When we look for ways to improve student achievement we often cite school climate as a major factor, but just what is "school climate"? How do we create a positive climate that will indeed affect student achievement and develop student and teacher efficacy? The National School Climate Center defines school climate as the "quality and character of school life" and identifies four major aspects: safety, teaching and learning, relationships, and environment (National School Climate Center, 2012). Here are some actions that your school can take to improve practices in each of these four areas and improve the climate of your school for all learners.
In order to make our schools safe, we have to 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.
For safety to become part of the climate of the school, the key is communication and consistency. Rules must be explicitly taught – both students and teachers need to know what "being respectful" looks like and sounds like in practice. Teachers must model appropriate behavior and recognize an infraction as an opportunity to teach appropriate behavior rather than an opportunity to punish.
Students are a school's best source of information on current school climate and safety information. Survey students for accurate information about areas of the school that students feel are threatening and require attention. Use this survey to identify areas of concern that affect students' attitude toward school, such as being different from others, failure, and homework (Freiberg, 1999).
Teaching and Learning
A positive school climate is one in which students say, "I can" and are willing to take risks. To create and sustain this type of climate, teachers must use supportive practices: accommodating individual student needs, using mistakes and incorrect answers as opportunities to learn and teach – not for correction and shame, providing feedback, offering praise for hard work and maintaining high expectations for every student.
Offer choices to students. Provide a variety of choices to students throughout the instructional day: the group with which they work, the type of project, the number of questions for homework. We can address student strengths, learning styles, interests and multiple intelligences by structuring lessons with a choice of approaches or end products.
Be clear in your communication with students. Do not make assumptions about their understanding of instructions, rules, or limits. Share examples of good work. Students need to see and experience what we mean by excellence. Use rubrics for projects and allow students to apply the rubric to an example of work or assist in the creation of a rubric prior to beginning the project.
Students and teachers must feel that they "belong". 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, invite students to share their experiences and culture. Reach out to parents by sharing student successes.
Part of the sense of belonging has to do with student interaction with school activities. 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.
Assure that the physical surroundings are appealing to students. Schools should be clean, facilities well maintained, and student work should be evident in all areas of the school. The school must be inviting to students, parents and teachers.
We must remember that our school climates reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the individuals that inhabit them. A positive school climate requires a shared vision of success for all students and teachers based on respect for each individual and their needs.
Freiberg, H.J. (1998). Measuring school climate: Let me count the ways.Educational Leadership, 56 (1), 22-26.
National School Climate Center, Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.schoolclimate.org/guidelines/