This is post #4 in my weekly series “Group Process in Childbirth Education: Building and Supporting a Community of Learners.” It’s about the first ten minutes of class – this is the most important time in terms of establishing effective group dynamics for the rest of the class series. People won’t connect unless they feel comfortable and feel like they belong.
Arrival and First impressions
Your students form an impression of you, their fellow students, and whether they belong in the first ten seconds after entering the room, so it’s important to get first impressions right.
Be early for the first class and have everything ready so you can focus on welcoming students. Pay attention to how you are dressed. Try to dress in a similar style to your students, but one step more formal, since you are the “authority.” Introduce yourself when they arrive, and begin a conversation (great topics: when are they due, what they’ll name the baby, traffic and weather.)
Have an attendance sheet or class folder with their name on it. This reassures them they’re in the right place.
Have them make nametags. Rather than little tags they wear on their chests, fold a piece of cardstock in half to make a little “tent”. Have them write first names and due date with a marker so it’s easily visible from across a room. They set it on the floor in front of them. Or, you can use the spiffy white board style nametags shown at the top of the page.
Have snacks available, or at least water and cups.
Play music to set a friendly, relaxed tone. Try to find music that’s fairly universally appealing, not something aimed at just one demographic.
Have an icebreaker activity available in case lots of students arrive early – it’s better to get them moving and talking, instead of sitting passively in their chairs. Choose one that helps people find commonality and appreciate the diversity of experience. Try Icebreaker Bingo – each student is given a sheet with 25 questions on it. Their job is to find someone in the room that can answer yes to the question and write their name down.
Your introduction: This partially serves to establish your credibility as the instructor for the class (what you know and how you learned it) but it also helps to establish you as a human being they can relate to – an approachable mentor on the parenting path.
Student Intros: If you’re teaching a one-time two-hour class with 12 couples, you may not do full introductions of all the students. But for smaller classes and multi-week classes, always make time for intros. Minimum intros are names and due dates. If you have time, try the 3 part intro:
- Who Are You? (Name and Due Date)
- What do you already know? (Could ask professional background, but that can set up social class distinctions. Could ask what they know about birth and baby care. Could say “In this class, we’ll be talking about some things that are new to you that you might worry whether or not you’ll be good at. I want you all to remember that you can learn new skills and get good at them. Share with us something new you’ve learned and gotten good at in the past few years.”)
- What do you want to know? (What are you hoping to learn in this class? If you’re in a hurry, ask them to say in one word what they’re hoping to learn. If you have more time, you don’t need to limit it in this way.)
When they introduces themselves, show interest in them as an individual. But then also generalize what they said so it relates to everyone. “Yes, a lot of people worry about that. We will definitely be talking about that in week two.” “Thanks for that question on diaper wipes. We’ll be talking more about all things diaper related in the newborn care class.”
Housekeeping. Tell them how to get basic physical needs met: where the bathrooms are, where they can get food / drink, when you will be taking breaks. If you’re teaching a class that’s more than 3 hours, say that it’s OK to sit on the floor, or stand, or sit on the birth ball, or whatever they need to do to be comfortable for all that time. If people are comfortable, they can learn. But if they’re wondering when /how they’ll get to eat or pee, they’re not learning.
Go over the class outline so they know what to expect out of each session of class. Also define social norms and expectations for participation and interaction.
In next week’s post, we’ll look at more ways to build community as the class goes on.