Creating a "safe container" and a judgment-free classroom
I would guess that most people, if not all, who have been made to feel stupid or embarrassed in a classroom setting, put up their defenses and shut themselves down. Why would someone open themselves up to that again? When that happens, creativity is crushed and people feel guarded. To make sure this doesn't happen in my classroom, I lay the groundwork immediately and make it very clear that this type of behavior will not be tolerated in a firm, yet gentle way. Clearly setting boundaries is an important early step in the process.
Creating a "safe container" and judgment-free classroom is not difficult, but it does take effort and follow-through on the part of the teacher and students. I foster this idea in my classroom by starting out the year doing icebreakers and energizers that help students get to know each other and feel more comfortable in the class setting. But before I do any of this, I let them know in a firm, yet gentle way, that everyone in the classroom is valued and that laughing at someone, putting them down, or just making a gesture (like rolling of the eyes) will not be part of our classroom practice. If it does happen, I simply stop the activity and use the teachable moment to remind students of our classroom practices. I usually only have to do this once or twice if at all. Try it. It has worked wonders in my classroom.
Once students feel safe in my classroom, it becomes an enjoyable and exciting place for them to be, and they start looking forward to being there. And, of course, creativity flourishes and learning soars!