Conditions for Learning (CFL)

Research has shown that powerful social and emotional factors – factors which ensure that students feel safe and supported in school – influence students' abilities to attend to learning, their ability to direct their learning, and their engagement in learning activities. These factors also influence teachers' abilities to connect with, challenge, and support their students.


These factors, described as the four social and emotional conditions for learning are:


  1. Safety.Learners must be, and feel, safe. Safety involves emotional as well as physical safety-for example, being safe from sarcasm and ridicule.
  2. Support.Learners must feel connected to teachers and the learning setting, must have access to appropriate support, and must be aware of and know how to access the support.
  3. Social and Emotional Learning. Learners need to learn to manage their emotions and relationships positively and be surrounded by peers who also have socially responsible behavior.
  4. Engagement and Challenge. Learners need to be actively engaged in learning endeavors that are relevant to them and that enable them to develop the skills and capacities to reach positive life goals.

By providing students with support that addresses their social and emotional needs and building strong social and emotional conditions for learning, staff in educational settings can help improve learning outcomes for students that cannot be addressed through academic remediation alone.


Related Terms: school climate, school environment 

  • General Info
  • Strategies & Practices
  • Tools
  • On The Ground
  • Other
General Info: 

NDTAC Brief: Improving Conditions for Learning for Youth Who Are Neglected or Delinquent


(2008) National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for Children and Youth Who are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk (NDTAC)


This issue brief explores how each of the four conditions for learning applies to children and youth in or at risk of being placed in juvenile justice system facilities and/or programs for neglected youth. The brief introduces approaches that may help facilities increase the presence of these conditions and provides additional resources for further exploration of research and practical applications. Methods for assessing the social and emotional strengths of students and the conditions for learning are also discussed.


The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)


CASEL seeks to advance the development of academic, social and emotional competence for all students and make evidence-based social and emotional learning an integral part of education from preschool through high school. Through research, practice and policy, CASEL collaborates so that all students may become knowledgeable, responsible, caring and contributing members of society.


Social Emotional Learning


(2013) National Association of School Boards of Education  (NASBE)


The recognized need for public schools to support students in areas beyond academics is not new, but recent developments in social-emotional learning (SEL) go beyond what has come before—and are starting to show improvements in both student behavior and academic outcomes.  This From Practice to Policy policy brief, the first issue in the new series  from NASBE, looks at the scope of SEL policies and initiatives in states that promote students’ social-emotional well-being and character growth.


Social and Emotional Learning


(2011) The National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention at Education Development Center (EDC) 


This article describes the core competencies, characteristics and benefits of Social and Emotional Learning as well considerations for implementation.


National School Climate Center  (NSCC)


NSCC seeks to promote positive and sustained school climates by collaborating with teachers, staff, school-based mental health professionals, students and parents to help schools integrate crucial social and emotional learning with academic instruction. The Center helps translate research into practice by establishing meaningful and relevant guidelines, programs, and services that support a model for whole school improvement with a focus on school climate.

Strategies & Practices: 

CASEL Guide: Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs

(2013) The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

The CASEL Guide provides a systematic framework for evaluating the quality of classroom-based social and emotional learning programs and applies this framework to rate and identify well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs with potential for broad dissemination to schools across the United States. The Guide also shares best-practice guidelines for district and school teams on how to select and implement SEL programs. Finally, it offers recommendations for future priorities to advance SEL research, practice and policy.

The SEL School: Connecting Social and Emotional Learning to Effective Teaching

(2013) The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders

Great teachers do more than promote the student's academic learning–they teach the whole child. Social and emotional learning (SEL) is critical to the introduction of college and career readiness standards, which increase the demands on students' ability to engage in deeper learning, and shift the focus and rigor of instruction. This resource helps teachers, school and district leaders, and state education agencies collaborate in connecting social and emotional learning to effective teaching.

Fostering School Connectedness

(2012) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Research has shown that young people who feel connected to their school are less likely to engage in many risky behaviors, including early sexual initiation, alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, and violence and gang involvement. This web page features fact sheets, a strategy guide, and staff development guide for fostering school connectedness.

Strategies for Social and Emotional Learning: Preschool and Elementary Grade Student Learning Standards and Assessment

(2011) The National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention at Education Development Center (EDC) and  the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

This publication provides Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) project directors (PDs) with information and strategies to implement and assess Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in their schools.

Leading an SEL School: Steps to implement social and emotional learning for all students

(2011) The National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention at Education Development Center (EDC) and  the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

This brief highlights the role that an SEL approach can play in accomplishing the five Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) elements; summarizes research on the importance of school leaders in successfully implementing schoolwide SEL; outlines 10 steps toward implementation of a sustainable, high-quality, schoolwide SEL program; and shares practical advice, lessons learned, and tools for implementing and sustaining SEL programming.   

Maine's Best Practices in Bullying & Harassment Prevention

(2013) Maine Department of Education

This guide offers specific and effective training and implementation strategies to assist Maine schools and communities in reducing bullying and harassment and its resulting trauma, thereby improving the academic, social, physical and emotional lives of Maine youth

Bullying Prevention and Intervention: Snapshots from Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiatives

(2012) National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention

This report illustrates a variety of innovative and noteworthy approaches to the problem of bullying. The report also presents brief descriptions, or “snapshots,” of bullying prevention efforts from SS/HS communities across the country and highlights key themes that contribute to their success.

Measuring Conditions for Learning

(2007) National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for Children and Youth Who are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk (NDTAC)

This presentation identifies the four conditions for learning-safety, support, social-emotional learning, and challenge-and provides insight into how data can and should be used to evaluate practices that support a positive learning environment.

Caring School Communities Create Ideal Conditions for Learning

Character Education Partnership

This article shares common strategies used by National Schools of Character.

Tools: 

Conditions for Learning School Audit Tool to Address Discipline Disparities

National Clearinghouse on Supportive School Discipline (NCSSD)

The NCSSD Conditions for Learning School Audit tool offers district, school, parent and community group leaders an easy-to-use checklist to determine where their educational setting sits along a continuum of conditions for learning—from a highly negative and punitive school climate to a highly positive and supportive learning environment—based on objective, observable, and research-based criteria. 

School Climate Measurement Resources and Surveys

The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE)

School communities are complex systems that include multiple stakeholders and interconnecting environmental factors that influence student health and safety. As such, comprehensive needs assessments of conditions for learning can provide educators with the data support needed to pursue comprehensive approaches to school reform. This list of school climate surveys, assessments, and scales is designed to assist educators and education agencies in locating valid and reliable student, staff, and family measures that can be used as part of a school climate needs assessment.

Conditions for Learning Surveys

American Institutes for Research (AIR)

Since 2004, AIR has been engaged in promoting the measurement of conditions for learning in schools and the use of resultant data as part of a larger effort to improve and monitor school climate. Its surveys for grades 2-4, 5-8 and 9-12 explore four primary constructs:

  1. safe and respectful school climate
  2. challenge (also called high expectations or academic rigor)
  3. student support
  4. peer social and emotional learning.

Research conducted by AIR has shown that these CFL scales are associated with positive outcomes, such as higher grades and achievement scores, and decreased levels of unexcused absences. By monitoring students’ opinions about conditions for learning, the CFL scales are often used as a measure of the effect of schools’ and districts’ efforts to improve school climate. AIR‘s development of a school-based survey is one part of a comprehensive program to identify, measure, and report on school conditions that foster and promote student academic success and achievement. The survey can be used along with surveys of teachers, other staff, and partners, and in coordination with the collection of qualitative data, such as classroom observations and focus groups, to provide additional understanding of a school’s strengths and needs for improvement.

On the Ground: 

Bullying Prevention and Intervention: Snapshots from Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiatives

(2012) National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention

This report illustrates a variety of innovative and noteworthy approaches to the problem of bullying. The report also presents brief descriptions, or “snapshots,” of bullying prevention efforts from SS/HS communities across the country and highlights key themes that contribute to their success.

Improving School Environment Resources

California Department of Education

This hub provides training, resources, and technical assistance in the establishment of a school/community environment that is physically and emotionally safe, well disciplined, and conducive to learning.