November 2016, Vol. 2

The importance of school climate and how to improve it

by Zach DiSchiano
 
School climate doesn’t refer to the temperature of the building, but it can have the same effects on a teacher’s outlook as a sunny, 72-degree day in November.

A growing body of research indicates that positive school climate is associated with, and can be predictive of, academic achievement, effective violence prevention, students’ healthy development, and teacher retention, according to a report published in Teachers College Record.

This intangible variable that impacts so many factors critical to a school’s success is defined by SchoolClimate.org as “the quality and character of school life as it relates to norms and values, interpersonal relations and social interactions, and organizational processes and structures.” It establishes a tone for all teaching and learning done on a campus.

A study published in the Review of Educational Research suggested school climate should be a priority for both educators and communities. The review found no link between school climate and socioeconomic status, meaning school climate can be equally as positive in low-income neighborhoods as it is in wealthier areas. With teacher attrition 50 percent higher in high poverty schools, district leaders should place a strong emphasis on reviewing the current state of their school climate and find ways to improve it to support teacher retention.

There are several steps a district can take toward repairing the climate of its schools. The Inclusive Schools Network recommends attention to the following areas:
  • Safety
    • Develop and adhere to practices that support safety: positive school-wide behavior programs that set rules and provide consistent enforcement, clearly communicated rules for common areas, guidelines for adult intervention, and clearly communicated (verbally and written) rules for classroom behavior.
    • Teacher communication with students
    • Use supportive practices: accommodating individual student needs, using mistakes and incorrect answers as opportunities to learn and teach rather than for correction and shame, providing feedback, offering praise for hard work, and maintaining high expectations for every student.
    • Foster relationships with students by making an effort to interact with each student, provide students with opportunities to excel, work with students to establish goals and overcome weaknesses, and invite students to share their experiences and culture. Reach out to parents by sharing student successes.
  • Environment
    • Encourage students to participate in school activities by providing opportunities for students to decorate hallways, provide displays, greet guests, and conduct some of the business of the school such as delivering messages, working in the office, etc.
    • Ensure that the physical surroundings are appealing to students. Schools should be clean, facilities should be well-maintained, and student work should be evident in all areas of the school. The school must be inviting to students, parents, and teachers.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) released this year free resources to aid schools in creating a better climate on their campuses.  These tools focus on collecting and reviewing climate data specific to your school by surveying teachers, students, and parents, as well as providing a “Quick Guide”—a collection of tips and advice on how to foster a better environment. All of these features are available in this press release from the USDOE.

School climate impacts multiple variables in a school’s success, from retaining teachers to overall achievement. Each district should make improving their school climate a priority to reap the benefits of a quality environment for teachers and students.