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Special Article

Safety in the Classroom and Beyond

Daren Harris

To cite this article: Harris, D. Safety in the Classroom and Beyond. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #58. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

What separates high performing teams from all the rest? In an article from The New York Times Magazine, Charles Duhigg describes research conducted by Google to find the essential elements of building the perfect team. The article chronicles the research of Project Aristotle and in particular focuses on information discovered by one of the project’s lead team researchers, Julia Rozovsky (Duhigg, 2016).

Psychological safety allows team members to have the confidence for interpersonal risk taking by building trust and mutual respect.

What Julia Rozovsky and her colleagues discovered after combing through an incredible amount of data gathered by Project Aristotle was that adherence to team norms improved performance. Whether these norms were unspoken or openly acknowledged didn’t matter as long as individuals put their preferences aside for the betterment of the team. Interestingly, there was a wide variance in the type of norms among high performing teams. After finding this key point, Project Aristotle researchers decided to look more deeply at the data to determine if there were certain norms that mattered most (Duhigg, 2016). They found two norms all good teams generally share: equal conversation time through turn-taking and average social sensitivity. The two aforementioned traits link directly to communication skills and the demonstration of empathy. These two traits make up aspects of what is known as psychological safety. Psychological safety allows team members to have the confidence for interpersonal risk-taking by building trust and mutual respect. What Rozovsky faced after finding this critical information was the rather messy process of how to create a method to help Google teams develop psychological safety.

Fortunately for educators, Kagan Cooperative Learning developed by Dr. Spencer Kagan provides a framework to help with the process of creating psychological safety in their classrooms. The acronym “PIES” represents the principles at the heart of cooperative learning. The “E” stands for equal participation, a norm listed in the Project Aristotle research as a key to psychological safety. As students hear from each other in turn, they begin to feel equal status as learners. They begin to build trust and take risks in their learning. Teachers can implement Kagan Structures, follow the steps carefully, and ensure equal participation by monitoring student interaction. Through the use of Kagan Classbuilding and Teambuilding Structures, educators provide students the opportunity to get to know each other and respect each other by allowing them to build relationships in an engaging setting that emphasizes both interpersonal and academic development. The interpersonal skills of communication and social skills are embedded in each structure so that students practice sharing their ideas, making eye contact, active listening, greeting each other, and praising the contribution of others. All these skills are keys to fostering the second norm identified by Project Aristotle of social sensitivity or empathy. Individuals who are capable of understanding the thoughts and feelings of others and how those can impact the collaboration of a team foster trust among their teammates. Sharing with students the importance of building relationships in order to produce psychological safety helps them to understand how they can positively impact the performance of all team members.

The world of work we are preparing our students for has an increasing demand for individuals who can function effectively in a team. Employers are looking for employees who not only have the basic skills needed to perform work, but also possess the social and communication skills necessary to help collaborative work teams excel at complex problem solving essential in a competitive global economy. Dr. Spencer Kagan has stated in his work on cooperative learning that today’s employers need individuals who can build collaborative relationships that construct a safe environment. This is corroborated by Project Aristotle. Teachers can provide students with future skill training by utilizing Kagan Cooperative Learning to aid students in understanding and practicing the skills necessary to create safe and effective teams.

Reference

Duhigg, C. (2016). “What Google Learned From Its Quest To Build The Perfect Team.”
            The New York Times Magazine. February 25, 2016.