Is Your Setting Predictable and Safe? Does it Matter?

It’s been a long time, and I mean, a really long time, since I’ve gone to visit my mom. This pandemic has us taking every possible precaution to keep everyone safe, her, me, my wife, my kids, my co-workers and my students. I know that, in time, I will be able to safely sit with her to enjoy a coffee, some cookies (she always seems to have cookies on hand for my visits…I know, spoiled!) and another of our long conversations. I love talking with my mom, we have a comfort that allows us to share laughter and tears without fear of shame. It’s funny to think that I know exactly what to expect on my next visit. From the big smile to the welcoming hug to knowing exactly where the furniture will be arranged where the coffee cups are and, of course, where those cookies are kept. Predictable. That’s one of the words I’d use when I think about our visits. Other words include: safe, fun, insightful, comfortable. Is it any wonder I love going to visit?

I’ve been thinking about our school (#WaldheimSchool) this week as we are on our February break, and I began to wonder about a couple of those words through the lens of our students.

Predictable: is our school predictable? Do students know what to expect everyday as they walk through our doors? I don’t mean that every lesson is repetitive or that life feels like the movie Groundhog Day. I mean, do kids know they will be greeted with a smile everyday by the adults in the building? Do they know where to go and when? Do they have a predictable, safe routine that allows them to focus on learning? When you think about your organization, be it your business, your school, your division, etc., how would you answer these questions:

  • why is predictability an important part of our culture?
  • as the leader, how am I creating a predictable environment for our people?
  • how do I know, beyond my hunch, that I am creating a predictable space?

Safe: do all learners, young and old, feel safe in our school? In our recent survey of our learners we saw that our students do, in-fact, feel safe coming to, working in, and leaving from our school. The physical and emotional safety of all of our people is paramount to me as the leader. I know every parent in our learning community trusts that we will take care of their children, and it is an awesome responsibility we take extremely seriously. Beyond their physical and emotional safety, I think about the importance of how safe they feel to take risks in their learning. When I view safety through this lens I do not feel we are doing as good a job as we could. This is, in no way, an indictment of our teachers. They do an incredible job, everyday with our students. I also believe that our learners that are really excelling have the courage to ask for what they need and frequently take risks with their learning. I also feel we’ve created a place where our vulnerable learners feel very safe with their learning. I’m most concerned about those students ‘in the middle’. Those students who do not actively seek the help they need to really help them move the needle. Those are the students that keep me up at night. When you think about your organization, be it your business, your school, your division, etc., how would you answer these questions:

  • do the people in my organization feel safe at work?
  • what risks do the people in your organization take that would show you that they feel comfortable?
  • as the leader, what role do you play in creating a safe culture?

There were other words I used to describe visits with my mom; fun, insightful, comfortable. I’m sure you could create a list of a myriad of words to describe an optimal environment for your classroom, school, division, business, organization, etc. What words spring to mind? What are the important things about the classroom, school, division, business, organization, etc. that you lead? If you made a list of the 5 most important words, what would they be?

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About the Author: Bruce Mellesmoen