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Welcoming, caring, respectful and safe schools

Students, parents and school authorities have responsibilities for ensuring welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments that respect diversity and nurture a sense of belonging and a positive sense of self.

When students feel like they belong, it encourages them to stay in school to learn and succeed. These are environments where:

  • healthy and respectful relationships are built and fostered
  • students feel that adults care for them as a group and as individuals
  • positive mental health is promoted
  • values, rights, and responsibilities are respected
  • support is demonstrated through collaboration, high expectations, mutual trust and caring
  • diversity is respected, celebrated and understood as a strength
  • expectations are clear, consistent, and regularly communicated
  • consequences of unacceptable behaviour take into account the students age, maturity, and individual circumstances
  • support is provided for those impacted by inappropriate behaviour as well as for those who engage in inappropriate behaviours
  • children, youth and adults model positive social-emotional skills, including empathy and compassion

Students whose school supports social emotional development have a stronger sense of connection to those around them and are more likely to be hopeful about their futures. A sense of belonging gives students feelings of security, identity and community, which, in turn, supports their academic, psychological and social development. Students with strong and rewarding social ties at school are less likely to struggle with chronic absenteeism and to leave school before completion.

Tools and resources

Walk Around: School Leaders
An observation guide to help school leaders ensure safe and caring environments in their schools.

Walk Around: Teacher Tool
An observation guide to help school leaders ensure safe and caring environments in their classrooms and schools.

Guidelines for Best Practices
Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Learning Environments that Respect Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Gender Expressions

Resources from other organizations

The Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities
Centre that works to improve the quality of life for all Alberta children.

Alberta Family Wellness Initiative
Research on early brain development and its connection to physical and mental health.

PolicyWise: Supporting Every Student Learning Series
A learning series for educators around supporting safe and caring schools.

Legislation

The Education Act sets out responsibilities for school authorities and principals around welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments.

Relevant information in the Education Act includes the following:

  • Section 33(1)(d) of the Education Act states that the board has the responsibility to ensure that each student enrolled in a school operated by the board and each staff member employed by the board is provided a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging.
  • Section 33(2) of the Education Act states that the board shall establish, implement and maintain a policy respecting the board’s obligation under subsection (1)(d) to provide a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that includes the establishment of a code of conduct for students that addresses bullying behaviour.
  • Section 33(3) of the Education Act clarifies that a code of conduct established under subsection (2) must
  • be made publicly available,
  • be reviewed every year,
  • be provided to all staff of the board, students of the board and parents of students of the board,
  • specifies elements that must be included in school board policies including:
    • a statement of purpose that provides the rationale for the code of conduct, with a focus on welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments;
    • one or more statements that address the prohibited grounds of discrimination set out in the Alberta Human Rights Act;
    • one or more statements about what is acceptable behaviour and what is unacceptable behaviour, whether or not it occurs within the school building, during the school day or by electronic means;
    • one or more statements about the consequences of unacceptable behaviour, which must take into account of the student’s age, maturity, and individual circumstances, and which must ensure that support is provided for students who are impacted by inappropriate behaviour, as well as for students who engage in inappropriate behaviour; and
    • be in accordance with any further requirements established by the Minister by order.
  • Section 35.1 of the Education Act clarifies support for student organizations and provides information about the following requirements:
  • school authorities and principals shall support students who want to establish a student organization;
  • school authorities and principals shall support students who want to lead an activity intended to promote a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging; and
  • students may choose an inclusive and respectful name, including Gay‑Straight Alliance or Queer-Straight Alliance, after consulting with the principal.

Principals must ensure that routine school and administrative practices related to student organizations and activities are done in a manner that respects the privacy and wishes of the individual students participating in a voluntary student organization or activity. School authorities should have a designated privacy officer (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or Personal Information Protection Act) to provide advice and guidance on these matters and ensure that personal information is handled appropriately. Please see the Guide to Education: ECS to Grade 12 for more information on student privacy considerations.

Whole-school approach

In order for a school to be fully inclusive, evidence-informed strategies and practices to promote welcoming, caring, safe and respectful learning environments should be implemented throughout the entire school.

A whole-school approach is inclusive of school staff, students and education partners and touches all aspects of school life. It should promote positive mental health and academic achievement and include social-emotional learning in school practices, policies and partnerships.

A whole-school approach also means that everyone in the school feels safe and welcome, no matter their:

  • ability
  • disability
  • language
  • cultural background
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • gender expression
  • age

Alberta schools use a number of strategies to support welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments that respect diversity and nurture a sense of belonging and a positive sense of self.

Understanding aspects of a whole-school approach can help school leaders decide how to best meet the needs and priorities of their school. Effective school-wide practices can then be used.

A whole-school approach:

  • is built on evidence-based strategies and practices (the effectiveness is documented and credible)
  • happens over a sustained period of time (for example., full school year or longer)
  • is embedded into teaching, routines and activities
  • uses reliable instructional practices
  • is supported by ongoing professional development
  • engages students in active learning and opportunities to practice social-emotional skills
  • is embedded into school policies and practices
  • promotes positive mental health
  • is supported by ongoing professional development
  • involves family and community partnerships
  • aligns with the specific needs and priorities of the school community
  • collects information to ensure the strategy is making a positive difference in the learning environment

Frameworks for a whole-school approach

The following frameworks provide school-wide opportunities for developing social-emotional competencies, promoting positive mental health and building welcoming, caring, respectful and safe environments:

Resources from other organizations

Supporting practices

Evidence-informed practices can be used to create welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments that respect diversity and nurture a sense of belonging and a positive sense of self.

These evidence-informed practices offer strategies that, when used within a whole-school approach, help develop social-emotional competencies, promote positive mental health and build welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments. These practices complement each other and can be used together to support student success:

Document

Heart of the Matter
Character and Citizenship Education in Alberta Schools

Other websites

PolicyWise: Supporting Every Student Learning Series