I am sure many teachers can relate to these plans as I have seen them executed in classrooms many times. When the professor was asked his thoughts he shared that he would give the kid the pencil. Not only the first time, but always. The Master’s students insisted that this may not be the best idea as the teacher may find that he is being taking advantage of, experience difficulty continuing with a stock of pencils, rewarding negative behavior etc. This did not faze the professor and he stated that he was resourceful and sure that he would manage to keep a stock of pencils and would get over being exploited.
The article goes on to point out that many of the solutions that came up during the collaborative discussions involved punishment or subtle humiliation. Donohue states that there could be many reasons for a child forgetting a pencil from simple forgetfulness, organization difficulties due to ADHD, immaturity etc., and by moving towards punishment and humiliation anxiety can be created which not only provides a less than desirable learning environment, but can lead to defiance and other behavior problems, skipping class etc. We must remember that one of the most important factors in the classroom is that our students have a psychologically safe place to learn. Our students need to feel valued and teachers need to put great effort into creating psychologically safe classroom environments that are mistake-friendly. When we move beyond the pencil story, we know that there will be times when students will need to be disciplined, but it’s important to remember that discipline can be handled in a dignified way.
If you read this blog regularly, you will remember a few weeks ago I had a posting entitled ‘Circles of Safety’. In this post we looked at what danger looks like in the workplace, and the consequences that occur when employees don’t feel ‘safe’. Safety is just as important in the classroom. We often hear discussions about physical safety, as this is a very tangible topic to discuss as it’s one that we can clearly see the consequences of when there has been an act of school violence. But what about psychological safety?
As we enter this ‘Back to School’ season, it’s important that we take psychological safety into account. Teachers, ask yourselves whether you are creating an environment in which your students feel safe to learn. In my experience, these discussions also lead to a discussion about the psychological safety of teachers and how this is an important piece of the puzzle to ensure that they can provide a safe environment for their students.
It’s hard to believe that this September will make 14 years a group of awesome pre-service teachers and I began our Bachelors of Education at McGill University. From the beginning we were given the ever so popular statistic that tells us that attrition rates are approximately 50% among teachers. As I reflect, I can clearly see the truth of this statistic and share the sentiments of Huffington Post Blogger Katie Mgongolwa. She recently published an article entitled “How to Solve the Teaching Crisis – (Or at Least How to Start)" that went viral. In it she discusses the consequences of lack of support for new teachers. Teaching is an extremely strenuous job. It involves immense devotion of time and resources, integrity, competence and emotional resilience. Teachers who are supported by their administration and a community of educators are more likely to excel. Teachers need emotional safety just as much as students do. If our teachers do not feel psychologically safe, it will make it extremely difficult for them to create environments where their students feel psychologically safe. If a student doesn’t have an environment where they feel safe and comfortable, they will not reach their learning potential. Even worse, some students will begin their journey towards falling through the cracks.
Like students, teachers need to have mentors, they need positive contact with their administration and supervisors and they need an environment in which they feel supported. They need to know that the lines of communication are open and that they are partners in education rather than employees who are being monitored. Teachers who feel safe and supported go beyond the call of duty and make a true difference in the lives of their students.
So as we enter our back to school season, it’s important that we remember that beyond the pencils, school supplies, goal sheets and behavior charts, both our teachers and students need environments in which they need to feel safe and supported.