Creating Safe, Equitable, and Engaging Schools

Four years ago, Mary Catryn D. Ricker of the Shanker Institute and David Osher of AIR collaborated on the introduction to a book, Creating Safe, Equitable, Engaging Schools. Their introduction shared six practical, science-based principles that not only ground the book, but also speak to the current crises in education.

These six principles are integral to learning. When we are attentive to them, they can enhance learning. However, when we ignore them, they can undermine learning. These principles can and should be realized in every interaction that takes place between and among learners and educators. Implementation must be systematic, collaborative, and embrace and be informed by the voices of culturally and linguistically diverse students, families, and school staff. 

1. Relationships drive learning, including the relationships students see adults modeling. Working together, starting by fostering trust and collaboration, is the only way to address our problems. 

2. Stress undermines learning, and the community must work to address the stress our students and schools experience, eliminate it wherever possible, and provide resources to address it where it can’t be eliminated.

3. Social, emotional, and academic skills are inextricably linked and can be developed and learned under supportive and culturally responsive conditions. This has always been the case, but it is particularly pronounced now, when students must develop metacognitive skills to help them manage their learning, curate information, and adapt to a rapidly changing world and workplace.

4. Conditions for learning and teaching matter, and these require addressing identity, safety, and the impacts of institutionalized prejudice and privilege. Physical, emotional, identity, and intellectual safety affect learning and teaching. Connectedness, support, and the feeling that you belong and have agency, both as individuals and as a member of a group or community, also affect learning and teaching.

5. The impacts of stress and adversity can and must be addressed, and resilience can be supported. We need to provide people with the tools and social resources to address the causes of trauma, stress, and adversity. Resilience can be supported with relationships, professional staff, and meaningful family engagement.  

6. Culture, identity, emotions, and subjective perceptions affect learning. Research shows that building relationships, eliminating stress, and creating supportive conditions for teaching and learning make a real difference for our students. We all have a responsibility to recognize that academic needs, social and emotional needs, and safe and welcoming environments are interdependent on one another.

In a new piece, these two authors reflect on what they have learned about applying these principles in school settings. 

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