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From Principals to Principles

By March 23, 2023No Comments

This is the second in a series of posts on Fordham Preparatory School in Bronx, N.Y. Middle States is partnering with school leaders and teachers at Fordham Prep. to design and implement a teacher growth and development program. Read the first post.  

We know that teachers can expect feedback on their craft substantially less than 1% of the time.

Yet to foster genuine growth and development, merely increasing touch points is necessary, but insufficient. 

At Fordham Prep, we are working with the pilot cohort on how to give feedback in a way that fosters reflection and growth.

This is trickier than it sounds. Those of us who have been classroom teachers know that it takes courage to look in the mirror. It takes even more courage to hear feedback from principals and assistant principals. And it takes the most courage to invite peers into our classrooms.

That is why psychological safety is the bedrock of our teacher growth and development program.

According to Amy Edmonson, Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, psychological safety is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is a safe space for interpersonal risk-taking.”

After a few rounds of peer visits and debriefs, we asked the Fordham Prep teachers: What have you done as a cohort to support the development of a psychologically safe experience?

Participants said:

  • We rely on structured questions that help us to avoid judgments.
  • We lead the debrief of the class we taught (vs. having the debrief “done to us”).
  • The goal of our visits and conversations is to learn from one another, not to “grade” or otherwise evaluate one another.
  • Our interactions are informal and conversational.
  • We record notes in real-time so that we don’t forget the good ideas we had.

Based on these and additional insights, we developed principles for developing psychological safety to support the growth and development program.

Principle 1: Develop relationships before transacting business.

Psychological safety comes from knowing that the people visiting your classroom seek a relationship with you, not to transact business.

Principle 2: Foster peer-to-peer connections. 

Psychological safety comes from knowing that when you need help or feedback you can turn first to your peers rather than waiting for an administrator.

Principle 3: Share timely, kind feedback.

Psychological safety comes from knowing that you will receive feedback that is timely (immediately after you teach) and “kind” (clear, direct, and non-judgmental) instead of “nice” (empty praise or dancing around a problem).

Principle 4: Express curiosity, not judgment.

Psychological safety comes from knowing that your peers are invested in asking questions rather than hunting for flaws.

Principle 5: Make thinking visible and celebrate growth.

Psychological safety comes from knowing that growth is a team sport that depends on cohort members sharing what they notice. We get stronger together, and we celebrate that growth together.


When it comes to psychological safety and your experience of getting feedback on your teaching, what stands out for you?

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