What do you think when you hear the word safe?
I think whatever your definition is, is how your group feels. I think safety in a small group is one of the biggest things we need to think about. Allowing students to feel safe in small groups should be one of the main roles of a small group leader. When a student feels safe, they are more willing to open up about certain areas in their life that they normally would not be open to talk about in other settings.
One thing I have had to deal with a come to terms with is that not every student feels safe in all the situations we ourselves as leaders feel safe in. For example, I like it when people are up front with me. I respect that, I respond best to that. So I used to approach all of my students up front and direct, thinking that all would respond in the ways I do. I learned the hard way, this is not the case. As leaders, we need to learn how to approach our students to allow them to feel they are in a safe place in our groups and they are willing to be open, honest and real with us and their peers.
If we are not aware of how we are making students feel by how we approach them, and we don’t make them “feel safe” then we are missing out on a great opportunity to minister to our students.
1. Fellowship all year long. Routinely include strategies and activities in your lessons, allow students to express their thoughts and ideas, build relationships, and practice collaboration. We played Celebrity before we talked about identity. It was fun, but it went along with the message.
2. Have Non Negotiables. One of my non negotiable is talking about any personal stuff outside of our group. This is something that needs to be enforced and known that it will be dealt with if broken.
3. Admit When You Don’t Know. Students appreciate when we show our humanity. Saying “I’m not really sure. But I” get back to you” is powerful stuff.
4. Remain Calm at All Times. Once we lose it with a student, it takes a long time to rebuild that feeling of safety and trust within those four walls. Take a few breaths. It’s worth it.
5. Take Every Opportunity to Model Kindness. They will follow.
6. Address Grudges Early On. If tension is building between a couple of students, create time and space for them to talk it out while you mediate.
7. Model Vulnerability. They will appreciate this. If we are asking kids to write and talk about times they have felt scared, alone, confused, etc., we need to be willing to do the same. This is a major key. Why lead them to somewhere you are not willing to go yourself?
8. Follow Through with Consequences. A consequence must proceed a non-negotiable. Students need to know there’s a consequence for those serious infractions. They need proof they are safe.
9. Smile Often. It’s not all serious business. You’d be surprised at how a smile can make someone feel safe.
10. Laugh. Fun is huge! Laughter breaks down walls!
So how does one make students feel safe in a group setting? What does making a student feel safe mean? What would you say? how do you do this with your group?