Safety and Caring First; Inclusion and Equity Plus Kindness Equals Learning

When ethnographer Angela Valenzuela spoke with immigrants in Texas – Mexican-American parents and students – and dug into the meaning of the Spanish word “educacion,” (in English: education) they understood it to mean “caring before learning.” 1 And that interpretation makes practical sense for any and all school communities. Children not only need to feel physically safe in order to learn at school, they require psychological safety too. If care is a prerequisite to learning, then it must be an explicit goal of any school community. We need to ask: How do students regularly have the chance to get to know one other on a personal level? How are teachers actively cultivating trust with students? How are families engaged and valued as partners in learning? And how is community cultivated among all stakeholders?

We, as parents and educators, have significant challenges to face. When children and families in our schools fear losing their homes whether it’s a result of flooding or new U.S. policies, those individuals will face great learning challenges. When lockdown procedures become the norm in schools who are attempting to protect the many against a few of their very own hurt children who may become active shooters, we have significant challenges to face in creating safe, caring learning environments.

Have we really embraced the fact that every individual – parents, teachers, students, receptionists, bus drivers, janitors, after-school program coordinators – in our school community impacts our own child’s school success? It’s an important step forward as we attempt to meet these challenges.

A focus on creating safe, caring school communities is vital. And research-based social and emotional learning in schools can facilitate that ongoing cultivation of care. Those schools learn ways to build trusting connections between peers so that when problems arise, relationships have been already been established. Instead of marginalizing or disparaging individuals or groups, those relationships foster support for one another. And communities can quickly rally around solving problems together. Students have chances to authentically engage with peers to not only begin to understand them as unique individuals who offer learning opportunities but also, begin to view their differences as strengths.

Our children will not be able to accomplish inclusion, equity and kindness on their own. They require adult supports. That includes our clearly-expressed expectations that we will reach out to those who are being marginalized. That we will take an interest in those who are different so that we can become more by learning about others. It will require our own self-reflection and course correction as we catch our own judgments being uttered. We’ll need to do our best to be models of inclusion if we are going to expect our children to include.

We can begin by having these conversations in our own homes with our families. We can examine our own assumptions about others. And we can reflect on the ways in which we strive to contribute to a more caring, inclusive school community. They are numerous opportunities if we only look for them. Here are some suggestion dinner conversation starters:

  • What do you appreciate about getting to know someone who is different from you?
  • Can you think of an example of a friend who introduced you to a new toy or movie or song that you now love that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise?
  • Are there some kids who are ignored or not included at school? When does it happen? Why does it happen? How does it make you feel?
  • What do you know about those children who are excluded? What are their interests, hobbies, or extracurricular activities?
  • What would you like to learn about a child who is different from you?
  • How could you show you care when others are being excluded? What little ways could you reach out to others?

When homework is brought home like the Scholastic News (Sept. 11, 2017 Edition) my son brought home just last night, it offers a perfect entry point for discussion. I asked:

  • How do you feel when you look at that picture?
  • What do you think those kids felt when they needed armed guards just to go to school?
  • In what ways do kids struggle now with feeling safe at school?
  • Do you feel safe at school always or are there times when you feel unsafe? Does anything at school help you regain your sense of safety?

Learn more by exploring the various resources below.

If you have a middle or high schooler, check out this opportunity!

Participate in the Kindness Challenge!
Making Caring Common and The KIND Foundation have once again partnered to launch the KIND Schools Challenge. Middle- and high-school students nationwide are invited to submit a project to make their school community kinder and more inclusive.
Applications are open now through October 20. Learn more, apply, and share with friends, colleagues, and students!

Explore your own family’s heritage and learn about immigrants in your families’ past! 

Exploring the Past to Appreciate the Present – Though this activity was originally designed for a family game at Thanksgiving, it can be used at any time to learn about your family’s history!

I was delighted when August Aldebot-Green of Child Trends, an organization that works to improve children’s lives through high-quality research, shared this carefully curated list of resources for making schools supportive and safe for students from immigrant families. Thank you, Child Trends! Check these out!

Positive #schoolclimate is crucial for students affected by recent decisions about #immigration. Check out the resources from Learning First:

Parent Teacher Associations can work with schools to make sure every child is supported and included. Check out resources from the National PTA:

Good relationships at school and high personal expectations promote #immigrant kids’ academic success. 

All students, regardless of #immigration status, have a right to public K-12 education. Check out Child Trends’ Moving Beyond Trauma Report. 

With Charlottesville in mind, and now DACA, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (@CASEL) has put together resources for educators who want to promote respect and understanding in children. Check out:

Supporting diversity at school may be more important than ever. Check out the @ParentTeacherAssociation’s diversity and inclusion toolkit.

In one study, 42% of Mexican immigrant students perceived themselves to be the target of teacher discrimination. You can help immigrant students feel supported by creating a class environment where cultural backgrounds are okay to talk about. Check out:

When we teach children to include others, we teach them to be kind and compassionate. How do you talk to your child about including others at school? Check out Be An Includer from PBS Parent Tips.

For educators looking to take leadership on racial equity, these three lessons from the Aspen Institute can apply to promoting constructive dialogue about immigration:
1. Start with facts and put them in context.
2. Create safe spaces for people to talk about race and strategies for achieving equity.
3. Emphasize that today’s racial inequities don’t depend on intentional racism.
Check out:

Check out the CPCK article, Expanding the Circle; Teaching Children the Values and Actions of Inclusion.


1. Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling; U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring. NY: State University of New York Press.

1 Comments on “Safety and Caring First; Inclusion and Equity Plus Kindness Equals Learning”

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