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Should Your Classroom be a Safe or Brave Space?

I recently posted on Instagram about making your classroom a brave space, and I thought I'd expand a little here on what a safe space and a brave space are, the value of both, and what to consider when establishing your classroom environment.

What are 'Safe Spaces' and 'Brave Spaces'?

A Safe Space is “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment or any other emotional or physical harm" (Oxford Dictionary). Safe spaces are places where marginalized people can feel physically safe as well as mentally safe, a place for community. These could be physical spaces (ie. a restaurant, store, home, or classroom) or a figurative space (ie. a club, social group or community). Brave spaces, on the other hand, have five main elements:

  • "'Controversy with civility,' where varying opinions are accepted

  • "'Owning intentions and impacts,' in which students acknowledge and discuss instances where a dialogue has affected the emotional well-being of another person

  • "'Challenge by choice,' where students have an option to step in and out of challenging conversations

  • "'Respect,' where students show respect for one another’s basic personhood

  • "'No attacks,' where students agree not to intentionally inflict harm on one another" (NASPA, 3-4).

Like safe spaces, brave spaces can be a physical space or a figurative space. But unlike safe spaces, the central focus of brave spaces is learning from each other's lived experiences.

Safe spaces in schools provide our students with a place where they can feel safe from fear, discrimination, stereotyping/labeling, microaggressions and other emotional/physical harms associated with their identity. Likely there are many safe spaces both informally and formally in your school community already - in student friend/peer groups, clubs like GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) and BAS (Black Academic Society), etc. Brave spaces, on the other hand allow room for greater learning from peers to further individual and collective learning. These spaces still focus on respect and choice of when to engage in discussion, but allow for folks to hear from their peers about their unique experiences and learn something.

So, Should I Foster a Brave Space or a Safe Space in my School?

Well, the short answer is 'Yes'. Both safe spaces and brave spaces have a home in our schools, though in difference spaces. I believe that your class should be a brave space to foster your students' learning. However, it is important to maintain safe spaces in your school community. Maintaining and supporting clubs like GSA, BAS and other clubs for marginalized students to find community and support is equally important.

Implementing Brave Spaces

Implementing a brave space in your classroom can be tricky but the values in terms of student growth and learning is incredibly valuable. I've created some different activities you can do with your students (focused on grades 4-12) to work on developing a brave space in your classroom. First, let's remind ourselves of the five elements of a brave space:

The 5 Elements of Brave Spaces: 1. "'Controversy with civility' 2. "'Owning intentions and impacts,' 3."'Challenge by choice,' 4."'Respect,' 5."'No attacks'" (NASPA, 3-4).

When I introduce the concept of a brave space to my students, I like to go over the five elements with them. I begin by leading a class-wide discussion on what they like a good classroom should look like, sound like, and feel like, recording their thoughts on the whiteboard. I then introduce them to the five elements and have them use sticky notes (literally or on Jamboard) to share one thing they think that each element would look like, sound like, or feel like in the classroom. If you want to use Google Jamboard, I've created some slides you can grab for free here, or you can use five anchor charts, each labeled with one of the elements. A gallery walk and small group discussions following it go a long way in building student understanding of the concept and its rules. You can even build off these discussions to create a student-lead classroom code of conduct.

Another important tool for implementing brave spaces in your classroom is through modelling, demonstrating what each of these elements look like, sound like, and feel like. However, modelling behaviour isn't going to get you all the way there - responding to what's happening in your classroom through direct lessons to bolster their understanding of how to implement the five elements. Exploring topics like how to apologize, how to disagree politely, equity, stereotypes, microaggressions, how to debate respectfully, etc. can go a long way in supporting a brave space.

If you would like a collection of resources and tips that support teachers in creating safe space clubs like GSAs, let me know in the comments, and I'll add a blog post on space safe implementation and support.


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