New View EDU Episode 2: Schools for Safety and Well-Being

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What is the difference between being safe, and feeling safe? 2020 made us think about school safety in a completely different way from before. As we move forward, how can we redefine what we mean by “safety,” and imagine new ways to create school environments, conditions, and cultures of true safety and well-being?  

Barry Svigals and Sam SeidelIt’s not just physical safety measures, like masks and social distancing, that mark the pandemic as a turning point for school safety. Some experts believe that the main work of educators in 2021—and for the foreseeable future—will be trying to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and multiple big-picture social and cultural traumas on student achievement. In a landscape where trauma is an ongoing reality of American life for many members of our school communities, how do we envision forward-thinking systems that effectively treat emotional well-being as a core construct for teaching and learning? Celebrated architect Barry Svigals, who helped to reimagine and rebuild Sandy Hook Elementary School after the tragedy, joins us to share his philosophy on school safety. Also with us is Barry’s friend and colleague Sam Seidel, Stanford K12 Lab director of strategy and research.

In this episode, hosts Tim Fish and Lisa Kay Solomon invite Barry and Sam to share the foundations of the work they do to help communities reimagine school safety. Sam shares one of his moments of inspiration, revolving around a personal experience as a visitor during a school shooting drill that led him to question the purpose—and the hidden costs—of some of our common safety practices. Barry delves into the careful, compassionate, and surprising questions he asked school leaders at Sandy Hook when reimagining safety for their community. And both guests talk passionately about the importance of creating linkages between schools and their surrounding neighborhoods to help foster a sense of communal caring.

In addition, Barry and Sam share simple, actionable ideas for exercises schools can implement right away to help them improve well-being and belonging. From starting with love to designing for joy, this conversation about school safety is filled with unexpected approaches to a challenging topic. 

This episode was originally published on August 17, 2021.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Lisa explore in this interview include:
  • As school leaders think about safety choices they may make for the future—starting “anew”—what should they be considering? What questions should they be asking?
  • If “safety is everyone’s job,” what should school leaders know about creating holistic environments of safety for every member of their communities?
  • If feeling safe and being safe are two different things, what does it mean to feel safe, and to be safe, at school?
  • How do we manage the tension between protecting students from physical threats, while also allowing them to feel a sense of agency and empowerment?

Episode Highlights

  • “The methodology that we need to bring to schools is that we need to start with questions. We need to begin with, first, the most fundamental of questions. We don't start with, ‘What kind of chain link fence should we have?’ or ‘What kind of camera systems should we have?’ or ‘Who should we hire to be security resource officers in our school?’ I mean, a whole other host of things that superintendents and administrators of schools very often begin with. It is precisely the wrong place to begin, because as we know, for a hammer, all the world is a nail.” (7:38)
  • What allows for a joyful experience in your school? If all our strategies around school safety are put through that lens, you come up with a whole different set of outcomes.” (8:34)
  • “I think we get too often caught up in this idea that it's a zero sum game, that if we prioritize physical safety, we automatically have to sacrifice emotional well-being. Or community.” (13:30)
  • If you want to know something about a school, there are three people you should talk to: the person at the front desk, the person who works in the cafeteria, and the person who is maintaining the school.” (16:48)
  • “If you don't think kids can change things, think again. If you ask them to be involved, the most extraordinary things can come of it.” (20:43)

Resource List

  • Questions to Your Answers About School Safety: Barry and Sam’s thoughtfully designed set of 47 guiding questions school leaders and communities can ask to help make empowered decisions about safety in their schools.
  • Being Safe and Feeling Safe Are Not the Same Thing: “Pre-pandemic, our national obsession was the rare instances of extreme violence, while far greater problems stemming from an inattention to emotional well-being were often marginalized. But who would believe they were greater?”
  • School Safety: Follow the work the Stanford K12 Lab is doing on reimagining school safety.
  • Sam Seidel on Medium: Stay up-to-date with Sam’s latest writings on education.
  • The Overprotected Kid: “A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.”
  • Tim Gill on Child-Friendly Urban Planning and Design: “Children don’t live in cities at all. Children live in neighborhoods. … A neighborhood that’s good for children has lots of choice.”

Full Transcript

Key Takeaways

About Our Guests

Barry SvigalsArtist, architect, musician, keynote speaker, and thought leader Barry Svigals is helping communities and organizations become more creative and collaborative, making places that express who they are. Trained as both an artist and an architect, he wove those two worlds together in the founding of an architecture+art firm that he led for more than 30 years. At the heart is his passion to challenge his own creativity as well as the creativity of others in service of what is needed in the world. A graduate of Yale College and the Yale School of Architecture, Barry’s focus on community engagement as well as art enlivening architecture contributed to a long list of projects for diverse clients, among them major universities, corporations, and institutions. The firm’s best known project is the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, completed in 2016. 

Sam SeidelSam Seidel thinks, writes, speaks, and designs learning experiences at the intersections of education, race, culture, and design. He is the director of K12 strategy and research at the Stanford Sam is also the author of Hip Hop Genius. He has taught in a variety of settings, from first grade to community college, and directed youth programs for young people affected by incarceration. He speaks nationally about education issues and writes for the Huffington Post, among other publications.