Psychological Safety in Education, Academia and Teaching

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety in Education, Academia and Teaching

quarry bank primary school

This is an evolving collection of links, resources and research related to psychological safety in education, academia, and teaching practice. Collated from the psychological safety newsletter and updated (reasonably) frequently!

Learner centred feedback – psychological safety and effectiveness of feedback in higher education:

“3 Ideas to Level Up Learning” by Lauren Kaufman:
I really like the “Tell Stories, Build Bridges, Cultivate Connections” trifecta not just for educators but for us all as a simple model to create an effective learning environment.

This is a super video of an interview with Jeremy Hannay, an inspirational school head teacher from Ontario, talking about building great cultures in schools. Skip to 25 minutes in to hear how he made it safe for teachers to experiment and fail safely.
His blog is also worth a read: 

Good article, but apologies – you have to sign up to THE (for free though) to read it. Anonymous polling platforms to boost student confidence, engagement and inclusivity:

A few years old (from 2017), but still a great paper: “Are your students safe to learn? The role of lecturer’s authentic leadership in the creation of psychologically safe environments and their impact on academic performance.”

Providing Psychological Safety for schools and in the workplace – The Stories of Success Podcast

This paper presents five team processes: strategic leadership, egalitarian power dynamics, team member commitment, effective communication, and clear decision-making processes, that shape how teams work together, and three emergent states: shared vision, psychological safety, and team cohesion, that team members perceived as important aspects of how teams feel and think when working together.
Team-based instructional change in undergraduate STEM: characterizing effective faculty collaboration:

Thanks to Faye McGuinness for signposting me here: The ‘Taking Care of Teachers: Mental Health & Wellbeing Hub’. Including how to create a culture of psychological safety in schools:

In this piece, Sebastian Bromelow, EDI Partner at Kingston University, writes that the metric-centric approach is not up to the job when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion in higher education.

Students value Socratic (questioning) teaching methodsbut often feel humiliated if they get a question wrong. Whilst they don’t feel that is the intention of the teachers, it’s clear that a culture of psychological safety would improve clinical teaching.

‘Diversity should just be called reality. Your books, your TV shows, your movies, your articles, your curricula need to reflect reality.’ This is an incredible piece by Gaurav Dubay that reflects psychological safety in the classroom, particularly for minority-ethnic students. 
Engaging With Diversity – Giving Pupils a Voice

Here’s a great and useful piece from “The Action Hero Teacher” called “6 Rules You Need To Create the Perfect Social Contract“. Whilst this is obviously directed towards teachers and classroom behaviour, sometimes we adults require just as fundamental and clear boundaries and expectations!

This is a great practical piece about online learning and teaching. Learning online has become the new reality for most of us and here, Ceca Bunjevac and Steven Shorrock share lessons from online teaching and facilitation. Some handy tips and reminders in this piece.

Quite a few of our newsletter readers are teachers, and/or work in education, and I’d love to hear thoughts on this from anyone in the sector. I recently came across the “Teach Like a Champion” (TLAC) approach, which is apparently very popular in some schools in the US and UK. One of the fundamental premises of TLAC is of 100% compliance of students, and that teachers must have full control over the classroom. The Five Principles of TLAC classroom culture are:

  • Discipline,
  • Management,
  • Control,
  • Influence
  • Engagement

Certainly, a chaotic classroom is poorly suited to learning, and the best classroom environment is calm, predictable and safe, though the apparent prioritisation of discipline and compliance niggles at me. Compliance should be a baseline, an enabler, not a goal.

This seems to be a good critique of Teach Like A Champion, and caused me pause: how can we expect children to grow into fully rounded people who feel empowered to be their true selves at work, contribute their own unique ideas, admit mistakes, and challenge the status quo, if their formative years have been spent in a culture primarily of “Discipline, Management and Control“? If you’re in education and have thoughts on this, please email me at or join us in the slack community to discuss.

This makes for interesting and powerful reading: a study by the Black Research Education Collective on understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism have impacted Black education from the perspectives of Black parents, teachers, students, education and community leaders. It highlights that psychological safety is particularly lacking for black students in the US, and presents a significant challenge in the return to school post-pandemic.

 Many teachers are often left wondering whether they have wasted their time when, at the end of the lessons, “any questions?” is met with a room of blank faces. This is a good actionable piece: Adopting psychological safety in the classroom: students shouldn’t worry about looking stupid when the whole class knows that asking questions and making mistakes is crucial to learning.

Here’s a great dissertation paper by Joel Beidleman, examining psychological safety and literacy achievement in US Middle Schools: it suggests that improved psychological safety correlates with higher literacy achievement.

“Systems convening” is a description of a type of leadership that sees a social landscape with all its separate and related practices through a wide-angle lens: they spot opportunities for creating safe learning spaces and partnership that will bring different and often unlikely people together to engage in learning across boundariesCheck out this e-book (free download) to learn more and see what principles you may be able to apply.

Stimpunks are a group of former technologists turned “wannabe-sociologists interpreting and applying the work of experts”, are autistic, ADHD, bipolar, dyslexic, dyspraxic, and dyscalculic and provide coaching, training and workshops. Here’s a great piece from Ryan about the importance of retesting in educational and training settings in order to build psychological safety, especially for those with “spiky” profiles.

This is an excellent piece about the practice of teaching Physical Education, and how providing a psychologically safe space for children to explore physical activity not only encourages them to simply get involved, but facilitates more effective learning and improvement. “How can a willingness to have a go, perform and learn occur if children are frightened to do so? How can delight, enjoyment and flourishing through movement happen if all I do is try to manage their behaviour?

This is interesting, Social Representations about Safety among Students and Teachers – examining how “real” safety in educational contexts (such as fear of shootings) and the role of the teacher in their eyes and those of students, impacts psychological safety.

This is fab, from Alex Rawlings (@MrARawlings on Twitter) at Quarry Bank Primary school, who is looking at Psychological Safety and its role in monitoring standards of learning and teaching at school. He says: ‘Monitoring’ carries so much baggage – instead we are ‘Taking the Temperature’. Subtle change, but clearer intent!”

And continuing the teaching theme, here’s a useful article from Edfuel: Psychological Safety: One ingredient in the recipe for teacher and student wellbeing. The article discusses how a school with high psychological safety is positively correlated with wellbeing, creativity, innovation, and effectiveness. They have effectively ported the Fearless Organisation survey to apply to schools, and I’m interested to hear from teachers about this too.

This paper: “The Moderating Role of Psychological Empowerment on the Relationship between Individualism-Collectivism perceptions and Burnout of Teachers“, which, if I understand it correctly, suggests that (to be potentially over-concise): we are stronger together – and resist burnout more effectively when acting as a collective – but individually we are more susceptible to burnout. Psychological safety however, mitigates the weakness of an individualistic culture.

This is interesting: Diversity approaches matter in international classrooms: how a multicultural approach buffers against cultural misunderstandings and encourages inclusion and psychological safety. This paper shows how psychological safety is improved in diverse classrooms (and presumably the same could apply to teams) when the lecturer adopts a multicultural rather than “colourblind” approach. That is – recognising and valuing cultural diversity increases psychological safety through facilitating understanding of cultural differences instead of pretending they’re not there. 

(Apologies – it’s a closed access paper and only accessible to those in academia, but the abstract is comprehensive, and the authors should be able to provide a copy if you want one.)

Here’s an excellent piece by Noble Ingram, interviewing Douglas Reeves about psychological safety for teachers and educators: in reflecting on the impact of the pandemic, “because we were in an environment where we had to try new things and improve them or abandon them, there was an imperative to admit when there’s a mistake, fix it, and go back to work.” Sometimes that environment of permissive candour is created through circumstances outside your control.

Here’s a great piece for those working in education: the switch to virtual environments, making changes to classrooms, and adapting curriculums and methods in light of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to big challenges for teachers and educators. This article includes a checklist that should help educators recognise the tangible actions they can take to build positive school leadership.

 This is an incredible paper, and well worth a read if you’re in or around Higher Education“You never feel so Black as when you’re contrasted against a White background”: Black students’ experiences at a predominantly White institution in the UK, by Lateesha OsbourneJulie Barnett, & Leda Blackwood of the University of Bath. Feeling that we belong in a group is fundamental to inclusion and to psychological safety. This is a great paper that highlights the lived experiences of Black students in higher education, and highlights the importance of addressing taking account of all students’ histories and the role of White perspectives in shaping Black students’ lives.

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