Critical Agendas Newsletter (November Edition)

Greg Mitchell works with students, teachers, administrators and parents in schools and educations organisations all over Australia. A teacher for over 35 years Greg is adept at finding, designing and creating teaching and learning strategies that empower students with positive habits. In this edition of the Critical Agendas Newsletter, Greg attempts to raise awareness of Psychologically UNSAFE Schools:

Have you ever known that what your principal was saying was wrong but didn’t dare tell them so?

Have you ever gone to give a kid a report comment and found it really hard to remember who they are or what they do?

Have you gone through whole meetings without getting a word in? Or worse still talked the whole time and can’t remember anyone else’s contributions?

Do you have a child in your class that has never answered a question?

Does a work colleague forget your name? Or do you forget theirs because you have worse name for them and you are scared you’ll blurt it out?

Are you in a team at school that you really don’t want to be in?

If any of these are true, you are working in a “Psychologically UNSAFE School" (PUS)!

“Psychological Safety” is a term that we are going to hear a lot about over the next year or so.

It’s not a new idea, it was first described when a guy called William Kahn back in 1990 studied how well workplaces provided meaningfulness, safety, and availability.

Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson describes Psychological Safety as “A belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

Google found this to be the essential part of team performance after it studied over 180 teams in its organisation and found out that it wasn’t who was in the team but what the team did that created the difference between a successful team and a dysfunctional team.

Google’s Project Aristotle noted two consistent attributes of great teams:

  1. Equal participation and
  2. Ostentatious listening

Both of which created psychological safety.

Put simply… Great teams build TRUST!

How can you make this happen in your team?

How do you disinfect the PUS?

It’s pretty simple assume leadership even if you are not wearing the badge and inoculate others with a strategic dose of participatory democracy.

When you run a meeting take note of who speaks and who doesn’t and ask the ones that don’t speak to comment on what others say! It's critical that you don't ask them the leading toxic question like "Do you think Cujo's answer is full of manure?” but rather “How does Mr C's statement line up with your experience?"

In your classroom do the same with students. Ask a kid if they think another kids answer is right or wrong!

And then try out some of the following behaviours on yourself…

  • Acknowledge your own fallibility. Say “Oops I’m wrong! Who can help me to do this right?”
  • Ask questions, model curiosity. “Tell me more? I’m interested in finding out how this works..."
  • Foster collaboration. “Who would like to work on this?”
  • Emphasize excellence. “This is good but is there a clearer way?”
  • Explain your decisions. “I made this decision because of … is there a cleverer way to do this?
  • Include team in decision making “We need to make a decision here, what do you think?”
  • Be available and welcoming. Greet others, say “Hi!” and answer emails, buy muffins, give flowers, give surprise birthdays on someone's non birthday day!
  • Be supportive and coaching-oriented. Mentor and be mentored
  • Engage in personal conversation “How your dog going?"
  • Spread the love. SMILE


By Greg Mitchell

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