Four Tips for Creating Safe and Equitable Learning Environments

Now more than ever, safe and equitable learning needs to take center stage in K–12 education. Pandemic-related disruptions exacerbated existing disparities in student learning and well-being, which disproportionately hurt low-income students, students with special needs and school systems that are under-resourced.

Education leaders play a key role in supporting school culture and climate and ensuring the needs of every student and staff member are met. Only then can students reach their highest potential. Here are four ways to promote equitable learning at your school or district. 

1. Collaborate with key stakeholders to drive decisions

Undoubtedly, educators want what is best for students. But to fully understand the context behind what learners need to be successful, it is important to connect with students and their families—especially when making decisions around safety and well-being.

To achieve this, school and district leaders should provide opportunities for stakeholders to be active participants in conversation.

Consider leveraging or implementing district-wide communication platforms that offer protected online environments, like your school’s SIS or LMS of record. Explore how these tools can be used to poll the school community or pose questions intended to solicit feedback from educators, students and parents.

2. Prioritize diversity and inclusion

Elementary and secondary teachers in the U.S. are “considerably less racially and ethnically diverse as a group than their students,” according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.

To help teachers navigate the different racial and ethnic needs of their students, it is important to train teachers to be aware of their students’ differences and give them the proper resources to meet the child where they need to be met depending on several factors.

Teachers are trained to adapt their curriculum for a multitude of reasons: learning styles, learning disabilities, special modifications, physical disabilities, etc.

Just as schools invest in additional professional development for their staff to understand students’ needs in terms of modifications or accommodations, schools must also provide the same professional development for teachers and staff to better support the different learning styles, sensitivities and needs of their students based on their race or ethnic background.

3. Provide mental health support 

Students can only learn and perform to their highest potential if they feel emotionally secure. 

In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared that the pandemic-related decline in child and adolescent mental health has become a national emergency. 

The report further stated that the pandemic “has struck at the safety and stability of families. More than 140,000 children in the United States lost a primary and/or secondary caregiver, with youth of color disproportionately impacted.”

To help students and staff navigate the grief, anxiety and depression they’ve experienced, schools must invest in mental health and well-being—and partner with community groups, mental health providers and similar sources of support.

4. Create a safe and secure learning environment

Districts are facing a rise in school violence amid increased, pandemic-related pressures. There have been 18 school shootings this year at the time of this writing. In 2021, there were 34 school shootings—the highest number on record.

By establishing a culture of care, education leaders can create learning environments where every student feels seen, heard, valued—and safe. To maintain safe school campuses, districts should revisit their existing security protocols and ensure:

- Every staff member knows their role in an emergency
- Critical stakeholders can be reached during an emergency
- Frequent updates can be provided to emergency service providers

In an emergency, every second counts. To streamline emergency response, districts can implement a one-touch safety and security solution, such as G2 Link with G2 Secure. This enables school and district leaders to lock down buildings, issue internal alerts and notify local emergency services from a single interface.

By advocating for school campuses that are both safe and equitable, education leaders can create spaces where all students can learn—and thrive.

This article originally appeared in the May / June 2022 issue of Campus Security Today.