Safety and security are considered by some psychologists to be essential for personal growth. People will find places in which they feel safe and secure. Merely making a class experience open to discussion and group activity does not assure that individuals will feel safe and free to participate. Teachers and study group leaders must be intentional in creating a truly open and safe study environment.
Creating a safe environment not only has a positive affect on group discussion, but also is essential for encouraging participation from learners who are not likely to place themselves in situations in which they can be embarrassed. A safe environment allows adults to take communication risks. This is accomplished by creating an atmosphere in which learners feel they have a reasonable level of equal importance and they know that a coach/facilitator will manage the group process to prevent personal "harm" to any individual. Here are some practical ways a leader can communicate safety.
- Arrange chairs in a circle in the larger group with everyone at eye level. Leaders and learners become equals in the learning process.
- Establish ground rules. Let everyone know that each person is of worth and value, and that everyone deserves respect from other learners.
- Develop leadership confidence. Encourage even quiet learners to accept leadership positions that can help them serve God.
- Provide clear instructions to groups and group leaders. Make sure groups and leaders know what you expect from them.
- Use time wisely. Communicate plans and time increments, and then try to stick with the time frame.
- Rearrange group composition regularly. This helps learners get to know one another as well as discover others who have similar learning preferences.
Remember that people generally want to learn, but may have prior experiences that have left them feeling emotionally injured or inferior because someone failed to accept their thoughts or ideas. All ideas and contributions are valid regardless of whether they are accurate. If they miss the target, affirm the person for the contribution and help the contributor discover the correct answer or information. This often can be done simply by asking questions that encourage the contributor to reflect on his or her initial thoughts.
Sometimes our best teaching sometimes happens when we sit back and let the learners discover for themselves what you want them to learn. Small-group activities and assignments open doors for reflection and discovery, leaving you free to facilitate learning rather than impart knowledge.