Safe and powerful learning environments

September 23, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

The basic requirement for developing leaders is a framework that addresses the whole person and creates openness and support for them. As such, education must provide the fertile ground that allows for profound personal and professional development. Students and participants, irrespective of their age, will need a serious amount of personal courage to confront their fears, to let go of the views they hold on the world and on themselves – and to drop the mask of a so-called educated perspective. Daring to let go of the roles we all hold requires a safe space. Developing and exploring both an inner attitude that is connected to our inner self and an outer attitude that reflects a truly human view of compassion requires a learning environment in which making mistakes is considered progress rather than failure.

Developing a safe and powerful learning environment requires a shift from knowledge teaching to sharing the journey of learning. It forms the entry ticket for transformational learning and involves the ability of the facilitating teacher to hold a safe space within which the greatest potential can emerge. Creating this kind of safe environment requires the facilitator to master the following competencies:

  • Relate to each student with personal authenticity. Don’t pretend to have competencies or knowledge that one lacks. This learning-oriented attitude on the part of a professor can set the tone that it is acceptable not to take the risks that learning entails.
  • Be comfortable with an appropriate degree of self-disclosure, thereby paving the way for disclosure on the part of students to more fully discuss the challenges they are facing and the feedback they receive.
  • Make the participants’ needs a priority and demonstrate acceptance of the students’ current abilities both academically and in terms of their leadership development.
  • Live a non-judgemental attitude as a form of support. Be non-prescriptive (as a professor) in class discussions. Good facilitators do not tell participants exactly what to do, but rather ask (both directly and indirectly) that participants take responsibility for their own development in many ways.
  • Provide a process that places participants in the position of deciding what the information means to them and how to best integrate it into their learning and development. While this process can benefit from coaching and mentoring, such techniques should not gives students all the answers. [1]

[1] King, S. & Santana, L. (2010). “Feedback Intensive Programs” in Van Velsor, E., McCauley, C., & Ruderman, M. (Eds.) Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development, 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

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