Psychological Safety in schools: how to promote, measure and intervene
What is Psychological Safety?
There are multiple things that contribute to students' wellbeing, for better or for worse. Connection with family and friends, community involvement, extracurricular activities, development of identity, use and influence of technology, and academic pressures, to name a few. Another factor which influences student wellbeing is experience of psychological safety. But what is psychological safety?
The overarching definition describes an environment where an individual feels able to ask questions, make mistakes, take interpersonal risks, and collaborate with those around them, all without the fear of aggression, judgment, or rejection (Delizonna, 2017; Edmondson, 1999).
When psychological safety is present within the school environment, students feel safe to openly communicate their thoughts and feelings, be creative, share ideas and show their authentic self. Psychological safety helps build a sense of trust between students, peers, and teachers, and fosters a strong sense of belonging (Beava & Bordovskaia, 2015). All which prime students for optimum learning engagement. With this in mind, psychological safety appears crucial to instil within the classroom and school-wide environment.
What are the benefits?
When school environments are psychologically safe, we see positive outcomes for students:
- Increases in self-confidence, emotional wellbeing, and cognitive processing
- Concerns around ‘identity-management’ decrease as students become less consumed by how they are perceived by others
- Students understand learning and growth is done through making mistakes
- Active student participation in new experiences, activities, and learning
- Students become more open to opportunities for problem-solving and collaboration
- Motivation for academic learning increases as students respect their academic journey.
(Gavin, Brown, Lee, & Qui, 2020; Walness, 2016).
What happens when students don’t have it?
- Student wellbeing is negatively impacted, reducing self-esteem and mental wellbeing
- Students feel anxiety or anger from concealing their self-expression, in an effort to fit in
- Students can withdraw from classroom discussions and projects. Often remaining silent, and seen as passive contributors
- Students with great ideas, or out-of-the-box thinking, might not get their time to shine
- “Fight or Flight” responses can be triggered when students interpret moments of embarrassment as ‘threats’.
(Baeva & Bordovskaia, 2015; Delizonna, 2017; Kislyakov, Shmeleva, Karaseva, & Silaeva, 2014).
How is it implemented in schools?
The good news is there are a lot of ways for staff to promote and practise psychological safety within schools:
- Creating an environment that celebrates differences, provide students with the understanding that everyone has different interests, cultures, strengths, etc.
- Embracing the concept “What makes us different makes us unique!”
- Teaching students the ability to accept mistakes and learn from them
- Facilitating class discussions about how we learn from mistakes and continue to develop as people
- Providing a teacher ‘demonstration’ of mistake-making and readjusting approaches
- Recognising and encouraging students’ need for empathy, validation, and respect
- Using an exercise by Paul Santagata (Head of Industry at Google) that focusses on reflecting on how the individual is “Just like me”; “Just like me this person has beliefs, perspectives and opinions”, “just like me this person has hopes, anxieties, and vulnerabilities”
- Working alongside students to problem-solve disagreements or conflicts
- Promoting a collaborative approach: “How can we work together to figure this out”?
- Giving students a voice by encouraging feelings of safety and trust, and providing a platform to communicate needs.
(Delizonna, 2017; Kislyakov, Shmeleva, Karaseva, & Silaeva, 2014).
How can Psychological Safety be measured?
Staff are in a good position to observe interactions within the school environment. However, studies suggest there is a difference between staff and student reported levels of psychological safety. This can be due to students' increased exposure/awareness of bullying, peer aggression, isolation, and victimisation, compared to teachers. So how do we bridge the gap?
We can build trust and create spaces for students to talk to staff about their worries. Though, this can be impacted by student willingness to visit teachers’ offices, or voice concerns about distressing topics. Another method is through self-reports or questionnaires which can provide students with a tool to utilise their voices, allow staff insight to what may be occurring in their classrooms, and identify changes needed to encourage a more psychological safe environment.
At Komodo, we have released our first benchmark-style survey that helps schools assess and measure how psychologically safe students feel in their learning environment. Our Psychological Safety Survey release is the first of its kind in the education space, reach out to find out how you can implement it at your school.
Are you attending the ISNZ Annual Conference on August 19th and 20th? Come meet our team, and be the FIRST to see Psychological Safety Surveys at work.
Are you interested to learn more but your school isn't attending the Conference?
Reach out to enable Psychological Safety at your school!
- Baeva, I. A., & Bordovskaia, N. V. (2015). The psychological safety of the educational environment and the psychological well-being of Russian secondary school pupils and teachers. Psychology in Russia: State of the Art, *8 (*1), 86-99.
- Delizonna, L. (2017). High-performing teams need psychological safety. Here’s how to create it. Harvard Business Review, 8, 1-5.
- Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative science quarterly, 44(2), 350-383.
- Edmondson, A. C. (2018). The fearless organization: Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth. John Wiley & Sons.
- Edmondson, A. C., & Bisieux, T. (2021). Reflections: Voice and Silence in Workplace Conversations. Journal of Change Management, 21(3), 269-286.
- Frazier, M. L., Fainshmidt, S., Klinger, R. L., Pezeshkan, A., & Vracheva, V. (2017). Psychological safety: A meta-analytic review and extension. Personnel Psychology, 70(1), 113-165.
- Gavin, Z. Y., Brown, T. L., Lee, J. C-K., & Qui, X-L. (2020). Student self-assessment: why do they do it? Educational Psychology, 40(4), 509-532, doi: 10.1080/01443410.2019.1672038
- Kislyakov, P. A., Shmeleva, E. A., Karaseva, T. Y. V., & Silaeva, O. G. A. (2014). Monitoring of education environment according to the social-psychological safety criterion. Asian Social Science, 10(17), 285-291.
- McLeod, S. (2007). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Simply psychology, 1, 1-18.
- Reeves, M. A., Kanan, L. M., & Plog, A. E. (2010). Comprehensive Planning for Safe Learning Environments: A school professional’s guide to integrating physical and psychological safety - prevention through recovery. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Taylor, J., Collins, D., & Ashford, M. (2022). Psychological Safety in High-Performance Sport; Contextually Applicable? Frontiers in Sport and Active Living, 4, 823488.
- Wanless, S.B. (2016) The role of psychological safety in human development. Research in Human Development, 13(1), 6-14, doi: 10.1080/15427609.2016.1141283
- Weiner, J., Francois, C., Stone-Johnson, C., & Childs, J. (2021, January). Keep safe, keep learning: principals' role in creating psychological safety and organizational learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Frontiers in Education(Vol. 5, p. 282). Frontiers.