Social and Emotional School Climate refers to the psychosocial aspects of students’ educational experience that influence their social and emotional development. The social and emotional climate of a school can impact student engagement in school activities; relationships with other students, staff, family, and community; and academic performance. Connectedness, or a student’s feelings of belonging, engagement, safety and support contribute to a positive learning environment and effective teaching and learning.

Effective Practices

  • Convene a “climate team” to regularly assess school/district climate data, including discipline data such as suspension and expulsion. Coordinate with other relevant groups like Site Council, School Health Advisory Council and School Improvement Planning.

  • Implement strategies that create a caring and respectful school environment. Using a tiered approach (like Multi-tiered System of Supports) identify universal (Tier 1) school wide approaches (like PBIS), secondary (Tier 2) interventions (like care teams, Restorative Justice) and tertiary (Tier 3) interventions (like school-based or school-linked mental health services).

  • Implement school/district policies that promote use of restorative practices (such as Restorative Justice, community conferencing, peer courts/mediation, community circles), as opposed to more exclusionary practices (such as zero tolerance, classroom removal, suspension and expulsion).

  • Promote student connection to peers and adults at school, including student run clubs, affinity groups and extra-curricular activities.

  • Provide professional development to staff on culturally-responsive and trauma-informed classroom management practices.



Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools in Wisconsin

For the past five years, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has been working to support trauma-sensitive schools across the state. The work kicked into gear in 2014 when they were awarded a “Now is the Time” Project AWARE Community Grant. The DPI Student Services, Prevention and Wellness Team worked to develop a mental health framework for Wisconsin in which trauma-sensitive schools is a central aspect.

One component of the framework is bringing cohorts of 25-30 schools through a multi-year change process to increase trauma-informed practices through both online and in-person activities. The cohorts’ change process is grounded in implementation science with a focus on sustainability. Each cohort spends time talking about what it means to be a trauma-informed school, then they write goals and plans. The DPI serves as a coach to the process, instilling effective practices but allowing for maximum adaptation for each school site. “We try really hard to be both meaningful and manageable. We make it very clear that this is not a place where we are going to give you five things you need to do. Each school makes the decisions about what they spend time on. The integration piece is still a huge challenge, finding time for professional development and staff training, etc. We help them figure out how to make it fit.”

There is a kick-off event for cohort participants every August, where all schools in action teams come together to plan. Additionally, internal champions/main point of contacts come together four times per year for regional meetings. Most learning is done online, and the in-person time is spent discussing implementation and challenges. The feedback has been that these opportunities for face-to-face time are crucial.

Over the last several years, the team has developed a professional development system with online learning modules that provide narrated PowerPoint and tools and resources. The intention is that any general education teacher could engage in the module and directly apply learning and tools in the classroom.

 Important lessons learned:

  • Don’t underestimate the value of shifting the perspective of yourself, colleagues, and students. This is critical to build trusting relationships.

  • The importance of striking the right balance of engaged and active leadership.

  • Understanding and reinforcing that this is not a process in which you are going to see results right away. This is a marathon process.

Information provided by Elizabeth Cook, former School Psychology Consultant at DPI.

For more information, contact Liz Krubsack, School Mental Health Consultant: or Julie Incitti

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