I’ve been thinking a lot about Simon Sinek’s concept of the circle of safety. It is not a new concept but he does a great job explaining that when those with whom we work and lead feel safe from threats within the organization, people are more likely to be innovative, solve problems and be creative. It is comparable to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Here’s a great Khan Academy video by Shreena Desai if you need a refresher: Maslows Hierarchy of Needs
I have observed this concept in practice when observing instruction and talking with other educational leaders. Good teachers progress through the curriculum and use data from assessments to inform their instruction. However, when I spoke to these teachers and students neither indicated they felt a strong attachment to one another. The relationships in the classroom were transactional.
Great teachers follow the scope and sequence, progress through the curriculum and use data to inform their instruction and do all the other things good teachers do. But the great teachers go a step further, they create a circle of safety and culture of trust with in their classrooms. It is in these classrooms that I have observed students feeling safe enough to take educational risks, collaborate, create, and be authentic while supporting one another.
In a similar way, great school leaders need to create a circle of safety for their teachers. By minimizing external distractions and threats that may be felt by their teachers, great leaders create a culture of trust within their organization. Allowing teachers to conduct research and take instructional risks, reminds teachers that when a strategy fails, they are modeling a growth mindset and resilience for each other and their students.
It’s not a one time thing, either. Teachers need to hear and feel this message from their leaders time and time again. Former Harvard Business School Professor, John Kotter talks about the importance of over communicating in his 1995 Harvard Business Review article Leading Change, Why Transformation Efforts Fail. In the article he speaks to the importance of sharing the message with everyone, in a myriad of ways and often. Furthermore, he talks about the importance of “walking the talk” of the message that is being communicated. This means that as educational leaders we must model the circle of trust with our faculty and staff so we can see it translate to the classroom.
When teachers feel safe and supported we create conditions in which they can thrive and fulfill their potential. The same can be said of our students.