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A supportive learning environment is one that is safe, includes effective and fair use of appropriate discipline practices, and promotes positive student outcomes and teacher practice. Interventions designed to promote a supportive learning environment may influence student behavior and academics, educator practice, school climate and discipline practices, and equity concerns such as disproportionate uses of discipline practices. While student outcomes are often the primary focus of the WWC, this review will include outcomes related to the school environment and educator practice, because these outcomes describe supporting learning environments and can influence or mediate student outcomes.

This review focuses on interventions designed to promote supportive learning environments in grades K–12, and will examine the effects of these interventions on schools, staff, and students. Interventions reviewed under this protocol will alter physical, relational, or instructional elements of an educational environment. Physical elements of an environment might include security technology or posters that promote appropriate behavior. Relational and instructional elements might include altering discipline policies and instructional strategies. Changes to these elements of a school’s environment may improve the perceived sense of trust between students and staff, provide additional emotional support at the school, change disciplinary practices used by school staff, or affect other aspects of school climate.

Of particular interest to this review are interventions designed to improve student behavior or responses to problem behavior, including for students with emotional disturbance or other behavioral risks. To provide WWC users with specific information about an intervention’s effectiveness for such students, this review will produce separate reports that present findings for (1) students in this at-risk group and (2) all students.

The following research questions guide this review:
  • Which Supportive Learning Environment interventions are effective at improving student outcomes, including engagement in school, academics, behavior, emotional status, and social interactions?
  • Which Supportive Learning Environment interventions are effective at improving educators’ discipline and instructional practices?
  • Which Supportive Learning Environment interventions are effective at improving the school or classroom environment, including measures of school climate and equity with respect to disciplinary actions?
  • Are some interventions more effective for certain types of students, or found to be more effective when delivered in certain types of settings?

Protocol Details

  • Version: 4.0
  • Released: February 2019 (Revised May 2020)

What is a Protocol?

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) uses the Study Review Protocol to review all studies, including those cited as evidence for U.S. Department of Education grant competitions, studies that were funded by the Department, and studies identified for systematic reviews of evidence based on a search of the research literature in a particular topic area. As articulated in the WWC Procedures and Standards Handbook, Version 5.0, when the Study Review Protocol is used to review studies for systematic reviews, an accompanying topic area synthesis protocol will provide criteria for the literature search; guidance on how to identify and prioritize relevant studies for review and inclusion in evidence synthesis products; and guidance on intervention, sample, and outcome eligibility criteria for the synthesis.

The Study Review Protocol is used in combination with the WWC Handbook to guide the review of all studies by the WWC. In particular, the Study Review Protocol provides additional information on eligible outcome domains for all topic areas reviewed by the WWC and provides examples of outcome measures that fall within each domain. Starting in January 2021 with the release of the Study Review Protocol, Version 1.0, the WWC publishes an updated version of the Study Review Protocol to align with an updated version of the WWC Handbook. The current version of this protocol, the Study Review Protocol, Version 5.0, was published in March 2023 to accompany the WWC Procedures and Standards Handbook, Version 5.0.

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