In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve how psychological safety plays into team dynamics.
Read the Forbes article here.
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Steve [Intro] (00:19): Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve (00:45): Teams and psychological safety. I came across a blog on the Forbes site, which I will include in the link to this podcast. The blog was titled “What Makes a Successful Team”, and it was written by Carley Sime. In. this writing, the author began recalling the five critical elements of team dynamics that Google found in the research on teams that it had done several years back. And then, taking the element of psychological safety, she explored it further. In this podcast, I’d like to share the elements that she mentioned and connect my thoughts on those elements to teams and especially to teams that are professional learning communities. So first, let’s look at the five elements identified by Google. Psychological safety – this means that there’s a feeling of security and trust within the team and that members can take risk without feeling insecure or embarrassed.
Steve (02:19): Next, dependability. This is the member’s ability to rely on one another and trust that people will deliver what they’re supposed to deliver and that it will be of high quality. Next is structure and clarity. And this refers to a clear understanding of the goals, the roles and responsibilities of the members. Certainly for me, the goals is a critical element here. I’ve actually been playing with the phrase with some of my PLC work of goals before norms. If people are clear on the outcome that they’re focused on, it makes it easier to build the rest of the structures that are needed for their teams to be successful. The last two that were identified in the Google work were the meaning of work and the impact of work. So the the task that people are carrying out needs to have a personal level of importance.
Steve (03:35): I feel that this is a good place to be investing my time and energy. And then secondly, the impact of the work. There’s a genuine belief across the members of the team that the work that they are doing, that what they’re going to accomplish is an indicator of their success, is something that really matters. Again, all of this for me connects back to the importance of the goals that are set as people join PLCs that we want to have a function as a team. The author of the blog, Carley Sime, focuses on that critical component of psychological safety and she shares some strategies for gaining that psychological safety. The first two that she identifies are to prioritize trust and promote a culture of learning and curiosity. “If you’re able to promote a dynamic where mistakes are learning opportunities, where problems are a chance to work together to problem solve and where your team is able to be curious about things and the decisions others have made instead of critical, you’re going to positively influence the levels of psychological safety.”
Steve (05:16): This jumps out at me when I consider that the “L” in PLC is critically important learning and that the goals that people are setting for their PLCs should be goals that at the start we don’t know how to achieve. If it’s a goal that we know how to achieve, then our PLC is probably going to function as cooperation where we’re working together effectively to implement what we need, what we know we need to do to get the job done. But if the goals are reaching a level of student success, a level of student learning, an outcome that we haven’t achieved previously, that’s what would drive us to make the PLC a collaboration where truly teacher learning, driven by teacher curiosity and desire is what causes us to reach new levels of student success. The next element that Sime shares is to encourage accountability and personal responsibility.
Steve (06:46): “It’s easy to encourage accountability and personal responsibility when there is respect and trust among the team. If that isn’t already there however, it may require owning some of the vulnerability that comes with these two things.” I smiled when I read that word, vulnerability. Because increasingly in my work I see the critical importance of trust and when we’re focusing on building trust, that trust often necessitates beginning with vulnerability. Trust can’t be built unless someone takes on vulnerability. And very often, with effective PLCs, I see that as the role of the teacher leaders, whether the teacher leader is the person facilitating the PLC or not, it’s that teacher leader who steps forward and makes him or herself vulnerable, putting their idea out on the table, putting their problem or their failure in a instructional plan out on the table. When they make themselves vulnerable, they create the opportunity for trust to build and for other members of the team to step into those vulnerable roles.
Steve (08:19): Sime identifies the need for active listening and to create a structure where everyone is encouraged to talk and to feedback. She states, “Active listening, asks you to concentrate when team members are talking, try to understand what they’re saying and then respond in a way that shows you have heard them.” I often find that full and active listening missing in PLC sessions. And often, it may require a facilitator creating structures to assure that that active listening and participation is happening. For an example, a person facilitating a PLC might suggest that on the question we’re exploring, let’s hear each person’s thoughts and views before any of us respond. We can take notes as we’re listening to each other and then go to a open group conversation. Since working collaboratively rather than just cooperatively is new to many teachers, these meeting skills need to be facilitated and people need the opportunity to learn how to take on these specific behaviors. Much as do our students when we’re looking to increase student dialogue and discussion in our classrooms.
Steve (10:29): The next suggested strategy caught my attention. Focus on delivering projects and teamwork as productively as possible, not as quickly. “Get clear about the shape of the work, look for opportunities to make the most of the project. This may be by supporting the growth, learning and development of team members. And think about ways that you can get more from the projects delivery than just the completed product.” The reason this jumps out at me is it is a problem that I frequently find in PLCs especially when I’m working with PLCs in elementary programs. And that is that the PLC tackles too many goals and projects and therefore, they can’t go deep into something. And it’s that depth that generates the the teacher learning and development. To me, that this is really the difference between what I’ve been calling a PWC, a professional working community, and a PLC, a professional learning community.
Steve (11:56): In that professional working community, people are looking for effective ways to quickly get things finished. And they, again, the professional learning community is where we’re tackling that that goal. We’re looking to solve that problem that is going to require learning on our part. So I do make the suggestion that if necessary, teachers actually separate the PWC time from PLC time. Even if they’re occurring within the same meeting block of time, create the agenda so that here’s that work that we need to cooperate on and quickly get it done. And now we’re going to spend the rest of our time in this PLC component where we’re digging deeper and generating our learning, our teacher learning for student learning tackling that question. What do the kids need us to learn in order to move ahead that that student success. So the PWC part of the agenda may constantly have changing topics, changing task to accomplish. But the PLC time should be a much more narrow and focused element that is being addressed and driving teacher learning.
Steve (13:33): The last suggestion from Sime is not to shy away from conflict or disagreement, but to ensure that it is healthy, helpful and respectful. “Having conflicts and disagreements that are handled and resolved well can be extremely healthy and positive.” I have had school administrators share with me that their most effective PLCs often have members with some strong differing views and that at times, their PLC meeting might even be labeled as a little bit heated. What happens in those situations though is that because they are connected by the goal that they want to achieve, they not only work through those disagreements or those differing views, but they use those differences to trigger creativity to trigger perseverance and most often lead to their design of options that are perhaps innovative and that the blend of their thinking creates a solution that advances student learning and generates teacher learning that can be applied in different scenarios. As you have the opportunity to observe your staff’s functioning as teams, take a moment to measure how you would rate the existing presence of psychological safety and what steps can be taken to increase that trust that is needed to maximize educator learning for student learning. Thanks for listening.
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