Environments Filled With Safety and Belonging
In environments that are consistently caring, safe, attuned to relationships, and inclusive, youth learning and well-being will be not only promoted, but empowered. Learning communities that have shared expectations—that demonstrate cultural sensitivity and communicate worth—create calm and ignite curiosity. Children are more able to learn and take risks when they feel not only physically safe with consistent routines and order, but also emotionally and identity safe, such that they and their culture are a valued part of the community they are in. There is no one formula for creating and sustaining these environments, but key structures can increase equity of experience, opportunity, and outcomes for all students.
What Can Schools Do to Foster Environments Filled With Safety and Belonging?
Support structures that foster safety and belonging, which include:
- Shared values and norms framed as “do’s” that guide relationships (e.g., respect, responsibility, kindness) rather than “don’ts” that direct punishments (e.g., don’t talk, touch, or move); these are co-developed with students and translated into expectations for each community member’s actions and interactions;
- Consistent routines that support order and positive interactions (e.g., daily greetings, regular classroom meetings, shared classroom practices), building a foundation for a strong sense of community and belonging within the school;
- Restorative routines and settings that support reflection and build life skills (e.g., community circles, places where students can defuse and reflect, and processes for explicit conflict resolution); and
- Inclusive settings, including heterogeneous classrooms and socially supportive extracurriculars that are culturally affirming and communicate common expectations and opportunities.
Support practices that build safe and caring learning communities, which include:
- Educators’ regular and skillful use of co-developed norms, routines that enable responsibility and agency, de-escalation practices when situations become tense, and management of conflict through dialogue and reparation of harm;
- Attention to signs of trauma, using a range of tools and resources to uncover and understand what children are experiencing, as well as healing-oriented practices, including mindfulness, counseling, and access to additional resources; and
- Respect for students, coupled with instruction that builds upon students’ cultures, identities, and experiences alongside efforts to reduce implicit and explicit bias in the classroom and school as a whole; these practices include affirmations that establish the value of each student, cultivate diversity as a resource, and encourage asset-based celebrations of accomplishments.