A Safe and Welcoming Space

Rebecca Still, Community Learning Network

4 2 15 November 2018

Brenda nervously looked out the window at the door of the High School. It was September and time to return to school. She was entering Grade 10 at a new school. Butterflies jumped around in her stomach. Would she fit in? Would she even find new friends? Brenda felt overwhelmed by all the changes she would face. Maybe she should just go back home.

Turning to her family she said, ‘I want to go home’.school

They responded by encouraging her this is where she needed to be and assured her that everything would be all right.

Opening the car door Brenda nervously climbed out of the car clutching her school supplies, an older scribbler, pen and pencil she had found around the house.

The car door slammed shut behind her and the car sped away, leaving her stranded on the sidewalk.

Gathering her courage, she slowly walked up to the front door. As if by magic, the door opened and an older gentleman warmly said, “You must be Brenda. I’ve been waiting for you.’ He smiled at her, calming her nerves. “Welcome to our school. Let me take you to your homeroom.”

He turned and walked down the hallway, Brenda trailing behind.

She thought about all the challenges she had been through. Was she making the right decision? Is this really where she should be? It had been hard; even this decision to come today had taken all the courage she had, but this man knew her name and had given her such a warm welcome. Maybe she did belong here after all. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. She was ready for a new adventure.

Brenda McKinnon wasn’t your typical teenager entering a new school. Brenda was 29 years old and a mother of 5 children. She was returning to high school to complete her education. A pivotal moment in her decision to return to school occurred the moment the door was opened and she was warmly greeted by a teacher who was waiting for her. This small action by the teacher created a warm and welcoming space for her to face her first day of school.

When Brenda shared her story with me I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment. We talk a lot about creating safe and welcoming spaces and understand with our head the value of that concept. We look at ways we can make our spaces safe and welcoming and hope we have created that space for learners.

Brenda’s story helped me to see the impact on someone returning to learning and how vitally important that safe and welcoming space is to encourage a learner to pursue their learning. Would her story be different if that teacher wasn’t there to greet her that day? Who knows, but Brenda knows that it made a difference for her, knowing there were others who wanted her to succeed. In fact, she had many small experiences of feeling safe and welcome that helped her to continue with her learning.

Brenda earned her High School Diploma and then went on to University to earn two degrees, a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education. She worked for a time in a LINC program before getting a job at the University of Lethbridge as an EAP Teacher (English for Academic Purposes). She remained in this position until she recently ‘retired’. She is currently working as a Literacy Coordinator in the West-Central region.

Think back to our Symposium this past September. Our theme was about Creating Safe and Welcoming Spaces and CLN implemented a number of practices to help create that space. If this was your first Symposium, how were you feeling before you arrived? What helped you to feel you were in a safe and welcoming space? In what ways did it encourage you in your work?

As you think about what helps you in new situations, recognize that learners contacting you are experiencing many of the same feelings of anxiety and nervousness. Think about what helps you to feel safe and welcome and then respond in like manner to those who contact you. A small action of yours can make all the difference for a learner coming to you.

Rebecca Still, CLN
West-Central Regional Support Staff


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