How to Conduct a Safe “Teach-Back” – Contributed by Jean-Paul Bayley

(Blog post contributed by TBR-VE™ and TCC Certifier Jean-Paul Bayley): Psychological safety among learners is the foundation of effective and successful learning. Did you know that you can break the feeling of safety by pushing learners too far out of their psychological comfort zone?

“How do you conduct a safe Teach-Back?” This question is part of the wider topic of psychologically safe learning spaces. A “Teach-Back” is an activity in which learners talk to other learners, either in pairs, groups, or in front of the entire class. To be successful, a Teach-Back needs to feel psychologically safe.

A common example of an “unsafe” Teach-Back is when, at the beginning of a class or training, the instructor asks each learner to stand and introduce himself or herself to the rest of the class. For many learners, this often feels awkward and psychologically uncomfortable.

As trainers and teachers, whenever we facilitate adult instruction, we should always do our best to increase the feeling of psychological safety among learners. Below are four ways to do this:

1. Connect learners to the topic and to each other. Before beginning the instruction, invite learners to talk in pairs about what they already know (or what they don’t know) about the topic, and what they hope learn from the class or training.

2. Give learners the right to pass. Let learners know that all of the activities in the class are voluntary and, at any time, they can choose to step back and observe rather than participate.

3. Co-create working agreements for how the class should operate. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of the class brainstorming with learners a few guidelines for respectful behaviors and list them in large print where they are visible to everyone. Some examples: Listen first; paraphrase; be respectful of other opinions; be mindful of time (don’t “hog” the discussion time); etc.

4. Slowly build the foundation for “higher risk” activities over time. An example of a higher-risk Teach-Back is when learners make a topic-related presentation in front of the other learners in the class. Only use higher-risk activities when learners feel psychologically comfortable with each other.

If you push learners towards a high-risk activity too quickly, you will lose the feeling of psychological safety and the tension in the room will rise. If you plan a high-risk activity for a class, consider what your low-risk “Plan B” activity is if the group isn’t ready for the high-risk one.

So back to the original question: “How do you conduct a safe Teach-Back?” The answer is: You conduct a Teach-Back only when learners feel psychologically safe with each other, and always remind them that they have the right to pass.

For more activities that create psychological safety, click on my earlier blog post below:

TBR, Psychological Safety, and C1-Connection Activities



About the Author: 

Jean-Paul Bayley lives in the UK and is a partner of Actineo Consulting LLP, a Business Agility Consultancy. He is also a TBR-VE™ Certifier and the Trainer Certification Course (TCC) Certifier for European/Asian countries. He is a top contributor to this TBR blog. Below are a number of his most popular posts:  

Training and Learning Myths and Facts
Cognitive Load and Learning

Is live Virtual Learning Really Helping Learners?

Blackout Bingo for Priming Learners

Small Trumps Large when Training Online
When Everything is Suddenly Virtual
3 Anti-Patterns of Training
Anti-Patterns of Training – Part Two

For questions about TBR Practitioner Classes or how to become a TBR Certified Trainer, email Jean-Paul at [email protected].  And be sure to view his other interesting and informative posts on LinkedIn.