Create a Safe Space for Students to be Heard: A Workshop

brene-rbownThe week before elections, I was invited to speak to The Hun School of Princeton students in New Jersey about the concepts of Grit and Resilience. The Hun School works to read 1 or 2 common books each year and have a conference about the theme of the books. This is such a neat way to get all students to connect to each other despite their grades and subject interests. It’s also a nice way to build a school community, by focusing on one theme as a school, you can see how everyone brings in their own experiences, interests and shared stories.

This year’s books that were chosen were Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand for the upper school, and Left for Dead, by Pete Nelson, for our middle school.

My workshop focused on storytelling: What does grit and resilience mean to us? How do we tell our stories of grit and resilience, who was telling our stories? What do those stories mean to us?

Throughout the workshops, it took a bit of time for students to get into a comfortable space where they can share their own thoughts, ideas, and stories. I found that we, Mustefa and I, had to do a few things to help create a safe space for students to share their stories.

Here are a few things we needed to provide and focus on to help facilitate a safe conversation:

  • Share your own story: This doesn’t have to be elaborate, in fact, I found the less elaborate the story is, the better it helps students to focus. It also allows them to not feel so “small” or that their stories are insignificant. With that being said, show vulnerability, and be yourself. 5-7 mins
  • Define words: Ask students to define the concepts, theme, or idea you’re discussing. Help them get into groups to discuss their own definitions, and what that concept means to them. Have them brainstorm or write down their answers if it helps when sharing them with everyone. 10 mins. 
  •  Regroup & Share: After group brainstorming, come together and share what each group came up with. What were some of the responses? what are some examples to support their definitions, concepts, etc? This part of the process will generate a good discussion, as long as you keep it focused on how they define things according to their own understanding. 20 mins.
    • For this part, I found that students will be willing to share personal examples only after we talked about the concept as a whole. This may be due to several reasons: The first is that students still need that time to gain your trust. And second, because they still need to process the concept before applying it to their everyday life.


  • Reflection Time: This is probably one of my favourite time during workshops, where students are given a question relating to the theme that was discussed and reflect on it. The question we provided was “What was the hardest thing that you’ve ever had to overcome? What do you want people to take away from your story? 15 mins.
  • Share & Takeaways: Have volunteer students share their reflections, they can of course either read it or just tell the story out loud. This was very easy to do, only because we had the previous discussion during the “Regroup and Share” process, as that gave students a bit of time to hear each other’s own ideas, thus creating a safe space for them to share their stories.
    • Make sure to ask students what they want others to take away from their stories. This will help students see the importance of sharing their stories, and how their stories can impact others. 
Me and Otis in his office. I loved how his office exemplified the different cultures and diverse body of students at the school.

I really enjoyed my time workshopping with students at The Hun School. I am thankful to people like Otis Douce, the school’s Director of Cultural Competence and Global Diversity, who’s doing amazing work with students to help raise awareness about the importance of culture, diversity, and equity at Hun. In a space where many of the students come from very privileged backgrounds, this is a very important part of helping students connect with the real world around them.

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