Psychologically Safe Schools

Psychologically Safe Schools

28 August 2021
Insight

Global Psychological Safety: Transition From ‘VUCA’ to ‘VUCA-PP’

There have been several global reports on mental health that we have been made aware of and repercussions of which we are observing in our local contexts, of a radical shift in the psychological state of children, teachers and families.

The global pandemic and VUCA (Vulnerability, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) environment we are living in are adding fuel to fire. All of us, from a national to personal level, are struggling with our fair share of challenges currently.

Considering the school as an employer for teachers. Most of the psychological challenges for teachers or students pertain to emotional stress and anxiety. These non-verbal cues need unique skills and methods to tackle and in a proactive manner. This situation calls for a series of measures such as:

  • Accepting our emotional 'vulnerability'
  • Creating an 'Understanding' for each other and the ecosystem
  • Collaborating with experts outside and within the system
  • Doing what humans have historically been best at - dealing with 'Adaptability' in the face of adversity


It would be helpful if we can create in our schools a healthy environment where teachers and students can freely speak about their psychological challenges to appropriate authorities so that we have a psychologically safe ecosystem that is solution-oriented.

Practical Steps to a Psychologically Safe School

As a practitioner myself, below are a few actions I would like to suggest:

  1. Have school management and principal invite teachers to participate in designing well-being policies and practices, in partnership with relevant service providers. This will help address local pain points by customising the needs of the individual school and its staff and students. It will also create a transparent and permeable climate for open conversations around challenges in managing psychological distress.
  2. Proactively record and address instances of signs and observation by teachers of their students through this established structure or system.
  3. Include vocabulary, integrating practices and interventions in the school curriculum: this will have a double advantage of being  an effective strategy to enhance the mental well-being of the current workforce, as well as equip students (our future workforce) with the skillset for managing well-being in their times of distress
  4. Work on changing definitions and popular beliefs around most widely misrepresented terms like success, failure, vulnerability, emotions, and the like.
  5. Appreciate meaningful and bigger picture initiatives taken by teachers and students.


The creation of a school culture that provides a safe environment for staff and students require time and resources. The truth is,  there is no quick fix to it. It will not only save lives in the long run but also create a healthy systemic effect that adds to enhanced belonging to the organisation and meaning and purpose for all.

Goal Number 3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030 talks about the need to “…promote mental health and well-being”. Let’s turn VUCA to VUCA-PP and promote  ‘Vulnerability’, ‘Understanding’, Collaboration and’, ‘Adaptability’ undergirded by Positive Psychology .

References

1. American Psychological Association. Apa dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/positive-psychology.

2. Edmondson, A. C. (2019). The fearless organization: Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth. John Wiley & Sons.

3. WEAll. (2021, March 18). Home. Wellbeing Economy Alliance. https://weall.org/

4. What vuca really means for you. Harvard Business Review. (2014, August 1). https://hbr.org/2014/01/what-vuca-really-means-for-you.

5. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Mental health. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health#tab=tab_1.

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