Today’s the first day of the next period of my teaching life. This week I start to get to know the students I’ll be working with over the next six to nine months.
I have been thinking about what I tend to seek to do as we start to build those relationships. Just like when I’m getting to know people in new project, programme or client teams; connection and safe spaces are on my mind.
In my corporate life, I’ve worked in some spaces that seem to be set up to be deliberately combative, to bring out the competitive edge in people. There has been that sense of if you want to win, someone has to lose.
I was struck a number of years ago by ideas of hostile and safe spaces and ways we respond to them. Some places can make us feel threatened and on edge, other places make us feel safe.
The problem with the threat is that it has physiological impacts – our hearts and breaths go faster, our muscles are tenser and cortisol starts rushing through our bodies. Great if you want to run quickly away from predators. Not so great for long term physical, emotional or relational health. Not so great for open minded learning.
When we feel safe and social, however, we are able to broaden what we are able to take in through our senses, we are more open to learning and connecting. It is not just more pleasant, it is, I propose, more effective. We still need some energy, some drive to keep going, to do the work, meet the deadlines but I prefer this drive to come from within, than from an external sense of threat.
Recently I found myself returning to Maslow’s hierarchy, when I was writing about project management teams for a new microcredential. I wasn’t so keen on returning to Maslow, it seemed a bit “old hat”, but I was really struck by just how much the ideas resonated with the kinds of environments I have been reflecting on. When we feel physically safe and that we can belong, we can start to move towards self-actualising, becoming the best version of ourselves.
So what does this mean for the relationships I hope to have with all the students I will work with over these coming months?
I want us to feel safe to say when we are struggling, to know there are no silly questions – just things we want to find out. To accept it is normal for new ideas and skills to take time to become embedded – to be able to reflect on what we’re learning. I hope we feel like we are really seen as people, and to feel the joy of discovery.
This way, I hope, we can create a safe and social space for all of us to learn together.
 Bradbury, H. (2017) ‘Relational Action Logics’, in Cooking with Action Research Resources: For Self and Community Transformation. Website Alchemy, pp. 171–177.