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Creating a Safe Learning Environment

We have been hearing a lot about classroom safety in the news lately. Just as physical safety is important to all learners, adult learners also need to feel that the framework for their learning is “safe.” How do we create that environment? We allow our learners to have a voice in designing the learning process, we lay out the sequence of the lesson, we allow all voices to be heard, and we nurture a nonjudgmental environment.

  • Classroom-SafetyAllow your learners to have a voice in designing the learning process. That voice might include giving them the opportunity to define the direction and objectives of a Bible class or study group. After listening to what they would like to learn or how they would like to learn, share with them how you plan to meet those needs. Let them know that your goal is to tailor your presentation to their needs.
  • Lay out the sequence of the lesson. Many adults like to know what comes next. They appreciate seeing the direction in which the lesson is heading. There is safety in knowing that they will not be asked to move to a new task until they have learned what they need in order to take the next step.
  • Let all voices be heard. One way to ensure that all the voices that want to be heard are heard is to break large groups into smaller groups of no less than three and no more than five. Give the groups five minutes to discuss a question you pose. After the allotted time, bring them back together and ask each group to report on their discussions. Also, be careful not to jump in too quickly when your learners are answering your questions. Let the group have time to discuss before you add your thoughts.
  • Nurture a nonjudgmental environment. Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions have multiple answers and often no “wrong” answer. This allows each participant to wrestle with the question and share their personal perspective, confident that it brings value to the discussion. An example of an open question would be, “As you consider the creation account, identify three truths about God that you see there, truths that would be particularly helpful for living in 21st century America.” Or, “In 1 Corinthians 15, which two truths would you find most encouraging if you were mourning the death of a loved one?” In many Asian cultures, safety is provided when questions can be written down and handed in (and then the instructor fields the anonymous questions). In this way, students can ask questions freely without the fear of showing disrespect for the teacher or others in the class. If everyone can write down one question, it puts the students on the same level.

Finally, the best way to achieve these goals is to get to know your audience. The adults in an upper-Midwest Bible class may bring different life and learning experiences than would those in the Southeast. God made us all unique. We feel safe when we know that our leader understands us and that we can trust him.