Safety & Ground Rules

Safety rules

This isn’t a normal class discussion. So you might ask the students to develop some discussion guidelines:

  • What do they need from you and from each other in order to feel safe when they talk about these issues?
  • Do they require that the students agree to confidentiality?
  • That no one has to speak who doesn’t want to?
  • That time is shared?
  • That discussions are respectful and people listen to each other?

Another way to provide safety for certain discussions is to have a question box where students can pose questions anonymously.

Ground Rules

The following ground rules will help create a safe and welcoming classroom environment where healthy discussion and sharing can take place. Click on a ground rule for a description.

Model respect

It’s important to encourage participation in the discussion and model the type of behaviour we expect from students.

Share the time

If a few people monopolize conversation, the experiences and insights of many students will remain hidden. Providing safety means encouraging participation, stopping anyone from monopolizing the discussion, but not putting anyone on the spot who might feel uncomfortable talking about the digital stories.

Generalizations and judgments

Be careful to avoid generalizations, stereotypes, such as “boys will be boys,””girls are powerless victims” or “men commit violence” (as opposed to some men).

Single-gender groups

We suggest that for some discussions, a class be divided into single-gender groups to provide more safety and let certain things come out that might not in a mixed group. If you do this, make sure they don’t become sessions to dump on the other gender, and also make sure that when you come back together, the groups listen to each other.


If applicable, try to mix young people into groups that reflect the ethnic and cultural mix of your class. If someone wants to talk about his or her own culture’s experiences in terms of violence against women or gender relations, that’s great, but be careful not to put someone on the spot.


Since many students have experienced violence, these exercises and activities sometimes provide the safety they need to come forward and share their experiences.

Discussion tips

Keep in mind that the point of an activity is to encourage dialogue and self reflection about healthy relationships. Click on a discussion tip for a description.

Start a dialogue with open-ended questions that prompt reflection

These are usually questions starting with “how,” “what” and “why“. For example, “How does this affect you?” “Why is this an issue?” “What can be done to change this situation?”

Acknowledge different opinions

When a student introduces a controversial point, try to separate fact from opinion. Should a disagreement occur, encourage students to challenge the ideas without putting down the person expressing them. Communicate to the students that the purpose of these discussions isn’t to win an argument but to share information and ideas.

Encourage lively discussions, but avoid arguments

Violence and relationships are emotional topics so discussions can become heated. Consider discussing why this is happening.

Stay focused

When discussions get off track, try to reintroduce the original issues. For example, “Terry, I think you have a point there, but can we get back to talking about …”


Ask everyone to listen to each person’s point of view before responding. It’s important to understand what a person is trying to say, but also to provide safety and trust in the group.

Don't feel you have to be an expert on the issues

If you can’t answer a question, say so. Ask others if they know. If it’s important, promise to look into it.

Consider holding single-gender discussion groups

This can provide safety and, if it’s a class where boys talk more, it gives girls a chance to speak. When the two groups join, make sure the discussion doesn’t become a face-off.

State that hurtful or insulting language or behaviour isn't acceptable in these discussions

The environment will be poisoned for everyone by words and ideas that are sexist, racist or biased against particular groups based on their nationality, age, sexual orientation, religion or physical abilities. In case any students think you are being arbitrary, our provincial human rights codes protect people from discrimination or harassment based on these characteristics.


Share this link and invite your friends to learn more about violence against women and the positive role they can play in putting an end to it.

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