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Feeling Safe Promotes Student Learning

Feeling safe—socially, emotionally, intellectually, and physically—is a fundamental human need (Maslow, 1943). Feeling safe in school powerfully promotes student learning and healthy development (Devine & Cohen, 2007). However, there is a great deal of research that has shown that many students do not feel physically and emotionally safe in schools, largely as a result of breakdowns in the interpersonal and contextual variables that define a school’s climate. In schools without supportive norms, structures, and relationships, students are more likely to experience violence, peer victimization, and punitive disciplinary actions, often accompanied by high levels of absenteeism and reduced academic achievement (Astor, Guerra, & Van Acker, 2010). Studies have also shown that students feel less safe in large schools and that verbal bullying is more likely to occur at such schools (Lleras, 2008).

As many as 160,000 students may stay home from school on any given day because they are afraid of being bullied (Nansel et al., 2001). The growing trend of cyber-bullying penetrates the home via computers and cellular phones. School bullying and harassment have moved to the virtual school, which is comprised of the social media that groups or individual students use to harass their peers (Campbell, 2005). At least one out of three adolescents reports being seriously threatened online, and 60% of teens say they have participated in online bullying.

A growing body of research has underscored that bully-victim behavior is toxic; it undermines K–12 students’ capacity to learn and develop in healthy ways. When students bully and/or are victimized repeatedly, it dramatically increases the likelihood that they will develop significant psychosocial problems over time (Wolke, Woods, Bloomfield, & Karstadt, 2000). Additionally, bullying affects student engagement and lowers students’ commitment to schoolwork. Bullying seems to adversely affect the witnesses too. For example, a recent study of more than 2,000 students of ages 12 to 16 found that those who witnessed bullying reported more feelings of depression, anxiety, hostility, and inferiority than either the bullies or victims themselves (Rivers, Poteat, Noret, & Ashurst, 2009). (Thapa A. Cohen J. Guffey S. & Higgins-D’Alessandro A., 2013).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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