Episode 44

Design Thinking for School Safety

What can make students be, and maybe more importantly, feel safe in schools today? How might design thinking and community engagement contribute to successful student learning, growth and wellness? Stanford d.School colleagues sam seidel and Barry Svigals share their exploration, thinking, tools and design solutions to empower collaboration between schools and their broad communities to deliver safe and nurturing environments for all students. Listen in for some positive energy and encouragement.

Featured on the Show
"It's important for people to get an idea of what these questions are, prompts, and they all are designed to reframe the idea of school safety to be really about well-being. For example, “how will safety decisions improve the well-being of our school community?” Simply asking THAT question. So often the ideas, the way in which we solve "the problem of school safety", is from a very narrow perspective, and it ends up in hardening schools with security cameras and things like that. If we take the camera back a little bit, we ask a better question “how does your school safety plan invite meaningful participation by the community?”


CCB: [00:00:08] Welcome to the ONEder podcast. This is your host CCB, and today we're going to have an interesting conversation around a specific topic within the world of environments. And our Learning Environments Team create spaces to support learning and learning, learning everywhere. And we've come to the realization that every space can be a learning space if we consider what those attributes are that support students and the learning process. In our exploration into this very broad concept, we were introduced to two colleagues that have been working together at the Stanford d.School who have, an enormous amount to say about this particular topic. So I am delighted to welcome both Barry Svigals and sam seidel to excuse me to the to the ONEder Podcast. And Barry, I think you have something to say.

Barry Svigals: [00:01:11] I do. I want to introduce sam seidel, as a matter of fact. And and I was just so delighted to meet sam a number of years ago. He is one of the most engaged educators that I've ever met. He certainly appreciates what you were just saying about the fact that every space is a learning space. And he is not only a proponent of it, he's actively involved in it. He was a teacher, high school teacher for many years. He is now the Director of Strategy and Research at the d School, and he was so kind to reach out to me a number of years ago. And we have now been collaborating for quite some time on particularly the space of learning environments and keeping them safe and how you do that and how you think about it.

CCB: [00:02:08] Okay. So I was going to say, sam, now I'm passing the baton to you.

sam seidel: [00:02:12] Thanks. First of all, thanks for having us with you and and for having us as a part of this important conversation. I would love to attempt to introduce Barry to to you and to your listeners. I first remember seeing Barry on stage at something called the BIF Storytelling Summit, and I have a particular line, he said, that really stuck with me that I quote or possibly misquote often. But more so than what he said it was how he said it, and that that stuck with me and struck me. And that's become a particularly telling theme in our relationship, because Barry shared with me this phrase that I think about constantly, which is "how we are, is what it becomes". And I feel like you were embodying that on that stage, that day, sharing your story, Barry and continue to embody it. I can share a bit about what Barry has done in his career, but I think more importantly, it's how he's done it, and that's with a deeply grounded spirituality and intentionality and care for others. And as an artist with an artistic sense and sensibility, whether that means operating and working in the fine arts of sculpture and painting, or in his career, many decade long career, as an architect and designer of physical spaces, or in engaging in conversation and the kind of thought work that we've been doing together over the last few years with school administrators, students, educators and others, architects, to be sure. Barry started and ran an architecture firm for many years in New Haven, Connecticut, and designed a lot of spaces, including schools. And that was part of what brought us together as as I was looking to dig into some questions around how we think about the design of school spaces. And so have been, I feel I've been incredibly fortunate to get to collaborate deeply with Barry over these last few years, and I'm excited to share more with you about what we've been working on and what I've been learning from him.

CCB: [00:04:33] Okay, that's that's pretty lovely. And I am enormously grateful that both of you have are taking the time to have a conversation with our audience about Safe by Design and the beauty of the approach, engaging community, is something that I'd love you to spend a little bit of time talking about the, all the members of the effort that are required to make to make spaces safe for students in the learning process.

Barry Svigals: [00:05:12] Well, of course, now I would like to say more about Sam, because he went on and on about me, but I'm going to save that. You can put it in the liner notes or whatever.

CCB: [00:05:20] I'll do that.

Barry Svigals: [00:05:21] Because he's a remarkable, remarkable guy. And yes, and thank you also CCB for having us. Let me just kick it off by saying that, and this is true of Sam's attitude, that all of us are responsible for the world in which we live. And when we take that down to the designing of schools, we have the great opportunity to realize that schools and places of learning, and they do happen in a place, are the responsibility of everyone. Our children are indeed our future and our responsibility. If we can think of the design of schools in that way, it's wonderful to meet all these collaborators who actually wish to be a part of it, from the people who might work in the lunchroom, that could be the custodial folks who are in the school. It could be the bus driver. It could be absolutely everyone in the community who can join and be a part of the creation of an environment that is the most propitious for learning for children.

CCB: [00:06:35] The, um huh, the like the expansiveness of this thinking is laudable. And then it brings, begs the question, so how do we bring it to practical and know that you all have been working on that very judiciously and there are lots of tools and resources that have come out of the work that you've been doing. But I'd love you to talk about the how, the how are you doing this?

Barry Svigals: [00:07:09] Um, Sam, do you want to jump at that or do you want me to?

sam seidel: [00:07:12] Well, I mean, I'm happy to share a bit about the tools we've created, Barry, but maybe if you'd like to first talk about just how you've done that throughout your career, even before we started creating these specific tools around school safety, that might be a good place to start, and I think it leads in many ways to what we've developed. And I could share a bit about how I've done some of that work too, not as an architect, but as a facilitator of learning design projects. Yeah. Well, why don't you go ahead.

Barry Svigals: [00:07:43] Yeah. There are details behind it all. I think the reason why I mentioned from the beginning the attitude about including the entire community is it leads to ways in which people then become engaged in actually the making of the schools. When we did a school, we made sure that we visited all the coffee shops and lunch places and everything else in the in the town, along with the social clubs and all the places where people gathered and cared about one another. We pulled those people into the process of the creation of the school and we did it quite intentionally in terms of a broad base in the school. And they brought all kinds of dimensions of how the school might be designed in a way that served the community much more deeply than simply a place where children were parked for however many hours a day and then went back home again to weave it into the place being woven into the life of the community. For example, designing it such that the gymnasium and elementary school can be used for the old guys who want to play basketball late at night, having a space in front of the school that could have Saturday morning gatherings of food trucks, etcetera, plan to be included in part of the school.

Barry Svigals: [00:09:06] The school that we worked with, Ascend in Oakland, did a number of these things rather naturally. They would have their Halloween parade that would march through the entire community so the students would see the students. There are some there are such simple things that can begin to remind people that we're all in this together. And then people begin to offer, someone offers to take care of a community garden and has the school's permission to do that and then gets included in the school. Parents come in and then get involved in ways that they never would otherwise. These seem like very simple things, but there's something that's lost in the way in which we've thought about our communities very often in an isolated and marginalized way, such that these areas of concern are compartmentalized. So that we don't have the benefit of an interaction that enriches both the community and the resources, such as schools that are going to inform them and enliven them. I don't know, Sam, I'm sure you want to add to that.

sam seidel: [00:10:12] Well, I'll say one thing, which is I think there's a dual purpose to the expansive co-design of learning environments or anything for that matter, which is you, you, we, whomever is engaged in it will get a better outcome if there is a broader spectrum of designers at the table. So the more we engage students, the more we engage the custodial staff, the more we engage community members living around the school, the more we engage the teachers and of course, administrators who are often in the role of making some of these decisions. Uh, the, the, the better the outcome will be. We believe that we've seen that in practice. It makes sense because you're getting the perspectives of the people who will need to use the space, who will take care of the space. And then the other benefit is that everyone feels ownership. And Barry was starting to get to some of that with folks coming in to start the community garden and play these different roles. The more I have been engaged in the conceptualization and the creation, even the physical construction, the more I will be a steward throughout the life of a of a learning environment. So it's really important for all of those reasons. I'm tempted to share some stories of past work I've done in this arena, but I think we should fast forward and get to what we've been building together. And you asked CCB about particular tools, and there's two pieces I think we should we should focus on here. Happy to share more about some of the prototypes along the way and other ideas.

CCB: [00:11:49] We certainly would love to hear some of those that that, you know, that help fill out the story. And again, it's your story. So you tell it the way you want to.

sam seidel: [00:11:59] Well I'll I'll try to do a few pieces quickly and then we can double click on any of them or Barry, if you want to add other pieces, one piece that was I think really important in our process was the creation of archways that could be built out of the surplus cardboard boxes that many schools cafeterias have delivered every day, filled with student lunches or any other cardboard or materials that are around the school or can be picked up at a recycling center. And the invitation to students in particular to use those materials to construct these archways that can go over the door of a classroom or a school library or a resource center to re-enliven the space as a community space of a different sort. And so we prototyped and tested this idea a few different times in different contexts, including at Ascend, the school that Barry mentioned a moment ago here in Oakland, um, asking students what types of spaces are needed for you to feel safe and then how can we message that to the community and, and use a space in the school that may be underutilized, at least some of the day and have this kind of pop up that introduces the space in a new way? Um, and so that was one of the early activities that we found to be fun and that we heard from all of the educators that we shared it with is something that feels really possible in the context of an existing building, right? Many people would love to have the chance to design an entirely new facility and, you know, have the seven-digit budget to build it out to their specs, um, or more.

sam seidel: [00:13:49] But in the cases where that's not possible, we were looking for ways to put materials and tools right into the hands of students and educators to start to create new spaces within an existing facility. So that's, that's one activity that brought a lot of both fun and joy and also insight in terms of students having these important conversations about - is it a celebration space, is it a dance space or is it a quiet space for meditation and reflection? Or do we need both? And you turn the archway around and it has some, you know, one of those things on one side and one on another. And so that that has been a really generative activity. The other two pieces I want to mention are, uh, questions to your answers about school safety, which is a set of prompts that we created on Post-it notes, actual little sticky Post-it notes, that are meant to expand the conversation about what school safety means and is, and expand who's a part of the conversation. So these Post-it notes, we had 20,000 packs of these printed up. And thanks to our collaborators at Sourcewell and Sandy Hook, Promise and Safe and Sound Schools were able to get this into the hands of many, many education administrators. But within the Post-it notes, there are these prompts about how to engage your broader community.

sam seidel: [00:15:14] In these conversations and the notes themselves, the questions written on them, and maybe Barry will share a few since I saw him just get up and grab them are meant to expand the conversation. So the reason we called it Questions to Your Answers about School Safety is we may come into the conversation thinking we know, Oh, school safety, we need thicker windows, we need smaller windows, we need more security cameras, we need doors that lock from the main office. We can hit a button and lock down all the doors throughout the school. There are all these kind of stories and solutions that start presenting themselves when the worlds words, "school safety" are said. And this we learned from talking with lots of school administrators and district administrators. Part of our work is to open up some questions around those things. Do CCTV cameras all over the building make students and educators feel safer? Do they make folks physically safer? What are they solving for? And what are the other ways we could solve for some of those things? So the questions are meant to open conversation, not shut it down. And we distributed those along with the activity guide that suggested how you might use these Post-its within a context of an active K through 12 school. Barry, do you want to, before we talk about the last tool, do you want to share any.

Barry Svigals: [00:16:35] I think it's, It's important for people to get an idea of what these questions are as prompts and they all are to reframe the idea of school safety to be really about well-being, CCB where you began at the at the top of the hour, for example, how will safety decisions improve the well-being of our school community? Simply asking that question. So often the ideas, as Sam was saying, the ways in which we solve quote "the problem of school safety" is from a very narrow perspective, and it ends up in hardening schools and security cameras and things like that. If we take the camera back a little bit, we ask a question How does your school safety plan invite meaningful participation by the community? There's a prompt instead of it being made by educators, administrators who are, of course responsible for this, but often aren't as closely connected to the school community as they might be. How are different students being treated differently? What does it mean to be safe and feel safe?

CCB: [00:17:56] That was one of the questions I really wanted to tease out. How do you help people understand the difference between being safe and feeling safe? Because clearly the feeling safe is what allows the mind to expand and open for additional learning, as opposed to you may tell me I am safe, but if I don't feel safe, my energy and effort is going to be directed in that. Yeah.

Barry Svigals: [00:18:28] Well said. Sam, you want to jump in on that? You’re muted.

sam seidel: [00:18:34] I'll just share viscerally for me where some of the thinking and action around this work began, which was I was doing something that, that we, uh, I've led over the years through the K 12 lab at the Stanford d.School, which is called Shadow a Student. And it's a pretty simple but also profound activity, which is you just go spend one full day shadowing a student in a K-12 school. And I've done dozens, probably over 100 school visits in my career, and never done it that way. Usually, I kind of get whisked into this room and that room and, you know, shown this project and it's all very quick and it's a very different experience to follow one student throughout their entire day. And I was doing that at a middle school a few years ago, and in the middle of math class, the math teacher told us we were going to do an active shooter drill and asked all of us this was I was shadowing a sixth grader, told us all to put down our pencils and pens and go huddle in the corner, uh, a specific corner. And he talked us through how he would jam the door shut. He had made this thing in his garage at home out of wood to kind of catch the door handle on the edges of the doorjamb. And he talked us through closing the window shades and all of this. And so I'm huddling there with all these children. And then he finishes and says, okay, now we'll go back to doing the math worksheet we were doing. And I was already struggling with the middle school math, but after that, I just completely couldn't do it. I mean, I couldn't I didn't answer a single question in the next 20 minutes or however long was remaining in that period.

sam seidel: [00:20:31] And it just really landed for me viscerally. How there had been no active shooter. But the in an effort to help us be safe in the face of an active shooter, I was now completely distracted and didn't feel I could focus on the academic study that this teacher was asking me to do because I was so terrified of what could happen at any given moment and what might happen to my classmates and myself. And so it landed for me that, and this may be obvious to everyone listening, but it hadn't been to me, I don't think, up until that point that the notion of school shootings doesn't just impact the families and educators and students in schools where there is an incident, it impacts every student in this country who is experiencing these drills, who's experiencing the measures that are being taken. And I don't think we fully understand the impact. And I don't think nearly enough thought has gone into how we might create environments that are truly safe as well as joyful spaces to learn. And it became clear to me that that's something I want to think more actively about, that I believe we need for the field and I didn't have good answers if someone were to ask me, well, how do we do that? So that's really a big part of what led me to want to do this exploration with Barry. Barry maybe you can say more about how you've thought about the difference between, or the difference and connection relationship between being and feeling safe and what it means to create that in the context of a school.

Barry Svigals: [00:22:15] Well, we certainly saw it in terms of the requirement to install metal detectors, for example, in our schools that we fought against. Very difficult thing to do as an architect to say you can't have this safety feature. We saw immediately what it did. It made it a prison like environment right off the bat. And all the tropes about schools as prisons come full circle, and there it is right in front of you. So many of the things cameras, for example, many of the things that are intended and well-intended to make students safer, actually make them feel less safe. And this is something we found in almost all of our conversations with students. So this led to the last resource that we want to mention to you, which is the book that we, Sam and I authored called Changing the Conversation about School Safety. And it's refocus, refocus around three very simple things. And they are elusively simple. But if they are followed and held closely, they make an enormous impact. And the first is community, which we talked about. That's an extraordinarily important part of making a school and having people feel engaged in it and creating an environment of well-being. The second is equity. Having people feel and understand equity, meaning that, there is, as you level the playing field, the playing field actually gets higher. We don't realize that. And so we marginalize students for all sorts of reasons unconsciously. And the last is well-being, which is really the embrace for the entire conversation. It is all about well-being, because without that foundation, students do not have an environment where they can learn no matter where it is, if they're not feeling well, the education that we wish for them to have, simply does not happen. Sam, I don't know if you want to elaborate some more parts of the of that book.

sam seidel: [00:24:25] Well, yeah. I mean, I think one of the pieces that in our initial research that we found is that it's 200 times more likely that a student will take their own life than lose their life at the hands of someone else in a school. And so we have to consider that when we think about these measures Barry mentioned, the metal detectors or anything that creates a carceral feel. How is that impacting students? And then to the point of equity, that may not impact all students the same way, because students based on race, based on family experience, socioeconomics have different relationships, say, with law enforcement. And so the psychological impact of being greeted by an armed police officer at the front door every day may feel very different for a student coming from a community that is overpoliced and where they've witnessed violence at the hands of police to members of their family or community or to themself, than it might feel for a student who has had no real interaction with law enforcement or positive minimal interaction with law enforcement. Right? So, there's some really important considerations in there. And the other piece is that in the effort to prevent the.

somewhat statistically rare incident of a gun violence at the hands of an intruder in schools. We're doing all sorts of things and not necessarily thinking about the impacts that those have on students psychologically and even physically. So there's some important pieces that we need to reckon with in there. And in no way are they ever an excuse to not take action to keep students and community members safe. They are a reason to think in a dynamic way about each of these decisions. And one of the things that I've just admired incredibly about Barry's work, even prior to our collaboration, was the refusal to play a zero-sum game with these pieces. So we haven't mentioned this yet, but one of the schools that Barry and his firm designed is the school that was built in Sandy Hook after the horrific school shooting that took place there. And they had to design a building that was incredibly safe physically, you know, couldn't just have random people walking in because of what had occurred in that community. And at the same time, they had to design a space that was going to be full of joy and community and openness to repair what had happened. And time and time again, when I've talked through that, both the process and what was designed with Barry, what I've learned is that there were ways to say, we will do both.

sam seidel: [00:27:06] We will create a learning environment right outside the building, around the perimeter that is a natural classroom where students can go outside and learn in the context of nature. That also creates a sort of a, Barry probably would never use this word, but sort of a moat around the building that makes it hard for someone to just walk right up to the outside of the building anywhere and stand at the window. So you can have these giant windows, low windows on a kindergarten classroom, but someone outside can't approach that window in the same way. And so it's not a tradeoff of saying like, we have to make no windows so that someone couldn't come and approach the exterior and do something threatening. It's saying, how do we have the huge window and have a great space outside and have it such that someone can't just walk right up to our kindergarten window with whatever. So, I mean, there's so many examples. Barry Sorry if that was a bit of a, you know, not as eloquent explanation of that design as you would have given. But I just I want to say it to illustrate that I think way too often I have assumed it's a zero sum game. We can either have the big window and it feels open and joyful or we can have it be physically safe.

sam seidel: [00:28:19] And how do we make that choice? It's pretty rare, but we have to be careful about the instance where someone would approach the building in that way. And part of what I've found endless inspiration in in the stories Barry, that you've shared, is that we don't have to choose between those things, that we can think about how to really understand who is entering a school building without cameras everywhere. And so I want to put that out there because I think sometimes the pieces around creating a joyful and open learning environment are written off as sort of nice to have or it's idyllic thinking, but there's no way to do that and still meet the needs of the kind of physical safety that we feel we are obligated to create for our students and our learning communities. And Barry, I just feel like so many times over and over, you and others that we've had the privilege of talking with have demonstrated that it is not a zero sum game and that you can achieve both of those things. And I think that that's what I want to challenge all of us to rise to. How do we not say, okay, we're just making this choice, but say let's think creatively together about how to how to meet these goals simultaneously.

CCB: [00:29:30] Okay, you guys, you have filled the time with the most amazing information. And I'm going to say heartfelt, thoughtful, it's so lovely to understand the thinking that goes behind it. And I'm going to say the collaboration between art and design and architecture and education and psychology and all of the elements and building that community to keep our children safe and with the huge opportunity to learn. That being said, is there anything else? Because we have to wrap it up. Is there anything else that we haven't talked about that you want to say? And I will also remind all of our listeners that all the references to any of the resources that have been mentioned will be on our website, on the podcast page, with links. So you'll be able to get to Barry and Sam's information and even them a whole lot easier. So back to you gentlemen.

Barry Svigals: [00:30:30] Well, the one thing that I would echo of what Sam just said is that it really matters where you begin from. If you begin from the wish for our children to be well in their schools, to be happy and to be joyful. All other decisions can be made in that context and then all the outcomes will be entirely different. One of the statistics that Sam mentioned about 200 times more likely that that kids will take their own lives and have it be taken by another. The other statistic that we had right up front is that we are spending three times the amount of money on, quote, safety devices, many of which, in fact, almost all of which have never been tested, really, because it happens so rarely. Three times as much as opposed to in social emotional learning. So we need to invest in, think about and invest in what we care most about, which is the well-being of our children.

CCB: [00:31:31] Extremely well said. I'm going to say again thank you both, Sam and Barry for spending time with us and broadening our perspective and our awareness on the elements that keep our children safe in the built environment, but also in life. The ONEder Podcast is heard on all podcast streaming services so you can catch up with us. And we are grateful for the d. School resources that go towards creating good design and better communities. CCB signing off from the ONEder Podcast. Thank you.

Barry Svigals: [00:32:08] Thank you.

sam seidel: [00:32:09] Thank you.