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Why the Social and Emotional Climate at Your School Matters

Explore the value of fostering a healthy social and emotional climate and discover how becoming a principal can help you do it.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), addressing the social and emotional climate (SEC) is an important part of creating schools that support student health and academic performance.1 SEC impacts students’ self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and decision-making abilities, all of which contribute to their development, learning, and achievement. That’s why effective educational leaders are committed to developing the knowledge and competencies they need to create, foster, and sustain positive school climates where every learner and teacher feels respected, supported, and engaged.2


Are you ready to learn more about this crucial topic in education? Get started with these four questions.

What Is Social and Emotional Climate (SEC)?

Social and emotional climate (SEC) is central to an overall framework known as social and emotional learning (SEL). SEL involves schools, families, and communities in cultivating skills and environments that advance students’ academic and emotional competencies and growth. An intentional collaboration, SEL helps youth “acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”3

By setting the foundational tone for this work, a school’s social and emotional climate helps guide student outcomes in each of these areas. A healthy SEC provides a safe and supportive environment for students, teachers, and staff—and creates a variety of opportunities for youth to practice their academic, social, and emotional skills, whether in the classroom, on the playground, in the library, or on the school bus. How do students feel when they’re in school? How do they relate to each other, to their teachers, and to other adults in the building? Do teachers structure inclusive and affirming lesson plans? Do cafeteria staff know children’s names? Do adults model positive, supportive relationships, empathy, and decision-making? Each of these things reflects a school’s social and emotional climate.

What Is the Value of SEC?

Social and emotional climate impacts students on an individual, family, and community level. Implicitly, a healthy SEC encourages children and adolescents to take home what they see, learn, and practice in school—which can create positive ripple effects throughout society.

When students, teachers, and staff experience a positive SEC, lots of good things can happen:4,5

  • Children feel a strong sense of connectedness and belonging, which can increase their self-esteem.
  • Student attendance and behavior improves, which contributes to higher achievement levels and graduation rates.
  • Students become more engaged with their learning, their peers, and their teachers, which positively influences their academic, social, and emotional development; decreases their risk for substance abuse; and increases their future employment prospects.
  • Teachers’ satisfaction increases, which contributes to their retention.

Ultimately, SEC can shape young people’s lives and empower them to create more inclusive, equitable, and just communities.

Who Is Responsible for SEC?

Everyone participates in and nurtures their school’s social and emotional climate and culture. But administrators prioritize it, implement it, offer professional development opportunities around it, and hold others accountable for it.

More specifically, school principals envision SEC and develop the practices and policies to support it—which comes as no surprise. According to research conducted by Child Trends, state-level educational policymakers wholeheartedly agree that school principals play a central role in creating healthy, caring schools for all.6 As educational leaders, principals set the stage for how teachers, school health professionals, counselors, custodial staff, and others build, strengthen, and model a culture where all feel welcome, valued, and safe.

How Can I Become an SEC Champion?

As an educator, you can employ a variety of strategies to help foster and advance a healthy social and emotional climate at your school. For example, you can:

  • Reinforce academic and behavioral expectations in and out of the classroom.
  • Involve students in developing policies that affect them.
  • Bring faculty, staff, and students together to envision and implement opportunities that help youth develop healthy relationships with adults.
  • Help students become leaders through modeling positive choices for their peers.

Enrolling in an Education Specialist degree program at an accredited online university can help you develop the leadership skills and qualities you need to do all these things and more. For example, you might take courses in effective communication and collaboration; ensuring inclusive and quality education for diverse learners; creating safe, positive learning environments; recognizing and fostering outstanding teachers; and other relevant topics. Learn to inspire teachers, students, staff, and families to work together and prepare to become a principal and an SEC champion.

Are you ready to take your influence to the next level with an Education Specialist (EdS) degree? Learn how Walden University’s online EdS degree program in Educational Leadership and Administration (Principal Licensure Preparation) can help you lay the groundwork for a career as a school principal.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden is approved by the Minnesota Board of School Administrators and by the Ohio Department of Higher Education to offer a program leading to initial principal licensure. Candidates must select if they wish to pursue Minnesota or Ohio licensure requirements before the end of their first course in the program. All candidates must pass the required Ohio principal licensure exam (OAE 015 Educational Leadership Exam) in order to complete the program. Candidates seeking licensure in Minnesota or Ohio are responsible for completing any other Minnesota or Ohio requirements beyond Walden’s state-approved program. The Minnesota Board of School Administrators or the Ohio Department of Higher Education is solely responsible for reviewing applications and issuing licenses.

Individuals interested in licensure in states other than Minnesota or Ohio may qualify by virtue of completing a state-approved educator preparation program; however, individuals must review their state’s regulations to ensure the program meets all requirements, paying particular attention to any requirements specific to out-of-state program completers. Individuals who reside in certain states may be ineligible to enroll in this program. Walden Enrollment Specialists can provide guidance on licensure questions however, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand and comply with all state licensure requirements. Walden makes no representation or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain state licensure.

Prospective Alabama students: State authorization to provide a program related to the preparation of teachers or other P–12 school/ system personnel does not indicate eligibility for an Alabama professional educator or professional leadership certificate. Applicants who complete and educator preparation program at a non-Alabama institution must apply for an Alabama professional educator or professional leadership certificate through the Alabama Certificate Reciprocity Approach. Current requirements may be found at