Creating a Safe, Supportive Environment for Learning

  • “We believe in the power of education to teach nonviolence, promote understanding, endow children with purpose and meaning, and provide the skills and behaviors that can create a more inclusive, healthy, and positive future. This work is vital, perhaps now more than ever.”—Karen Niemi, CASEL President & CEO

    Creating a safe, supportive environment for social and emotional learning (SEL) has been, and remains, a high priority for CASEL. It is inherent in our focus on integrating SEL into all aspects of school and district practice through a systemic approach.

    The environment for learning has become particularly important to educators at a time when young people are experiencing unusual degrees of stress throughout our society. Whether it be the horror of school shootings, the anxiety many children feel about the threat to their families’ through the proposed changes in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), or violence, children are deeply affected by these societal pressures.

    Research tells us that children and adolescents take their cues from adults. As adults, we set the tone for what is acceptable in our society, and this contributes in powerful ways to the social norms of our schools’ culture. One of the pillars of CASEL’s approach to SEL implementation is a strong commitment to promoting a positive school climate. For many years we have worked closely with colleagues and organizations with a similar mission—for example, the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments and the National School Climate Center.

    We hope all our partners, colleagues, and collaborators, including the families and communities whose support is essential to successful schools, will be part of a renewed effort to bridge the gaps in respect and human relationships in today’s world, including peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. We hope you will continually emphasize the importance of accepting and understanding others, recognizing and celebrating individual and cultural differences, and engaging in civil, tolerant dialog even when there’s disagreement about specific policies.

    For excellent resources on how to teach social and emotional learning and embed it in the culture of your school, we recommend the numerous highly rated SEL programs reviewed and described in our CASEL Guides for both the preschool/elementary level and the secondary level.

    We also highly recommend the work of our colleagues in the SEL field, which we share below.

    Resources from Our Colleagues and Collaborators

    Resources to help children in the wake of a school shooting

    Other resources

    Anti-Defamation League: After Charlottesville—Teaching about Racism, Anti-Semitism and White Supremacy.

    ASCD: Resources for Addressing Racism and Hatred in the Classroom.

    Austin Independent School District, one of our Partner Districts: Video of a town meeting to ease post-election tensions.

    ChildTrends: Moving Beyond Trauma: Child Migrants and Refugees in the United States.

    Committee for Children: Helping Kids Feel Safe and Supported Post-Election. Also: Response to Charlottesville—A Call for Empathy and Inclusion.

  • CASEL Statement on the Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety (Dec. 2018)

    We welcome the completion of the School Safety Commission’s final report, published on December 18, 2018, with the aim of improving school safety and learning environments for students and staff. As we emphasize in all our work with schools, districts, and states, school safety and a positive, supportive school climate are foundational to social and emotional learning (SEL). Also, when students learn and apply social and emotional skills in their daily interactions, school climate improves and schools become safer. Therefore, we applaud the report’s authors for including an emphasis on a “climate of connectedness” in schools, implementing evidence-based social and emotional learning and character education, and increased mental health services. At the same time, we share the concern of many of our colleagues that the report proposes rolling back research-based strategies to address school discipline. As noted in the report, that guidance suggests that even ostensibly “neutral school discipline policies may violate federal law if they have a ‘disparate impact’ upon members of certain racial groups in rates of suspension, expulsion, or referral to law enforcement.” Fortunately, the School Safety Commission leaves the specifics of implementing school safety and school climate policies to the states. As we advance our Collaborating States Initiative work with a majority of states throughout the country to develop and implement SEL policies and practices, we will continue to make equity and social justice a guiding principle to create safe and welcoming environments for all students.

Confident Parents Confident Kids: Expanding the Circle: Teaching Children the Values and Actions of Inclusion.

Denver Public Schools. Creating a safe and supportive school district for children and families.

Greater Good: How to Help Diverse Students Find Common Ground.

Huffington Post: Supporting Refugee and Immigrant Children.

Learning First Alliance: Resources on School Culture.

Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility: Teachable Moments—Debating the Fate of DACA and Discussing Daca.

National PTA: Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit.

New York Times: Resources for Teaching and Learning About the Las Vegas Shooting.

NPR Education: How teachers and schools can help when bad stuff happens.

Open Circle: Helping Children Deal with Traumatic Events.

Psychology Today: The Psychological Toll Facing Immigrants in Today’s America.

Sacramento City Unified School District: Safe Haven School District—Protecting Our Students and Families.

Sesame Street in Communities: Truamatic Experiences.

Teaching Tolerance (A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center): Begin Within. Also: The Day After.

Always Relevant—the Basics of SEL

If you aren’t already well-acquainted with the basic principles and practices of SEL, we encourage you to learn about it in the following specific sections of our website:

Understanding social and emotional learning–“What Is SEL?”
Approaches for school-based implementation of SEL.
How it’s done in practice—the work of our Partner Districts.

If you know of other guidance and resources that may be helpful, please share them with us. You can send new resources to