I’ve just got back from a weekend noho with my class, as part of our TWOA course. During the weekend, I was thinking a little about how important it is to have a class where you feel “safe”. Its hard to really define what is meant by “safe” in this context, but basically its a class where you really feel comfortable. It’s also one of those things where you might feel “safe” in a class, but then later you have another class where you feel it even more and you realise your previous class wasn’t really getting there. I think that although a lot of it is obviously about the other people in the class, it’s also a bit about yourself.
There are a lot of times where I’ve had classes which were perfectly fine, but they didn’t reach the same level of comfort as this one. And I can see also that there is a way to go beyond this comfort level before I got to the ultimate level of perfect comfort (probably unobtainable, like most perfection). So there are degrees of comfort/safety.
But in this class, I feel much less reluctance to do things that I normally wouldn’t want to do. I might not want to do some particular speaking task in front of the class, or participate in a skit to illustrate a whakatauki (proverb), but I don’t feel the same fear and anxiety as I would normally. Its like – I don’t want to do it but its not bad. It doesn’t make me feel bad or scared or upset. It doesn’t come back to haunt me when I’m trying to get to sleep. Instead, it’s generally positive.
There are multiple reasons for this. One is that everyone is always really supportive. And not in the half-assed, reserved British way we seem to have inherited. Properly. Everyone claps, cheers, thanks people – and it’s all genuine. Another is that laughter is never mean-spirited. Teasing and ribbing always seems to go to those able to receive it and respond to it. I’ve also never heard a bad word spoken about anyone.
But I think the biggest one for me is actually that people are allowed to do a bad job. If your group skit is a pretty poor effort, or your 1 minute impromptu speech is mostly umms, then no one comments or probably even cares. The point is that you did it. The point of the whole class is to try, and to speak te reo Māori. If you do that then everything else is ok (and if you don’t try, then you are your own judge and jury). So it is ok to do a bad job. It is ok to be so nervous you forget everything. It is ok to do something embarrassing. Literally no one cares. Everyone will still clap and cheer. You get socially rewarded for trying. Why be nervous or avoid something if you know that the result is everyone being positive towards you because you gave it a go?
So for me, what I noticed is that the class is “safe” to make mistakes in. I have been in other environments where people say that, but it doesn’t feel like it. I think this safety is the biggest factor in encouraging participation from the class – and in a language class, participation is probably the biggest factor in successful learning.