The Christmas Eve message at Christ the King Lutheran Church was entitled “Be not afraid”. I suspect similar sermons have been preached across the globe. This comforting message finds its ways throughout society. A search for “Be Not Afraid” pulls up a popular song, title of a book, name of an organization, and even a board game. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, President Obama made a plea to a global audience to not let the world’s troubles overcome our sense of hope. His message focused on the theme, “We do not succumb to fear.”
Being afraid – the sense of fear – shuts us down. Our energies are zapped, our capabilities dwindle, our thinking diminishes. The sense of fear is a significant detractor from learning – yet too often present in our nation’s classrooms. Maslow’s Hierarchy positions our need for safety only after our need for food and water. For our students to learn to the best of their ability, we need to shape a learning environment in our classrooms that marginalize fear. For classrooms to thrive, the message “be not afraid” needs to be paramount.
On the first class session in the semester, we take intentional time as a learning community to establish a set of guiding principles we can all commit to as a way of helping assure we maximize our learning time together. One of those principles always included is a commitment to safety. The safety we reference is more about the emotional safety inherent in learning than our physical safety.
Most nights we engage in hands-on work that provides a framework for discussions on pedagogy. These activities, while typically simple using common materials are designed to bring to light misconceptions – the kind of thinking that once examined, makes you go “huh”? A quote from this past semester’s course evaluation effectively captures the role of a safe environment: “The best parts were the ‘I didn’t know that!’ moments in which we were able to admit to misconceptions in our science knowledge. This would not have been possible in an environment that was not trusting and supportive.” We explicitly and intentionally work toward establishing a learning environment that encourages risk-taking amidst the principle of not being afraid. This does not come about on its own – enabled only through a consistent practice of nurturing safe spaces. I find great satisfaction when, as a learning community, we arrive at that space.