Emotional Security: A Moral Imperative

It’s hard for students to learn if they don’t feel known and protected. Security is equally about emotional as much as physical safety.

In these days of school insecurity, we need to address the needs of the whole child. This includes balancing the curriculum with both academic and social-emotional learning to teach students to recognize and control their emotions as well as to feel empathy for others. This important curricular work benefits all students, but especially those with identified early trauma who may end up disrupting classrooms and, sometimes, sadly become assailants. We now know from data collected by The National Police Foundation’s Averted School Violence Program1 that identified attackers are students who were marginalized, felt left-out and perhaps, suffer from mental instability.

What do we mean by social-emotional learning?

According to The Collaborative for Academic and Social-Emotional Learning (CASEL)2 Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Social-emotional learning is a comprehensive program that takes place within classrooms, across the school and in partnerships with families and the community. The goals of a social-emotional program embrace equity and diversity ensuring all children, teachers and families feel emotionally safe at school – included, accepted, and heard.

What would a school that incorporates social-emotional learning look like?

The climate and culture of a school are often apparent within a few minutes of entering a campus. A healthy climate sees adults speaking to students in a kind and caring way. Students seem calm and happy. Adults seem to enjoy working together and are treating one another warmly and respectfully. The principal models these dispositions and expects others to do the same.

In the classroom, time is allocated for the direct teaching of the social-emotional competencies. Circles of learning would include daily greetings so that students
hear their names spoken aloud by peers as well as daily lessons addressing the five core social-emotional competencies:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social-awareness
  • Relationship building
  • Responsible decision making

Once students are taught to self-manage or become socially aware, they practice the skills beyond the classroom on the playing fields, at lunch and in the bathrooms. When problems arise, students can request class meetings to resolve conflicts and use their skills to strengthen resolve to be a more caring person.

A robust social-emotional program addresses discipline proactively. When students feel cared for, have learned strategies to self-manage and feel engaged socially while learning, discipline problems lessen.3 In a caring community, discipline is more about teaching self-control and less about expecting compliance. Students grow in self- control through respectful conversation and opportunity for restitution. There are many programs to help schools embrace circles of dignity. The CASEL website identifies honor programs which have been researched and vetted.

Creating emotional security, then, is an essential part of a comprehensive, preventative safety and security program. Imagine the possibility of a different outcome if troubled youth experience an education dedicated to academic AND social emotional learning. Let’s Make Our Schools Safe and follow the advice of the American social reformer, Frederick Douglass – Build strong children so as not to repair broken adults – it’s our moral imperative.

Patricia Handly, Educational Consultant

Pat is a professional learning lead for the Center for The Collaborative Classroom focusing on building caring school communities. In addition, as a former elementary principal and professional learning facilitator in both leadership and literacy, she has helped teachers and principals across the globe to strengthen their practice.


3 – Caring School Community


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