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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 email@example.com