Teaching to “Hold Space”

As a result of teaching the concept privilege to my students, I’ve become increasingly aware of the privilege inherent in my position as teacher. More than just having a seat at the table (see my snack time illustration), to some extent, I convene the meal, including picking the menu, serving the food and monitoring behavior at the table. If I’m encouraging my students to consider how they might use their seat at the table to influence the conversation in a way that makes space for others, then I need to ask the question how I can leverage my position as teacher to make a space for my students.

One of the things my students discovered in contemplating the question of privilege is that offering a seat sometimes means giving up yours. What I mean is, that while we like to think equality can be achieved by bringing everyone UP to the same level, sometimes it means taking people a step DOWN to achieve fairness. I love (everything, but especially) the ending on this short video from the ACLU. After Sasheer  Zamata loses her drink, her friend offers some of his lemonade, but she playfully knocks it out of his hands: Now we’re equal. Let’s go get some more lemonade together. I think this is particularly pertinent when thinking about how I might deal with my privilege as a teacher. It’s not about stepping every student up to be a teacher, but maybe taking a step back towards my students and transforming my teaching to look more like their learning.

I came across this article in a friend’s newsfeed. Although the focus of the article is on end of life care, I thought it provided an interesting framework around which to rethink, what I’m calling, invitational teaching. I took the time to attempt to consider specific applications of the author’s points to the project of teaching. Here’s what I came up with:

“Holding Space” Teaching Thoughts

  • Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
    • Ask open ended questions: What do you think? How would you approach the problem?
    • Design activities for exploration. Allow them to handle the problems.
    • Design both questions and activities to reveal and employ held skills
  • Give people only as much information as they can handle.
    • Reduce teaching content to a few central concepts per lesson
    • Reduce teaching content to non-intuitive tools/information
    • Design activities/questions to employ newly supplied information
  • Don’t take their power away.
    • How can I put decision making power into my students’ hands?
    • Include a decision making nexus within activities
    • Allow for divergent decisions within the activity
  • Keep your own ego out of it.
    • Provide evaluations that matter to students, allow them to assess their mastery
  • Make them feel safe enough to fail.
    • Lead through the process, not to a predetermined answer
    • Use in-class journaling to encourage protected creative thinking
  • Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
    • Present info to guide, not countermand
    • Present philosophers as historical guides rather than authoritative voices
    • Share personal growth in discipline as well as struggles in growth
  • Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.
    • Use in-class journaling to capture feelings and personal reflections
    • Use videos and other media to present vulnerable viewpoints
  • Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
    • Distinguish between clarity on key concepts and divergent processes of inquiry
    • Graded assignments should emphasize and honor the above distinction

Looking at the observations above, those around grading surprised me. What I find most challenging is providing decision making opportunities within the lesson. I feel encouraged that in-class journaling was a good tool to use in our privilege lessons and I’m very interested in continuing to use it going forward.

These are more general thoughts than lesson plans, but I’ll be sure to share those here as I develop them going forward. Please continue to let me know what you think.


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