March 2019 Blog

March 2019

Creating a Safer, Supportive Learning Environment
The Role that Social and Emotional Learning Plays in School Safety


How do you stop a fire before it starts? Like fire prevention, methods for mitigating risk behaviors and improving student outcomes are well established. Evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs are having a profound impact on student achievement, teacher/student relationships, and school climate nationwide. Within an SEL rich environment, students thrive. They gain a greater connection to school and develop skills crucial for creating a safer, supportive, and productive learning environment.

In a recent groundbreaking report, “Respect: Perspectives of Youth on High School & Social and Emotional Learning,” interviews with students of varying backgrounds and school types reveal the striking correlation between SEL intervention levels and perceived school safety. Significantly more students from schools with strong SEL programs “felt physically safe in high school” (90%) compared to students with weaker SEL interventions (60%). Not surprisingly, those same students from strong SEL schools reported higher levels of respect and support from principals and teachers, and better relations among students—elements essential to establishing a positive school climate. Consequently, schools with strong SEL programs also had significantly more students rate their school an “A” or “B” as a place for academic learning (90%) than students without strong SEL (60%) (Graph A.)

Graph A. Student Reports from Schools With or Without Strong SEL

Research from successful SEL programs reiterates the relationship between intentional SEL integration strategies and the components of a positive school climate.2-4 Each of the puzzle pieces below embody: 1) prioritizing SEL time and strategies, and 2) prioritizing teacher/student relations. When students know one another on a more meaningful level, enjoy rapport with teachers, and feel known/valued, they are more like to gain a sense of belonging at school—“school-connectedness”—which is a significant protective factor against academic disengagement and at-risk behavior.4,5 (Thus the inspiration behind our name, School-Connect, and why Module 1: Creating a Supportive Learning Community takes time to develop the attitudes, skills, and behaviors that lead students to experience a sense of belonging.)

Graphic source: School-Connect SEL Integration Guide and citations 2-4

Unfortunately, many of the tragic school violence events originated from a student feeling alienated, ostracized, and/or bullied by peers. School-Connect and other SEL programs work to develop empathy and respectful relationships among students, which can help defuse many of the triggers that ignite conflict and escalate. Additionally, students learn to manage anger, reduce stress, communicate effectively, and try to understand the other person’s perspective to better equip them to deescalate strong emotions and seek help, if necessary.

SEL is a proactive approach to the social, emotional, and mental health and well-being of students and schools. As a Tier 1 Universal Intervention, School-Connect gives all students access to SEL skill-building while also giving teachers an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with their students and recognize “red flags” sooner if a student needs additional mental health and wellness services.

Citations for Creating a Safer, Supportive Learning Environment:
DePaoli, J.L., Atwell, M.N., Bridgeland, J.M., Shriver, T.P. (2018). Respected: Perspectives of youth on high school and social and emotional learning. Chicago: CASEL.
2Cervone, B. and Cushman, K. (2014). Learning by Heart: The Power of Social-Emotional Learning in Secondary Schools. Providence, RI: What Kids Can Do, Center for Youth Voice in Policy and Practice, February 2014
3Hamedani, M.G., Zheng, X., and Darling-Hammond, L. (2015). Social emotional learning in high school: How three urban high schools engage, educate, and empower youth. SCOPE Research Brief, March 2015. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).
4The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional & Academic Development. (2019). From a nation at risk to a nation at hope. Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute.
5Resnick, M. D., Bearman, P. S., Blum, R.W., Bauman, K. E., Harris, K. M., Jones, J., Tabor, J., Beuhring, T., Sieving, R.E., Shew, Ireland, M., Bearinger, L. H., & Udry, J. R. (1997). Protecting adolescents from harm: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. Journal of the American Medical Association, 278, 10, 823-32

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