Creating a Culture of Psychological Safety at School

With well-publicized company perks and great salaries, Google consistently ranks as one of the best companies to work for. Many, including myself, consider teaching to be one of the most important professions on the planet, and educators certainly deserve the same perks as Google employees. It would be nearly impossible for schools to create the same environment for teachers, but there is one thing that the tech giant does provide that can certainly be replicated at any school site or district. That is psychological safety for the professionals who work there.



Recently, I came across an article on this very topic by Harvard Business Review. Although it was geared for the business sector, I immediately made the connection to schools and the professional learning communities school leaders work so hard to put into place. According to Dr. Laura Delizonna, when you establish a sense of safety in your work teams, there will be higher levels of engagement, increased motivation to tackle difficult tasks, more learning and development opportunities, and better performance. With all of the challenges educators are confronted with on a daily basis, this type of culture is crucial.



So, what can we learn from a tech industry leader? When there is conflict, approach the conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. One time, an angry parent came into our school. She came in with fists raised and hollering at any employee at the school she could find. My assistant principal simply approached her in a calm manner and asked her, “How can we work together to resolve this?” The parent immediately calmed down. We soon found out that her child was not being served breakfast and they currently had no food in their home. It was a simple fix. This same question can be used with any conflict that arises and puts both parties in a much better position. Leaders at Google approach conflict with one simple question, “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”



We also need to remember that we are all humans, so speak to others in that manner. Paul Santagata, the Head of Industry at Google, leads his staff through a “Just Like Me” exercise, which asks each person to consider:


  • This person has beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like me.
  • This person has hopes, anxieties, and vulnerabilities, just like me.
  • This person has friends, family, and perhaps children who love them, just like me.
  • This person wants to feel respected, appreciated, and competent, just like me.
  • This person wishes for peace, joy, and happiness, just like me.


Another principle we can learn from the number one company to work for is to anticipate reactions and plan countermoves. This requires leaders to think through possible ways their staff may react to their messaging. Two years of research conducted by Google on this very topic suggests this approach maximizes the chances that the content of the message will be heard. When thinking through this in advance, you can simply ask yourself three questions offered in the article, “What are my main points? What are three ways my listeners are likely to respond? How will I respond to each of these scenarios?”



The last two ways of creating this type of environment in the workplace are to replace blame with curiosity and ask for feedback on delivery. It is important to continuously measure the psychological safety of your workplace or school site. Some of the teams at Google are asked questions such as, “How confident are you that you won’t receive retaliation or criticism if you admit an error or mistake?”



Each one of these principles can be employed by school leaders, classroom teachers and even students as they learn to work and collaborate with one another. Wouldn’t school be an amazing place to be if every single individual on campus felt safe to be creative problem solvers? Delizonna says, “Twenty-first century success depends on another system—the broaden-and-build mode of positive emotion, which allows us to solve complex problems and foster cooperative relationships.”


What do you think the effects of implementing these principles would be at your site or even in your classroom?


If this topic interests you, you can read the full article here.



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Posted in blog, Educator Voices, General, home, Map Examples, TMLC

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