What is psychological safety?

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What is psychological safety?

Hands Raised in the Classroom

Photo iStock.com/seb_ra

Psychological safety is an important concept that all of us in the education and business world need to be aware of. It’s about creating an environment of security and confidence for employees and students, in order to allow them to reach their full potential without being held back by fear or doubt.

Amy Edmondson, a Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, defines psychological safety in terms of team building, explaining that a psychologically safe environment is “the shared belief among team members that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking … it describes a team climate characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves”.

This trust allows teams to openly discuss ideas, without the fear of negative feedback, or worry about being wrong.

It’s an important concept for the classroom, as a psychologically safe academic environment encourages students to ask questions, to discuss ideas with each other, and to work together to improve their overall understanding of the concepts being taught.

By creating an open forum in which students are not afraid to voice their opinions, or express their uncertainty about a topic that they’re learning, the whole class benefits. Every student is able to contribute, and every member of the class is able to fully acquire the information that allows them to grasp the key subjects relating to their course.

Creating a psychologically safe environment is simple. At its core, a psychologically safe classroom is driven by understanding, empathy and compassion. Encourage tutors and educational staff to engage with students, demonstrate that all questions are welcome, and regularly reiterate the value of student input in classroom sessions.

Psychological safety is especially important right now, where many students are learning remotely due to the pandemic. Computer screens are an additional barrier to classroom interactions – it’s important to make sure that all students know they are safe to ask any questions, or raise any thoughts, during digital classes.

In the business and education worlds, psychological safety has been shown to help individuals reach their full potential. As educational leaders, we need to help make sure our learning spaces are as psychologically safe as possible.

Further Reading

Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams, by Amy C Edmondson. – https://www.jstor.org/stable/2666999

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