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Holding Space Community Learning Page

In this guide, you will find resources and guidance on how to Hold Space in your classroom.

Circle Practices

Opening - Creating a Container

Opening the space banner: image of a coastline grass blowing in the wind

Agreement Building

Agreements are like guidelines that help to set the intention for the relational spaces in the classroom or team. Creating class agreements opens up the learning space associated with the experience of learning together. Agreements are an important part of creating a container for learning to achieve learning, growth, and development goals such as those in the skills of distinction:

1. Resilience

2. Thinking differently

3. Inclusion

Agreements also acknowledge creating an intentional relational space that all participants have an individual and collective responsibility to nurture a space that tilts toward wellbeing for everyone. Agreements help to acknowledge that our lives are complex and that each of us brings different challenges and strengths to the space and that establishing an intentional space.

Agreement building process and ideas

  • Have people break out into groups of 2 or 3 to discuss what agreements are important to them for a few minutes.  Then invite them back and share a Google doc where everybody can write what they came up with.  Then discuss what’s on the document and clean it up as a group.  Helpful prompt to use: What do you need from every person in this group in order to feel safe, supported, open, productive, and trusting… so that we can do our best work?
  • Create a word cloud of the agreements that can be shared with everyone after the call.
  • If possible, try to utilize a virtual "whiteboard" app, so that people can actively draw or type certain things together. This could somewhat be achieved through a google doc as well.
Tools – GroupWorks cards: "Good process builds strong communities." (GroupWorks)

Look at the GroupWorks Guidebook for additional activities. Here are two suggestions for classes or teams:

Activity 1: Look at the cards as a class/community – choose three cards that speak to what you need and value in your learning community – how we agree to work together. Share with another person why this is important for you. What patterns do you see emerging in your group? Check-in with your list from time to time in pairs or triads. At the end of each check-in each person shares one take away action - what will you do in the next week to strengthen and contribute to the class?

Activity 2: Look at the cards as a class/community. Look at the different questions and each person selects 2-3 cards to represent what is important for them. Compile the cards selected and sort. When a disagreement etc emerges have your selected cards present to help guide the group through the emergent opportunity. Follow up  to reflect on the process - do we need to add anything to this process? What worked what can we revisit?

How do the cards answer these questions:

  1. What do we agree to do when conflict or disagreements arise? (Growth Opportunity: Seeing conflict as an opportunity for learning, developing communication skills, perspective-shifting, healthy boundaries, agency, and  resilience)
  2. What do we agree to consider when someone is struggling? (Growth Opportunity: Building our capacity for empathy, compassion, noticing and tending to each other's needs)
  3. What will we do when we need to make a decision together? (Growth Opportunity to develop perspective-shifting/taking, articulating our needs, understanding our impact of decisions on three levels: self, other, and the systems (our impact on the system and the impact of the system on us))
  4. How will we agree to take responsibility for the container? (Growth Opportunity: learning to articulate our needs, respecting others needs, attending to unconscious bias, developing a willingness to be open, developing levels of listening)

Check here for other ways to use GroupWorks:

Example Agreement from Racial Healing Handbook - For Racial Healing Groups                                                                                                                                                        The Racial Healing Handbook, Anneliese A. Singh


1. Listen actively. Respect others when they are talking.

2. Speak from your own experience instead of generalizing (“I” instead of “they,” “we,” and “you”).

3. Do not be afraid to respectfully challenge one another by asking questions, but refrain from personal attacks—focus on ideas.

4. Participate to the fullest of your ability. Community growth depends on the inclusion of every individual voice. For White participants and others with privilege, check-in with yourself to make sure your silence is not perpetuating the status quo.

5. Instead of invalidating somebody else’s story with your own spin on their experience, share your own story and experience.

6. The goal is not to agree—it is to gain a deeper understanding.

7. Be conscious of body language and nonverbal responses. They can be as disrespectful as words. The Racial Healing Handbook Reading Group Guide

8. Share the air. Notice if your voice is dominating the space, if so, step back, allow other voices, particularly those from more marginalized communities to speak.

9. Challenge yourself by choice. If there are topics that are triggering that come up, that you would like more privacy with, or that you just aren’t sure about, be sure to “pass” when it’s your turn to share. Growth and resilience come from being challenged to grow, but you don’t want to be in the “danger zone” of oversharing and going beyond your own personal boundaries.

Excerpted and slightly adapted from:


Intentions are different than goal setting. SMART goals for example are about achieving a particular outcome and setting up the parameters to get there. An example goal might be getting a paper published, revising my curriculum, or increasing my final grade by 10%.

An intention is about doing something "on purpose" and about becoming more aware of our thought and behaviour patterns. Intentions are about awareness rather than achievement. In a relational space being aware of what is in the space supports learning in a more holistic way and transformative way: head - heart - hands - spirit by deepening awareness of self and the space between us.

Intentions are about

  • Who you want to be.
  • What you wish to contribute.
  • How you choose to touch the lives of others. 

Personal examples:

  • I intend to lead by example.
  • I intend to love unconditionally.
  • I intend to stop taking things personally.
  • I intend to manifest happiness naturally.
  • I intend to see the goodness around me.
  • I intend to be kind even when under pressure.
  • I intend to make someone smile every day.
  • I intend to freely forgive others and myself.
  • I intend to make mindfulness an important part of each day.
  • I intend to suspend judgment and accept life as it is in the moment.
  • I intend to be a compassionate attentive listener (of my own internal experience and to others)
  • I intend to be a model of compassionate listening.

You can also use the GroupWorks Intention Card to set intentions as a group: 



WELCOMING RITUAL (1­-9 minutes) Activities for Inclusion

Adults bring their experience, allow them to use it. Ritual openings establish safety and predictability, support contribution by all voices, set norms for respectful listening, and allow people to connect with one another creating a sense of belonging. To be successful they must be: carefully chosen, connected to the work of the day, engagingly facilitated, and thoughtfully debriefed.


Community Building: Using an open­ ended question (e.g., from the Circle a Day cards), build community in a quick and lively way. Each participant shares their response with a partner. After sharing, ask for 2­-3 comments from the whole group.

Check­In: Begin with a sentence starter:

  • “A success I recently had ___ .”
  • “One thing that’s new about ___ .”
  • “One norm I will hold today is ___ .”


More presencing techniques

The opening ritual can help bring learners/participants' full attention to the class/meeting space. Another term for this is presencing. Presencing helps participants develop a habit of connecting head - heart - body - spirit. This might feel unfamiliar for some people so start slowly and allow people to recognize the positive impacts over time. This kind of activity can help support wellbeing and can feel really good in our busy lives where there is so much competition for our attention.

  • Stillness - set a timer for 2-3 minutes of stillness, eyes closed
  • A few deep breaths
  • Guided visualization to get grounded and connected
  • Additional examples for pair sharing with a prompt
    • Where do your feet touch the ground?
    • What is something you are putting aside to be here today?
    • What is something you are feeling grateful for today?
    • How are you arriving today? (Emotionally, physically)
    • What is something that brought you joy this week?
  • With each breath bring your awareness inward, start by bringing your attention to your physical body notice any tension in your body, simply release it by breathing in with 3 counts and out with 4 counts. Welcome whatever arises with curiosity. 
  • Close your eyes, hear every sound around you, then slowly slowly, hear your own breath as your own sound as this moment
  • Bring your awareness to everyone on the zoom/blackboard/teams screen and take a few moments to connect deeply with a few individuals

Guided Visualizations

Stillness Activity - 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Feel free to adjust as appropriate. For example, for a deaf participant instead of 4 things you hear use 4 things you are noticing in your body.

        5 things you see 

        4 things you hear 

        3 things you feel touching you or you are touching

        2 things you smell

        1 thing you are grateful for

Community Building Exercises

Engaging in the space banner forest trail

ENGAGING PRACTICES (1­-15 minutes) Sense-Making & “Brain Breaks”

Adults want to make their own meaning and have fun. Engaging practices are brain-compatible strategies that can foster: relationships, cultural humility and responsiveness, empowerment, and collaboration. They intentionally build adult SEL skills. These practices can also be opportunities for brain breaks that provide a space for integrating new information into long­term memory. (Otherwise, it is soon forgotten.)


  • Think Time: 30-­90 seconds of silent think time before speaking, sharing.
  • Turn To Your Partner: Sharing and listening to make sense of new input,
  • Think­Ink­Pair­Share: Generating ideas and deepening understanding,
  • Brain Break Stand and Stretch: Refresh and reset the brain.
  • Opportunities for Interaction: Cultivate practices that involve interactions in partnerships, triads, small groups, and as a whole group.


Moment of Stillness

Integrate moments of stillness as a regular practice to provide time for people to think and integrate new information and allow new insights to surface. In some cultures, silence is a comfortable and welcome component of any conversation space. In others, silence is uncomfortable and participants will jump in quickly to fill any silence. Notice how comfortable you are with silence. Practice taking time for stillness and start to see what happens!

What other strategies and activities do you use? 

Tuesdays Terrific Teaching Tips is a great place to look for engagement ideas.


Closing the space banner:  a red poppy in a golden field

OPTIMISTIC CLOSURE (3­-5 minutes) Reflections and Looking Forward

Adult learning occurs when behavior changes. End each meeting or professional learning by having participants reflect on, then name something that helps them leave on an optimistic note. This provides positive closure, reinforces the topic, and creates momentum towards taking action.


  • “What are my next steps?”
  • “What’s the next conversation I’m going to have about this and with whom?”
  • “Who do I want to connect with about this topic?”
  • “A word or phrase that reflects how I feel about moving forward with this…”
  • “Offer an appreciation for someone in the room...”


More Examples

These can be done in a circle format with everyone on the call or in the space speaking into the circle, by typing into the chat or adding to a notebook page dedicated to reflections.

  1. Everyone goes around and says one word describing what is present for them in this moment or how they feel (this word can also be typed into the chat)
  2. Go around and each share 3 things they are committed to for this upcoming week
  3. What are you taking away today?
  4. Share in the chat what was good, what was bad, what would you change?
  5. Go around the circle and invite members to share a sentence that starts with "I sense" or "I feel" or "I see".
  6. Have people bring a poem or quote to share with the group
  7. What is a gift that you are taking away from our time together?
  8. Share one thing that is different for you than when you first arrived in the circle/class today.
  9. Was there an aha moment for you on our call today? If so please share.
  10. What are you getting, what's opening up for you?
  11. "Rose-bud-thorn". Share one thing that was in full bloom, brought hope or joy to you (Rose). Share one thing that is still a prickly point for you (Thorn) and finally share one thing that is emerging for you (Bud).
  12. Appreciation - go around the circle - each person share one gift they received from another in the circle and express their appreciation of that gift