NIOS Identity Safe and Inclusive School Program | Not in Our Town


NIOS Identity Safe and Inclusive School Program



The Identity Safe and Inclusive School Program includes a comprehensive set of structured activities for middle and high schools. Focused on bullying prevention and school-wide initiatives, it helps school leaders create an inclusive school climate. Implementation and evaluation tools are incorporated into the program.  With this guide, teachers can help students learn to promote kindness and empathy, reduce bullying, become “upstanders” rather than bystanders, and develop compassion and acceptance of others.

What Is the Purpose of the NIOS Identity Safe and Inclusive School Program?

  • To create a school climate of equity and identity safety, addressing bullying, and all forms of intolerance;
  • To put the students in the driver’s seat to motivate their peers to become empathetic upstanders; and
  • To involve the entire community in efforts to create safe and inclusive environments.


The Program Guide is broken into three sections: Schoolwide Culture and ClimateStudent-Led Campaign, and Getting the Whole Community Involved.

As students walk onto the grounds and hallways of campus, the climate permeates everything. School is a young person’s world for most of the hours of their day. Everyone in the school needs to feel that they matter, not in spite of, but because of, who they are. That is the definition of identity safety.

An identity safe school is a place where everyone feels physically and emotionally safe. They have a sense that “I belong here” and “these people have my back.” This kind of environment can be intentionally cultivated in all learning experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom. It encompasses how adults treat students, how students treat one another, and how adults treat other adults (Cohn-Vargas & Steele, 2013).

Unfortunately, many students experience the opposite of this ideal. Those who are perceived as different, because of race, sex, ethnicity, gender identity, mental or physical disability, or other differences, can be subjected to cruel teasing, name-calling, and cyber-harassment, all the way up to intimidation, threats, and physical violence.

Educators are not always aware of bullying until a serious incident occurs because it happens in the shadows, or under the guise of “kidding around.” Often the targets of bullying are afraid to report it out of shame or fear that it will get worse, or they may not feel confident that adults will take it seriously.

Link to the program description:

Evidence-Based and Research-Based Program

Identity Safety Research

The Identity Safe and Inclusive School Program draws on an evidence-based model of identity safe classrooms to transform a school culture from one where students may feel stigmatized by their identities to one where everyone feels acceptance and inclusion. The Stanford Integrated Schools Project (SISP) is a major identity safety study that collected data from 84 classrooms in a large school district. They measured a wide array of factors that they believe might constitute identity safety: inclusive classroom practices, warm and positive classroom relationships, diverse and challenging teaching tasks, and the use of student diversity as a resource.

This research revealed a constellation of things educators did that positively changed life in the classroom so that students of all backgrounds achieved at higher levels and improved their liking for school— and their sense of identity safety (Cohn-Vargas & Steele, 2013).

The findings pointed to the importance of promoting positive relationships that elicit empathy and well-being for everyone, together with other social-emotional learning skills, in conjunction with a focus on critical thinking and high academic standards. These findings are very promising as we consider the challenge of teaching students from diverse backgrounds.

The Identity Safe and Inclusive School Program includes everyone in the school community working together to create an inclusive environment, develop empathy and kindness, bridge differences, and learn to speak up for themselves and others. It combines a whole-staff effort with an emphasis on organizing and innovation led by students themselves.

Find out more about identity safety research and practices:

School Climate and Bullying Prevention Research

A positive school climate is a crucial factor in reducing and eliminating bullying and all forms of intolerance (Thapa, Cohen, & Higgins-D’Alessandro, 2013). According to the National School Climate Center:

School climate – by definition – reflects students’, school personnel’s, and parents’ experiences of school life socially, emotionally, civically, ethically as well as academically. Over the past two decades, research studies from a range of historically disparate fields (e.g. risk prevention, health promotion, character education, mental health, and social-emotional learning) have identified research-based school improvement guidelines that converge predictably to promote safe, caring, responsive and participatory schools (American Psychological Association, 2003; Centers for Disease Control, 2009; Benninga et al., 2003; Berkowitz & Bier, 2005; Greenberg et al., 2003). School climate matters. Positive and sustained school climate is associated with and/or predictive of positive youth development, effective risk prevention and health promotion efforts, student learning and academic achievement, increased student graduation rates, and teacher retention.

Read the entire brief School Climate Research Summary 2010:

In 2013, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) published a series of briefs on bullying prevention. They report:

A positive school climate is essential to bullying reduction and to student retention in school. There are research-based steps that educators can take to improve school climate, such as the following strategies:

  • Develop a shared vision among educational leaders and the entire school community about what kind of school they want their school to be.
  • Assess the school’s strengths and needs in a comprehensive, reliable, and valid manner.
  • Teach pro-social skills in regular classes, advisory classes, and other small-group experiences with opportunities for practice.
  • Engage in prevention efforts that range from on-the spot teaching with students who engage in teasing or bullying behavior to formal school-wide programs.
  • Support partnerships among parents, educators, and others who seek to interrupt the bully-victim-bystander cycle and encourage bystanders to be upstanders who do not allow bullying to continue.

Read the entire Prevention of Bullying in Schools and Universities published by the American Association of Educational Reserachers:,%20Colleges%20and%20Universities.pdf

The Identity Safe and Inclusive School Program incorporates each of the findings described above: a shared vision, school climate improvement planning, schoolwide pre- and post-assessments, classroom lessons in pro-social behavior, individual and schoolwide activities to prevent bullying and intolerance, and the involvement of students as leaders, parents, and staff and community to help students learn to be upstanders. The program also leads to a higher morale for staff and students with lower discipline and behavior problems.

Program Overview

The Identity Safe and Inclusive School Program is based on the following principles:

  1. Foster identity safety in an environment of respect, empathy, and kindness.
  2. Take immediate action to address bullying and all forms of intolerance.
  3. Engage in dialogue about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other identity characteristics to bridge differences because bullying is often bias-based.
  4. Put students in the driver’s seat to build awareness and seek solutions.
  5. Offer support and guidance to all involved in bullying. Help targets gain confidence to speak up for themselves; help bystanders become upstanders who speak up when they see harm being done; and help those who bully change their behavior.
  6. Get the whole community involved in bullying prevention and create a kind and inclusive community.

No school can expect to change overnight. The Identity Safe and Inclusive School Program offers a two-year model that is designed to work flexibly within a school’s implementation capacity. The program walks educators through a specific process for initiating a campus climate change, provides educator training, in-class lessons, and campaign activities that can be implemented within existing class schedules and curricular goals. This information can easily be adopted district-wide and used simultaneously at more than one school.

This program is designed to integrate easily with other school climate initiatives, including PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support), SEL (Social and Emotional Learning), Second Step Violence Prevention Program, and bullying prevention efforts. The tools and resources were created in a Do It Yourself (DIY) format, but additional support is offered through Not In Our Town (NIOT). Coaching and professional development can be customized to support implementation at your site. We invite you to contact Not In Our Town at or (510) 268-9675 with any questions, suggestions, and to share your experiences!

Two decades of bullying prevention work have made evident that a systematic approach to preventing bullying and intolerance leads to higher morale for staff and students, with fewer discipline and behavior problems. Student participation is the key. This creates a climate that is safe for everyone and it gives all students the best chance to learn their school lessons as well as their life lessons.


PROGRAM Materials

Main Guide

Introduction: Presents an overview of the program.

Part One: Explains how to Use the Identity Safe and Inclusive School Program Guide

Part Two: Offers important content information on the program topics.

Part Three: Provides a pathway with 12 articulated program components in three program areas:

  1. Schoolwide Culture and Climate
  2. Student-Led Action
  3. Getting the Community Involved


Each Component has a set of Criteria that is used to measure progress and track success in implementing that Component. Forms for Implementation: Note, some components are on the flash drive/zip.

Supplemental Guides

1. The NIOS Staff and Parent Professional Development Guide contains annotated agendas for six Staff Workshops and one Parent Education Session. (PowerPoints for each session are on the flash drive/zip.)

2. The NIOS Classroom Lessons Guide provides Lesson Plans for six lessons and extension lessons (worksheets and films are on the flash drive/zip).

3. The NIOS Student-Led Campaign Guide contains seven campaign development lessons (Implementation forms are on the flash drive/zip).