How to create and maintain a confident atmosphere?
Pedagogy related to animal welfare education engages emotions, judgments, confrontations... When a person commits to speaking, they assert themselves but also put themselves in a vulnerable position. He/she may legitimately fear the reactions of their peers. If the trainer is able to suggest operating rules, he or she will remember to involve trainees who may have other individual needs.
The atmosphere has to encourage exchange within a group of participants. In order to prevent any tensions that this may generate and to allow the freest and most authentic expression possible, it is necessary to define (or have defined with the participants) a framework in which the participant feels confident to express him or herself.
For the trainer: to create and maintain an atmosphere enabling learning and free expression
For the trainee: to feel the right and the security to be authentic, to speak about their own emotions, values, difficulties.
At the beginning of the process, it is possible to propose some ice-breakers, enabling participants to speak authentically.
It is also useful to propose and co-construct rules which will help free expression.
Three rules are proposed to the group: (1) confidentiality of comments made during the process. This only applies to comments that cannot be anonymized. Abstract reflections are not concerned, they can be communicated freely; (2) benevolence that will result in active listening to try to understand the other. Disinterest in the other, in what he/she says will necessarily harm the possibility of an authentic word; (3) non-judgment of value on the words of others. It is of course possible to position oneself in relation to an expressed opinion, but it is also important to avoid making judgments about the person.
The trainer cannot guarantee the first and partly the second rule, each participant being committed to respect these. However, the trainer may supervise the implementation of the third rule.
Remember that the group may add other rules, according to any specific needs.
The trainer will always have the possibility to return to these rules when they are not respected. "Here there is no truth, no judgment".
It is necessary to explain the main goals of the method before launching the process itself (improving critical thinking, self-evaluation, self-perception, self-reflection of one's behaviour during the process).
Pitfalls and recommendations
The principle of no-judgment is not always fully understood. Of course, the learner will have the right to judge a practice. But he/she mustn’t judge the practitioner. Disagreement with a colleague can be formulated, with no need to be disrespectful, preferring putting forward arguments and providing grounds for a given position.
No judgment also means authentic respect from the trainer about each learner’s point of view, even if opposed to your own position.
If the trainees don't want to participate with innovative methods, it is important to respect their passive attitude or allow them to express their point of view.
“Beyond all the rules we can set, what seems essential to me to allow an atmosphere of trust to prevail is our own posture. How do we come to a training course, in what posture? Are we clear with ourselves? Are we open to criticism, to conflict, to the expression of emotions, without fear? Rules explode when our posture is not consistent with them. For me it is a real preliminary work to find an inner calm before starting a pedagogy that favours critical thinking. I have to clarify with myself. And it is in fact very liberating. My main role is to keep the rules, to be firm if necessary, and to allow expression of any kind, as long as it is respectful of others. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to accept emotions, I was afraid of them. But in fact, it is above all a question of seeing them as part of the learning process.”