Key takeaways

  • Social and emotional strategies and the school environment affect and are affected by how inclusive a school feels.
  • Social emotional learning can help promote qualities and social skills in young learners that encourage them to be inclusive.
  • An inclusive school culture allows all community voices to be heard so that community members feel valued and included.

Social and emotional skills and a positive school culture can help promote inclusivity in districts in many ways. Social and emotional learning is something educators have been doing for years, helping develop key life skills in young learners. SEL goes hand-in-hand with inclusivity in education because “inclusion is a necessary component of social emotional learning (SEL), and effective SEL is a vehicle for successful inclusion” (Cartagena, n.d.).

School culture is often used in conjunction with school climate in the term ‘school culture and climate.’ It means a school community’s shared values, rules, beliefs, and approaches to learning, social behaviors, and community relationships (Çakiroğlu et al., 2012). A lot of steps districts need to take to promote inclusivity are often hindered by political and fiscal barriers, but there are ways schools can make progress regardless.

Social awareness, for example

A strong social, emotional, and life skills program will work to improve the five CASEL competencies: self-awareness, social awareness, relationship building, self-management, and responsible decision-making. By increasing young learners’ social skills, awareness, and ability to form and maintain healthy relationships, they will be more able to appreciate diversity, respect differences, and celebrate uniqueness. Not only will this ultimately help them in adulthood but also as young students - these skills are equally as important for the playground as they are for the workplace.

Free download: Appreciating Diversity Resource Pack

Every student should benefit from life skill development

School districts should ensure that all students receive assessments that ask them the same questions but in a way that they understand. For example, the best SEL surveys offer text-to-speech narration, developmentally appropriate language, and image-supported questions so that students with all needs are accounted for. Both students in mainstream classrooms and specialized classrooms must be assessed on their CASEL skills and subskills. This will help to bridge any gaps between General and Special Education. Eliminating barriers to student access to education is a critical step in promoting diversity in schools.

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Every student should have access to the targeted interventions they need

Interventions are not the same for every student because effective interventions target the needs of the individual student. For efficiency, students can be grouped into tiers based on their needs to receive targeted instruction together. This also promotes inclusion as tiered groups may span ages, grades, and other barriers that could prohibit this group of students from otherwise learning together. With targeted interventions, inclusivity gives all students access to the help they need in the areas they need it.

Positive school cultures should make every community member feel included

A positive school culture should include, value, and respect all students, staff, and community members. This should be embodied in how all community members think, which can be influenced by district leaders encouraging inclusive mindsets and pushing for inclusive strategies to be implemented in all classrooms. This is especially important because positive school cultures grow outward from the classroom and seep into the culture of the community’s daily life. Satchel Pulse's Culture & Climate

How teachers can test their classroom culture

A good litmus test of sorts to get a sense of inclusive culture in your classrooms is to watch how your students interact with one another and take note of friendship groups. A study done of over 1,000 Austrian students concluded that students had more friends in inclusive classrooms than they did in uninclusive classrooms (Schwab, 2015). This suggests that if students appear to have many friends, their classroom will likely be more inclusive. Of course, this small test should not be taken as evidence of classroom or school culture but rather used in conjunction with other, more advanced assessments.

A positive school culture should include, value, and respect all students, staff members, and other community members.

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However, because a school or classroom’s norms, unspoken rules, traditions, and behavioral expectations are all so deeply ingrained in a school community that they touch all of its aspects, to alter it, systemic changes must be made over a long period of time (Gruenert, 2008). This means that growing your school culture into a positive one will take time and effort, but taking small steps in the right direction will help make all community members feel included.

Learn more: What is inclusivity in education? How to be inclusive in schools

Positive school cultures should facilitate and listen to all community voices

Inclusive school environments allow all voices to be heard and provide an equal-opportunity, easily accessible platform for community members to give feedback. The best way to do this is to proactively and frequently seek out feedback from your school community while simultaneously providing a consistent platform for them to get in touch with you at their convenience. Another great way to facilitate this is for teachers and district leaders to invite community members into the classroom. This works twofold - it helps to share experiences and promote a growth mindset in young learners while also encouraging community members to feel included and valued.

The six ways:

  • 1. Respect and Understanding: Social skills encourage respect for others' perspectives, backgrounds, and differences, fostering understanding and acceptance among students.
  • 2. Collaborative Learning: A positive school culture promotes collaboration and teamwork, allowing students to learn from each other's diverse experiences and viewpoints.
  • 3. Empathy and Compassion: Developing social skills cultivates empathy and compassion, enabling students to appreciate others' challenges and support each other inclusively.
  • 4. Reduced Bullying and Exclusion: A positive culture discourages bullying and exclusionary behavior, fostering an environment where all students feel safe and valued.
  • 5. Equitable Participation: Social skills encourage equitable participation in classroom discussions and group activities, ensuring that all voices are heard and respected.
  • 6. Cultivating Leadership: A positive school culture nurtures inclusive leadership qualities, empowering students to advocate for inclusivity and equity.

To conclude, social and emotional skills learning and school culture can both impact inclusivity in school districts and directly impact it themselves. Efforts to promote inclusive mindsets in schools can take a long time and require systemic changes. However, smaller steps can be taken in the classroom so that inclusivity is encouraged and facilitated.


  • Cartagena, S. (n.d.) Social-Emotional Learning — An Essential Vehicle to Promote Inclusive Education. Global Citizenship Foundation. Read it here.

  • Çakiroğlu, Ü., Akkan, Y., & Güven, B. (2012). Analyzing the effect of web-based instruction applications to school culture within technology integration. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 12, 1043-1048.

  • Gruenert, S. (2008). School Culture, they are not the same thing. National Association of Elementary School Principles. Read it here.

  • Schwab, S. (2015). Social dimensions of inclusion in education of 4th and 7th grade pupils in inclusive and regular classes: Outcomes from Austria. Research in Developmental Disabilities 43–44, 72–79. Read it here.

Author: Fern Dinsdale and Whitney Ballantine

Posted: 19 Sep 2022

Estimated time to read: 6 mins

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