Tips From the Field – Making a Safe Space


Sharing delivery approaches and wise practices from Calgary Learns grant-funded programs.

Safe Spaces: Trauma and Learning
Many of the adult learners in our programs come with past trauma or education experiences that were not positive. For practitioners, specific learners likely come to mind…  adults who left us with no doubt that the courage involved in showing up to learn was immense.  Indeed, practitioners are cognizant of who is in the room – virtually or face to face – and the importance of attending to potential fight-flight-triggers. In the foundational learning community, our collective goal is to create an environment where adults feel invited to settle in safely so that they can learn.

Creating a learner-centred program with a trauma-informed lens has everything to do with setting things up before learners walk through the door (or turn on their Zoom camera.)


Our Community Adult Learning Program (CALP) Guidelines emphasize the importance of “a learning environment that will “enable adult learners to explore their unique learning needs without fear of shame or judgment.“

(CALP Guidelines, P.20)


Setting It Up:
Bernadette Lumugdang coordinates LEARN at The Alex, a community-based program for adults attending to food insecurity and wellness, who want to build their confidence as learners. Because many adults arrive feeling anxious before a learning session, she is intentional about focusing on what they need to feel safe. Here are some of the ways she creates a welcoming learning space:

1. Set up the room the same way for every classbecause knowing what to expect and not fearing surprises reduces anxiety:

  • Display the learning agenda for the day
  • On the posted agenda, highlight the key topic as a question, in plain language
    • Instead of a topic of the day, for example: “Communication”, try putting it as a question like  “How do I know I am doing well/we are doing well with each other?”
  • “Set the table” with a symbol that reinforces the class topic and the skills needed for learning
  • Post the learning agreement created by the group at the start of the course
  • Visually map the course topics and post a visual map and post in the same place for every class, because showing signposts help learners acknowledge and begin to own their progress.

2. Start each class with practices that are done together as a group, because this helps develop an encouraging dynamic as learners recognize that others often show up with similar feelings:

  • “Curiosity Share” activity: a learner volunteers to share about a topic that they are learning or are curious about (incorporates class topics, learner goals, and physical engagement (e.g. craft)
  • “Recall”: an informal conversation that signals to learners what they have learned already, which helps learners turn down the internal noise of negative self-talk
“I have noticed that the more learners felt comfortable in the environment, the more they were willing to move around the space, take a break, move chairs and tables in ways that make it easier to engage with other participants, to help themselves to coffee or tea, to help out with serving snacks and cleaning up, to make suggestions about what kind of learning activities they would like to engage in or what kind of music they’d like to have on while they worked. Just as their minds felt at ease, so did their movements within the space.”
-Bernadette Lumugdang

Do you have tips from the field that you would be willing to share? We would love to hear them! Please get in touch with Heidi (hgrogan@calgarylearns.com).