How do we increase students’ well-being and create the conditions for learning?


Emotional and physical safety are the foundation for all learning and success. Because our communities have experienced increased trauma to varying degrees this year, a focus on student well-being is particularly essential to accelerating learning these coming months and beyond. As such, we must first address Maslow before focusing on Bloom to improve student well-being and outcomes, decrease disciplinary issues, increase engagement, and accelerate student learning.


LEAs should prioritize four areas: identifying basic needs, recognizing and responding to trauma, supporting social-emotional well-being, and incorporating movement to boost cognitive development.



Identifying and Meeting Basic Needs

Research shows that before academic and cognitive goals can be met, learners’ core needs must first be met or addressed.


  • Conduct a needs and resources assessment. Identify specific issues to address; build from what’s already in place and working well. Here are two guides to needs assessment and two sample surveys:
  • Develop an action plan based on the needs assessment. Include the goals and objectives as well as a plan for attaining them.
      • Food security:
      • Mental health: 
        • Warm Line is a free, nonemergency peer-run mental health support line for California residents.
        • Dial 211 for free, confidential support available in more than 200 languages. 211 connects people to a range of services, resources, and programs for housing, food security, mental health and more.
        • Other mental health resources and hotline
      • Other resources for issues like financial support, immigration, and more can be found at the Children’s Partnership.
  • Remove barriers to getting support.  
    • Designate a point person/people for families. Reimagine how you use staff to make sure students and families feel seen, heard, and valued. 
    • Look at positions and roles on campus. Are staff assigned to roles with student well-being at the heart? 
    • Look closely at how you are using time. Does this reflect your values and support student well-being? 
      • Create bell schedules with connection in mind: Is the bell schedule designed to maximize time student-staff relationships?
      • Use staff meetings and professional development to emphasize student (and staff) well-being and SEL.

Recognizing and Responding to Trauma

The pandemic has caused widespread trauma (personal, vicarious, collective, and historical). Even under normal circumstances, two-thirds of children in the country have experienced a traumatic event by the age of 16, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. For learning to take place, educators must help address trauma. 


  • Ensure educators can spot child abuse during distance learning. As the San Diego County Office of Education explains, students need schools to continue reporting abuse during distance learning necessitated by COVID-19. School closures kept children out of the view of the adults who make a fifth of all child abuse reports—teachers and school officials. 
    • Make sure educators and staff stay vigilant about possible exploitation of children
    • Use these resources from the San Diego County Office of Education and Valley Children’s Healthcare to spot and report child abuse during virtual learning.
  •  Determine a plan for what you will do to respond to loss of school community members.
  • Develop re-entry protocols. Determine the processes and procedures for reopening campuses with trauma-informed SEL front and center. 
    • Transforming Education offers a toolkit on trauma-informed SEL (see image).
    • The CASEL Reopen Roadmap can help you create a plan that assures you:
      • Take time to cultivate and deepen relationships, build partnerships, and plan for SEL;
      • Design opportunities for adults to connect, heal, and build their capacity to support students;
      • Create safe, supportive, and equitable learning environments that promote all students’ social and emotional development;
      • Use data as an opportunity to share power, deepen relationships, and continuously improve support for students, families, and staff.  
  • Respond to acute need with site and community resources. 
    • Reach out to community-based organizations and partners to make sure psychological and other supports for staff and students are in place.
  • Provide professional development. 

Supporting Social-Emotional Well-Being with the 3 Rs: Relationships, Routines, and Resilience  

Social-emotional well-being does not exist in a vacuum; it is part of the learning experience in all school spaces and it is closely intertwined with academic success. Since students spend most of their waking time at school and engaged in school work, think about what needs to be part of the school day. As you set your priorities for the year, Turnaround for Children offers a new take on the 3 Rs (relationships, routines, and resilience) as an important way to reduce stress and improve well-being for students. 


  • Discuss the 3 Rs: Share this graphic from Turnaround for Children with principals and teachers. Ask them to think of ways to create and build out each of the three that fit your organization’s north star and your graduate profile.   
  • Ensure the schedule includes healthy routines.
  • Offer resources and insights to staff on supporting students’ social-emotional well-being. 

Incorporating Movement

The evidence linking cognitive development and movement is profound. (See here, here, here, here, here, and here.) In fact, movement is probably one of the most effective means we have of improving our brain functioning. Moving our bodies creates new neural pathways that may be critical to improving attention, academic performance, memory and more. Children need opportunities to move so they can learn.  

Even though the research is clear, students spend a vast amount of time sitting rather than moving. Improving student academic outcomes and well-being may be as easy as including more exercise throughout the day. Even a 10-minute walk before school has significant results. And while a PE block is a start, when reimagining school, consider intentional movement throughout the day as part of the academic platter. 


  • Utilize expertise and invest in training. Give teachers tools and training in specific brain-building movements. Ask the school occupational therapist, PE teacher, or perhaps an outside expert to visit the school and advise on best practices for intentional movement to grow the brain. Have teachers and staff share best practices.
  • Connect with outside resources. Community centers, local YMCAs, and other organizations that have movement-based programs may be available in your community. Invite them into the school to promote movement opportunities during, before, and after school. 
  • Make the time. Look at the schedule. Is there any time to add movement? This helps promote a schoolwide culture of exercise. Utilize before and after school hours too by offering run/walk clubs, group calisthenics, yoga, and dance clubs.
  • Add to the school environment. Consider adding things to the school environment that promote movement, such as a walking path, an infinity walk, or structures that allow students to jump, climb, or hop.


  • How does our team define student well being? Does it include physical health (like food and safety) and emotional and mental health? 
  • What data are we collecting about student wellness?  What are wellness bright spots? What are our most significant needs?
  • What is our level of comfort around reporting child abuse during distance learning? 
  • How has our mental health team shifted during COVID, and how will it continue to evolve? 
  • How familiar is our team with movement as a strategy for improving cognitive development?
  • How is the team prioritizing relationships, routines, and resilience? 
  • What practices do we already have in place? Do we want to commit to them, or do we want to make changes?
The Field Guide for California LEAs
The Field Guide for accelerating learning, equity, and well being was developed by the California Collaborative for
Educational Excellence for California LEAs in collaboration with technical assistance partners.