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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Creating a “Container of Care & Courage” in the Classroom

As I begin teaching classes this semester, I feel it is more crucial than ever to create a safe space in the classroom, what I call a Container of Care & Courage.

Considering the tumultuous times we are living in, and what students –whether k-12 students or college students—might be going through, I think, as educators, we have an even greater responsibility to use the classroom as a microcosm of what society could be. A place where people’s voices are honored, where differences are respected and appreciated, and civilized discussions and disagreements can happen.

More than ever, students need a space where they know it’s okay to share, to express themselves, where they will be accepted. We all need that!

Despite what’s occurring in our country—the massive divisiveness and polarization, the lack of kindness, the hostility, aggression, and outright violence—teachers can create the climate, can create the weather in their classrooms. Educators can create a micro-culture in the classroom, one where compassion, kindness, open-mindedness, the ability to entertain multiple views and have deep discussion without attacking each other, pervades.

When introducing this image, I tell my students to imagine the classroom is a container holding everything: the students, the teacher, the discussions, the ideas, the views, the learning. In this space, we need “care” so people and their ideas and views feel valued and respected, and we need “courage,” not to be afraid to express our opinions, views, and beliefs and a platform to find our unique voice.

I then invite students to contribute these ideals of care and courage: what exactly do they need from the teacher and classmates to build this container, and can they give specific examples? I normally have them write down a quality, a request, or a non-negotiable on a sticky note and come up to the whiteboard and post it. I then review the suggestions with the class. For instance, a student might write “I need people to listen to me first, to give me time to explain things” or “no put downs” or “be open to different viewpoints.”

Finally, after the container gains clarity, I tell students that what will make this container work is to never break the cohesiveness. No matter what happens during the semester, no matter how different our views are, how much we debate, or if we are having a bad day, we will work to keep our togetherness, to not be pulled apart, to continue caring for each other. (this is a concept I learned from my contemplative studies teacher, Dr. Miles Neale. It blends nicely with the container image and helps extend the idea of this container into the future).

On a side note, this container is not simply about creating a “warm, fuzzy” space for students, where disagreements or opposing views never take place. It’s not about students simply going along with whatever the teacher says—in fact, I encourage students to question my teaching. This container is about first creating a place of trust, of care, of supportive, and of connectivity, so that debate, questioning, and critical thinking can occur in a positive, supportive fashion. It provides the conditions that allow the class to move ahead with the learning in a healthy way.

Again, I cannot emphasize enough how important and time-sensitive it is to create a Container of Care and Courage for your students today.

With Peace and Compassion,