What's it about?
Alberta schools have done incredible work over the past decade to ensure that all students feel welcomed, cared for, respected, and safe at school. Our school communities are inclusive and diverse, bringing together students of all races, faiths, abilities, sexual orientations, and gender identities.
This strategy reinforces policies that support safe and caring schools. It taps into everyday practices that nurture a sense of belonging, and involves attention to both the social atmosphere and the physical space at school. Many of the actions come naturally to educators—they're the subtle ways we nurture a positive school climate or culture.
This strategy requires flexibility, creativity, and compassion during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether they're learning in-person or remotely, all students deserve opportunities to connect and express themselves in positive, non-judgmental, and supportive ways. Do the best you can to use the practices below, and adapt them to suit your unique classroom or school situation.
Connect with culture and identity
Help students see themselves and their peers, families, and communities reflected in school life. This makes learning more relevant and meaningful. Try these science-based strategies:
- Acknowledge each student’s unique culture.
- Incorporate activities and examples that are inclusive of diverse cultures and ways of life into your classroom and school activities.
- Use materials that are free of culturally biased information.
- Help students learn about other cultures, like common cultural practices and norms.
- Partner with families and community groups to share culture and celebrate diversity. For example, incorporate Indigenous music, dance, language, and ceremony into lesson plans or special events, or celebrate the achievements of women in science and technology.
Use respectful language
Make inclusive words and phrases a way of life at your school. This means eliminating language that may stereotype, discriminate, or exclude.
- Call students by their chosen names and pronouns.
- Use the singular “they” to avoid gender-specific pronouns like he/she or him/her.
- Instead of saying things like “Good morning, boys and girls” try:
- Good morning, everyone
- Welcome, class
- Hello, students!
- Use language for all families (not just “moms and dads”). Try broad categories like caregiver, guardian, or family member.
- When you speak about a health condition, use person-first language. This means naming the person first, not the condition. For example, use “a student who is hungry” (instead of “a hungry student”); “a staff member who has a physical disability”; or “a family member who has tested positive for COVID-19”.
- Speak up if you hear hurtful words at school. Your actions show vulnerable students that they are safe, valued, and respected.
For more on respectful language, try these tips from AHS and adapt them for your school or school authority: Inclusive language, communication & information records management.
Create welcoming spaces
Collaborate with students to ensure that school spaces are welcoming and inclusive for all students. This includes both conventional school spaces and remote learning platforms. Work together to:
- Establish and support gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and other peer support networks.
- Make sure that both physical spaces and digital technologies are accessible to students of all abilities.
- Set up peaceful places, including virtual platforms, for students to take time away, talk through challenges, or calm down.
- Use rainbow flags, safe space stickers or symbols, or pink triangles to mark spaces as friendly to all gender identities and expressions.
- Design and decorate physical spaces and virtual platforms with student artwork.
- Prevent and address bullying and other forms of aggression, stigma, or discrimination that can happen in-person and online.
- Figure out ways that online learners can take part in school activities, even if it feels a bit awkward at first.
Explore tough topics
Discrimination, racism, and historical trauma are important influences on well-being. Like all youth allies, educators can benefit from training related to anti-racism and anti-oppression, cultural competency, and implicit bias.
To get started, consider resources from Alberta-based organizations like the Centre for Race and Culture.
How it connects
A welcoming, caring, respectful, and safe school environment has been shown to protect or buffer students from health risks, including poor mental health, substance use, bullying, and early sexual activity.
Social and physical environments are a key component of the comprehensive school health framework.
You might also like these related topics:
SOGI 123 Alberta
SOGI inclusive classroom checklist
Alberta SOGI Educator Network
The walk around: A school leader's observation guide
Government of Alberta
The walk around: A teacher companion tool
Government of Alberta
Welcoming environments: Whiteboard video
Government of Canada