Group Process: Steps to take before class begins

I’m starting a multi-week series called “Group Process in Childbirth Education: Building and Supporting a Community of Learners.” Check back each Monday for a new post.

Why does group process matter?

  • Students want to connect! One reason parents choose to take in-person birth classes is the chance to meet and talk to other expectant families.
  • When students connect to the instructors and other students, they feel like they belong, which helps them feel safe. They will be more willing to participate by asking questions and joining in discussions. They will also be more willing to practice exercises in class, which makes it more likely they’ll practice at home, which makes it more likely they’ll use the techniques in labor.
  • When students connect, they have more fun. We learn best when we feel safe and happy, so your teaching will have more impact.
  • As an instructor, you’ll have more fun and your work will be easier if you’ve got good group dynamics.

Setting the Stage

Building an effective group where everyone feels welcomed, safe, and connected starts before the first class begins. Here are some things which will help get you off to a good start.

Group Size: Different educators have different opinions about the ideal class size for a childbirth preparation class, but most say that the best group is somewhere between 5 and 13 couples.

Small groups (3 – 6 couples) can sometimes work well, if you have a few very personable students who are good at pulling everyone else into a relaxed conversation. In effective small groups, there is a lot of opportunity for discussion and getting all the questions answered. Sometimes you’ll have a magical small group where the students really bond.

However, if you have a small group of introverts, everything can fall flat. If anyone misses a single session of class, the energy drops and more students start missing each week. Also, the smaller the group, the greater the pressure on individual group members to conform to a particular way of thinking or acting. There may be less individual freedom of opinion. Diverse students may not feel like they belong.

Larger groups (10 – 13 couples) can work well. There’s naturally a higher energy in the room, and a greater diversity of experiences, concerns, and questions. Every student can find someone else “like them” in the class. It can also make it feel like childbirth classes “must be important if so many people sign up for them!”

In larger groups, it may help to sometimes split them up for small group activities or discussions. You may also choose to have some activities where you go around the circle and ask every student to answer a question so that everyone’s voice has a chance to be heard.

Large groups (14 or more couples): Many instructors find 13 couples is a tipping point. At that level, they can still make a personal connection with students. But once it’s over 14 couples, you may as well have 20, because it just feels like a large lecture class, not a community. Very large groups tend to produce lower member satisfaction due to the lessened individual opportunity to speak or receive attention from the group leader.

Connect with students before class

If you handle your own marketing and registration, you’ll have lots of opportunity to connect before a class. But even if you just get a roster and email addresses a couple days before a class, it’s very helpful to send a friendly email. Welcome them to class and give a basic overview of what to expect (if the class is more than two hours long, tell them about the food situation). Optionally, you could include some fun, approachable info about a class topic (e.g. a link to an engaging video that is five minutes or less…) Be sure to say “contact me if you have any questions” and include a link to directions. Speaking of directions…

Make sure students know how to get to your classroom!

Be sure that they are receiving clear simple-to-follow directions. Test them yourself, or even better, have someone who has never been there and who has a horrible sense of direction test them! Also, if it’s tricky, tell them where they’ll park.

These days, many people trust their phone to give them directions anywhere, so they just type in the address, or the name of the building and follow that. If it’s not obvious how to find your classroom from the front door of the building, make sure you warn them of that in your communications. (For example: “you need to drive around the back of the church and go in the door next to the playground. All other doors will be locked when you arrive.”)

Also, on the first day of class, put up signs at the building, pointing them in the right direction.

Getting lost on the way to class and the stress of that makes it really hard for your students to feel comfortable and ready to learn when they do get there. Make it a smooth process for them!

Check back next week for thoughts about setting up the room to enhance group process.

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