“… we want a place of safety to express ourselves, to reveal ourselves, and to risk ourselves. As is usually the case, my thoughts about things turn to my classroom. How many times have I denied my students a place of safety to express themselves? To tell me what is happening in their lives? To open their hearts and their minds to learning? How many times have I stolen safety from a child with a sarcastic remark? An answer to a question that wasn’t even being asked?”
I try to do this in many ways and hope that it is successful. Here are the ways I have tried but if you have any other ideas, please share in your comments. I’m always looking for new ideas.
Building trust: I share a lot of stories about myself so that the students can learn more about me. When I don’t know someone, I don’t feel comfortable expressing myself because I am afraid they will judge me or think badly about me. My students probably feel the same way so I try to take the first steps in getting to know them. I can’t expect them to tell me things about themselves if I’m not willing to share with them.
Sharing feelings: When I am feeling angry, sad, or happy, I try to let my students know this. They can see that there is an appropriate time and place to share these feelings as well as an appropriate way to share this. Many times students feel these things but do not know how to express it. By doing this, I am modeling the behavior that I want them to show.
Writing journals: I have the students write in journals every day. I do not grade them for spelling or grammar but I do count participation. This is hard for my students to feel comfortable with but once they start, they are hooked. My only rules are that I don’t accept anything about drugs, sex, or profanity. Eventually when they see that I’m not judging or condemning what they write, they begin to write more and more. Sometimes they show me that they wrote something but that they do not want me to read it and that is okay too. I write in my daily journal at the same time. Sometimes I share with the class what I wrote and open it up to anyone else who wants to share what they have written.
Class discussion: Sometimes there is a major issue going on in the school and it is like the elephant in the room and needs to be addressed or it becomes a major distraction. The rules are: we can discuss anything but there can be no profanity or calling names. Everyone gets a chance to talk at least one time (if they choose to) before someone can get a second chance and we write their names on the board to keep track. This helps to keep order in the discussion. I also have a little stuffed animal that is passed around and only the one holding it can speak. It is always impressive to see everyone sticking with the rules and participating. I do not give my opinion at this time because I don’t want some students just saying things they think I want to hear so I tell them that I’m undecided and would like to hear their views to help me decide.
These have been successful strategies that the students seem to enjoy. I can’t wait to see any new suggestions out there!
Original image: 'trust' http://www.flickr.com/photos/49512158@N00/3434414425 by: Ibrahim Iujaz