Creating Safe Learning Environments for All Students

Updated: Jun 24

By Savanah Flakes

Creating Safe Learning Environments

By utilizing specific strategies, teachers can support students in self-monitoring both learning and behavior. This is the goal of education—to create citizens who are self-regulated learners. When students receive special education services, there is additional responsibility to ensure that they are systematically guided to increased levels of independence throughout their school years. Students with emotional disabilities have the same educational goal and rights, but it is an even greater challenge to meet them, since these students are suspended at disproportional rates compared to their peers. When students with emotional disabilities are suspended and expelled, the majority of the manifested behaviors are due to high anxiety and lack of ability to cope with it; difficulty managing feelings of frustration, panic, and/or anger; and inappropriate social skills to rectify conflict. I have found success with a program of classroom and school community solutions; these strategies proactively support student behavior and decrease suspensions and the need for alternative consequences.

Suspensions Do Little to Improve School Safety

Rather than using one-size-fits-all suspensions as a consequence for every type of student behavior or Zero Tolerance policies that do little to improve school safety, we can view behavior as a means of communication and use proactive approaches to model and teach appropriate and responsible behavior. The ideals and principles of Restorative Justice include building relationships, creating inclusive environments where all students feel a sense of belonging, and using effective social skills strategies to manage conflict. Restorative Justice advocates for these proactive approaches whenever possible and responsive approaches when harm has happened. The goal is to prevent misunderstandings and conflict, therefore reducing the need for suspensions.

Proactive Approaches Are Better for Teaching Responsibility


  • Three Principles

  • Relationships, Inclusiveness , Accountability

  • Ideology

  • A move from the traditional thought that the situation should be turned over to authority to administer justice versus involvement of the community (other students)

  • Opposes the stark dichotomy that someone was right or wrong, innocent or guilty; in favor of determining harm done among the group members and then repairing harm

  • Digresses from purely punitive consequences or punishment determined by outside partner versus use of agreements, accountability and consequences from the inside members, focusing on how to make things better

  • Tenants

  • Let’s be proactive and create inclusive and trusting communities (an opportunity for students and teachers to talk about misunderstandings and conflict and commit to ways to make it better while accepting unique differences)

  • Use affective statements (“I statements”) to build community and relationships

  • Create dialogue circles to address conflicts or misunderstandings; students and teachers learn about each other as they talk about issues and concerns on a consistent basis, in a consistent way

  • Use Restorative Justice questions: What happened? How do you feel about the situation? Do we want to sit and talk about the situation (restorative conversation)?

To see examples on the power of Restorative Justice, view The Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth website and visit the National website for Restorative Justice.