Creating Community at Summer Institute

This blog was written by Inspired Teaching Residency Intern, Myla Haan, as she reflects on her summer spent with the new cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows.

“I’ve never felt so comfortable sharing about myself”

“I wanted to challenge myself and share something that I don’t talk about with others”

“I feel safe sharing in this group”

Hi. I’m Myla and I get excited to be vulnerable with new groups of people. I expressed this to a few of my friends once and I was met with confused responses.

So, you like crying in front of people you’ve just met?

Who says I’m crying, Friend #1? Being vulnerable doesn’t equate to balling your eyes out. Yes, sometimes I get caught up in what I’m saying and I start to cry, but that’s not what defines being vulnerable. If I do end up crying, yeah, I do enjoy it, you know why? Because when I’ve exposed myself in a very honest way such as this, it allows me to open up with the group I’m in without any fears or hesitations moving forward.

You want to share your darkest secrets with people you’ve just met?

Friend #2, these sharing moments are not the time nor the place to be sharing my secrets. People I’m forming new relationships with don’t need to know about “you-know-what’s” and “this-or-that’s”. I’m sharing about my life experiences; ones that have brought me joy as well as pain. And Friend #2, I want to share these memories and experiences with others because I want the people I’m around to feel like they can do the same. Whenever they want to do so, I want these new faces to know that I am here to listen and engage with their life stories and experiences.

My feelings and opinions aside though, I completely understand where my friends and hesitant sharers are coming from. These kinds of questions and other opinions regarding this topic are completely valid ones to consider. There’s validity in all of these thoughts because there is, more often than not, a level of fear associated with them.

What if I’m not taken seriously?

What if the things that I share are held over my head and used to ridicule me?

What if I’m shut down the second I open up?

Those thoughts are a big weight to have to carry around. Like many actions that live in our Panic Zone, it is not going to be an easy journey for someone to get comfortable doing this activity. Think about it like this: say you are afraid of heights. Would your brain immediately agree to the idea of going bungee jumping or skydiving because doing so would make you feel completely comfortable with heights afterwards? No! Your fear of heights is a fear for a reason. The fear won’t go away when you’ve just exerted your emotions to this extreme level. Most likely, you’ll just be taking more steps back rather than forward after forcing yourself to jump out of that plane or jump off that ledge. That’s why with any fear, whether it be heights or vulnerability, a safe space needs to be consciously created from the beginning in order to eventually find some sort of comfort in this thing that is weighing you down. That means no forcing yourself to jump from tall heights or forcing yourself to open up with a group of people out of the blue.

Myla, where’s this all going? Well, *insert name of the person who might be questioning me*, I’m getting to that. This summer, I got to see the powerful impact that creating a safe space has on others. As part of Summer Institute, the initial summer course that Inspired Teaching Fellows experience, Fellows were asked to bring in something to share with the group that was meaningful to them. Kind of like your good ole fashioned show and tell. When this activity was presented to everyone however, the facilitators and I didn’t just say to the Fellows “Hey! You’re going to sign up for a day to share an object with the group that has a lot of meaning to you! Have fun!”. Instead, myself and another facilitator just started to share our objects one day. No introductions. No explaining why. We just did it. The two of us opened up and exposed ourselves to a group of people we only met the day before. This step that was taken prior to actually conveying to the Fellows that they will also be doing this was what I believe set the tone for this activity. I believe that because the Fellows might have been caught off guard by what was happening, this really was what pushed them to listen with their whole selves during that first round of shares, which inevitably set the tone for all of the sharing to come. Once everyone knew that this would be a safe space, everyone felt comfortable taking steps to open up, even when they were hesitant to do so.

I know that this group probably wasn’t expecting to be asked to do an activity like this in a teacher residency. But the bravery that I saw in every single Fellow astounded me. Those quotes that started this post off are some of the things that Fellows were saying right before their sharing time or about the shares in general. Those sentiments that were expressed showed me that the fellows were impacted by this activity and, most importantly, in a positive way because they were all willing to take on the challenge. In the end, I learned a valuable lesson from witnessing the Fellows’ own experience with sharing. When one is presented with the opportunity to be heard, and I mean every word and phrase genuinely and whole-heartedly heard, people will jump at the chance to release any emotion or story or thought or opinion. Knowing that people will listen to you respectfully is like opening up a flood gate in your head. Anything and everything can come out. We all want to be heard. I urge anyone who may be reading this to take a second to think. Have you taken the time to listen, really listen, to someone? Has anyone taken the time to do the same for you? If not, make it happen. You won’t regret it.

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