The importance of Psychological Safety in schools
“A climate in which one feels one can be candid. It’s a place where interpersonal risks feel doable, interpersonal risks, like speaking up with questions and concerns and half-baked ideas and even mistakes.”
Dr Amy Edmondson, Harvard University
What is Psychological Safety?
Dr Amy Edmondson of Harvard University defines Psychological Safety as “a climate in which one feels one can be candid. It’s a place where interpersonal risks feel doable, interpersonal risks, like speaking up with questions and concerns and half-baked ideas and even mistakes.” Students in a school or classroom community are much like members of a team in an organisation. For the school community to thrive, students need to feel safe to be creative and share their ideas, ask questions, learn from mistakes, and take interpersonal risks.
Psychological safety in the school context can be defined as having the belief and experience that you will not be humiliated or mocked for the ideas you offer, for asking questions and making mistakes. When there is psychological safety in the classroom, students don’t worry about how they are perceived by other students to teachers, as the whole student-body knows that asking questions and making mistakes are an essential step in the learning journey.
Psychological safety contributes to the building of trust and communication and creates a sense of belonging in a school community.
Why is it important in schools?
Psychological safety in schools is a relatively new research area - despite this being well researched in the adult workspace over the past two decades. The research we do have has demonstrated the importance of creating a psychologically safe classroom environment.
Success in the school environment - whether it be in academics, social relationships or emotional intelligence - relies on the broaden-and-build model of positive psychology. That is:
- When we feel psychologically safe, our threat systems in the brain are regulated and we are able to broaden our mindsets and build on our knowledge and remain in the “learning zone” where creativity and productivity thrive
- In contrast, if a student is humiliated for asking a question or making a mistake, the brain interprets this as a threat. The threat system in the brain (amygdala) is activated which results in student behaviour being driven from the emotional centre of the brain. This is when we see students struggling to access the rationale and reasoning part of their brain and their behaviour and consequential disengagement in learning reflects this.
Psychological safety is critical to a high-functioning learning space where students enjoy high levels of autonomy and agency. Ultimately, when students feel psychologically safe they are their least stressed and most engaged and open-minded.
Would you like to learn more? On August 19 we will be running a workshop on Psychological Safety in schools at the ISNZ 2022 Annual Conference.
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