safe. Students were sharing that they had never felt safe to share their true thoughts and opinions until this class. I was floored! I never once said or discussed the topic of “emotional safety” with my students. I never mentioned my goal of creating a safe space, yet my students recognized it and of anything they could share about their experience, they chose to talk about feeling safe in my classroom for their final feedback to me.
I have learned to never underestimate what a G&A document can do to help me create emotional safety in a classroom or workshop setting. It’s not a stand alone guarantee, it needs to be followed up with additional skills that will be discussed in other articles, yet it is always the place I start as my first steps towards creating an emotionally safe space for my students and workshop participants.
What works for you to establish emotional safety and what have your challenges been? I would love to hear from you!
Colleen Moon Sorensen is a teacher, trainer, and efficiency strategist. You can often find her teaching courses on the Success Principles and The 7 Habits, or facilitating RIM and coaching sessions, assisting Jack Canfield, training transformational trainers, or partnering with my fellow Canfield trainers on projects around the globe. Otherwise, she’s at home in Salem, UT, with her husband, hiking with her 2 working class dogs, or playing with one of her 4 children or 4 grandchildren. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Michael Kline and Colleen Sorensen
The program starts at 9am. I’m the kind, compassionate and patient trainer, so let’s wait for the stragglers. Wait, what? I’m here on time, you’re here on time. Why are we waiting? It’s the polite thing to do for the stragglers, and it’s terribly rude to do to those who arrived on time. One argument is if we start on time, the late comers will need us to repeat things to catch them up anyway. I think that’s even worse, so it would be easier to just start late. I almost always promise my participants that we start and end on time. After all, making and keeping promises builds trust, and we need deep trust in our relationships, right? This article will dive into some solutions that accommodate trust and respect for everyone.
I believe that we are always teaching people how to treat us. If you start late, you’re teaching people to arrive late next time. For example, I know that if I am attending a webinar, I can expect to start several minutes late, and to listen to boring introductions for the first 10-20 minutes. I tend to arrive on time and use that time to catch up on my emails. It is very rare, that I feel my time is respected on a webinar or at most meetings. We are all trained or being trained to operate with very low standards.
My first step is promising participants in advance that I will be starting and ending on time. I reinforce it with a request to arrive ten minutes early to settle in, have some social time and get comfortable. Even working on Zoom I offer coffee social time at the beginning of a meeting, so people can randomly make new friends, just like at in-person events. People love this!
In some of our training programs, the end of the day needs to be flexible because we don’t want to leave someone struggling if we are processing some deep emotional work. In this case, I promise to start on time, and give an estimate of the target ending time, and ask participants to be flexible give or take 30 minutes for the end time, and I explain why.
I am a nice guy, I understand that some people will be late for unexpected reasons, and because they have been trained by other facilitators to expect to start late anyway. Here’s how I support them and still start on time. I start with something fun and energizing, that is not critical to the rest of the day’s content, so I don’t need to repeat it for the benefit of late comers. My favorite is to start with an energizer, even on Zoom. This is a fun activity that you usually do after lunch to bring up the energy of the room and get people’s bodies moving. Why not start the day with some high energy and laughter?
Some trainers and facilitators dislike energizers, and some participants really hate them because they are afraid of looking foolish or vulnerable. We are transformational leaders, so let’s make this easy and beneficial. Start with something really easy, and really fun. It’s important to know some really good energizers that are new to most participants. I Have a dozen or so go-to energizers I have memorized and practiced. If you want fun ideas and new games that will have you and your participants loving it, take a few improv classes at your local theater company. Or find some online. After you learn a few, you can start to adapt games to fit your theme and gamify just about anything.
So, I start exactly on time with an energizer game. Preferably something I can later tie into the learning. It typically takes 5-10 minutes to do a good energizer, so late comers will either join in, or come in near the end of the fun and wonder what they missed. That’s ok, they can play more later in the day. We can welcome them with enthusiasm and love, without any judgment for being late or making them feel bad.
By the way, never, ever, ever, greet a late arrival with a sarcastic “glad you could join us”. This is a common mean-spirited comment in toxic work-place settings, and it will annihilate any attempt at creating emotionally safe space for the entire room.
If you are using a slide deck, another idea is to start the event with cartoons. Jack Canfield does this at every event from a one-hour keynote to a 7-day training. He teaches that we start with humor because it improves the immune system and our memory, and opens us up to better learning, and it’s just a lot of fun. He’s right. I'm adding this suggestion because you could also use this to solve the starting on time situation.
Whatever you do, remember, the goal is to build trust and create safety. We do this by starting with clear expectations explained in advance. We build on it with modeling integrity, making and keeping small promises like starting on time. We also build community by having fun and laughing together. And we respect late arrivals while simultaneously training them that we start on time.
If you’d like to talk more about safe and sacred spaces, I’d love to hear from you! What’s been your biggest challenge?
Michael J. Kline is a Teacher, Healer and Firekeeper. You can often find him teaching emotional processing skills like RIM (Regenerating Images in Memory), or assisting Jack Canfield, training transformational trainers, or hosting a retreat at Con Smania Retreat Center in Costa Rica. Otherwise, he’s at home in Sarasota FL, with his husband of 34 years, and their labradoodle Luke. You can reach him through his website www.intus.life, or e-mail email@example.com
Michael J. Kline
Master Trainer. Retreat Leader. Firekeeper.