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The Power of Vulnerability and Trust in the Classroom

Posted: 25/07/2019

Lillian Daley, a Grade 6 teacher in Darwin—the capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory—writes about the power of vulnerability and trust in the classroom.

I first came across Innovative Resources when I was a pre-service teacher completing a placement at a school for disengaged youth in Bendigo, Australia. During a session designed to build female empowerment and self-esteem, we used the Deep Speak cards with a group of about 15 girls. Each student selected a card and answered the question. This process continued around the circle a few times, with staff and pre-service teachers joining in and responding.

To date, this has been one of the most powerful teaching situations I’ve ever been part of. I felt extremely vulnerable sharing my response to some of the questions, but at the same time, very privileged that the students felt safe enough to share some of their perspectives with me. I also really valued getting to know the other staff on a deeper level. After this session, I felt I had a stronger connection with the girls and the staff involved. It will forever be such a special opportunity for me.

Supporting respectful discussions in upper primary

I’ve just started using Deep Speak with my Grade 6 class this year (mostly 12-year-olds). Prior to starting any activity with the cards, we discuss some ground rules and behavioural expectations such as the right to pass, one voice speaking at a time, what is said in the circle stays in the circle, names only in a positive way, confidentiality and respect. We revisit these each time we use the cards.

We go round the circle with each student turning over a card and considering their response. Students can also return their card and select another one, if they wish. I leave the depth of response up to them. Some answer the question literally in one sentence, whereas others go into a deeper reflection. I think the students really appreciate hearing my honest answers to the questions; this often gives them the confidence and trust to replicate it themselves when it’s their turn.

Noticing strengths warms the heart

I also use Strength Cards®  to help students identify assets within themselves and others. Generally, the students sit in a circle with the cards spread out on the floor, face up. I invite the students to consider a strength they have or would like to have, and share why they chose that card.

The first few times we use these cards, I take my turn first to model a potential response for the students, but they quickly get the hang of it. Sometimes, if students find it difficult to identify strengths within themselves, I will ask them to select a card for the person beside them. Again, sharing why they selected the card often results in rich conversation. It’s also a confidence boost for the student the card was selected for. Other students often chime in with different strengths they have noticed within that student. It warms my heart when I see them trying hard to hold in their happiness and smiles as the positive comments flow.

Different kinds of conversations

In the school day there is a huge emphasis on academics and related skills, and I think the students simply enjoy taking a break from that, using the cards to develop their social and emotional strengths. They enjoy the honest conversations we have, especially as lots of the topics would not have been brought up otherwise.

They’re different kinds of conversations, with the students feeling safe and secure about asking a whole range of questions.

I often use the Strength Cards® in the first few weeks of the year as an introductory activity. I revisit them every 2—3 weeks, changing the activity each time. Generally, there is lots of excitement when the cards are used for the first time, but regular use gives the students an opportunity to use the vocabulary in an appropriate context.

Building strong relationships with your students

I don’t introduce Deep Speak until the end of Term 2 or the start of Term 3, when I feel I have a fairly solid understanding of each student and their background. This is important as some of the cards include challenging topics that are inappropriate for this age group. I remove some of the cards first to avoid anything that could be triggering for the students.

If a student has a negative response to a question or discussion, I always follow it up with them afterwards, starting with a casual chat and going from there, if need be. Circle Time should always be a positive, safe and inclusive experience, and I work really hard with the students to develop that space.

Basically, having a strong relationship with your students is a huge advantage when using the cards. It will facilitate deeper conversations and assist with strengthening the trust between you.

Lillian has developed a resource called PDme , a website where educators, but especially those working rural and remote, can access timely and relevant Professional Development (PD).

#strengthsatschool

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