Derek has a Masters of Science degree in Teaching, Learning & Curriculum.
Picture a school hallway. Think of some of the things you saw or heard as you walked down that hallway. You may have seen a sign indicating that the school was a bully-free zone, or a picture of the school's mascot or its motto. You may have heard students talking while working in the classrooms, or a teacher discussing a classroom challenge she was facing with another teacher.
Everything you just saw and heard are aspects of a school's climate. School climate refers to the overarching and pervasive norms, policies, relationships, and values that help define a school's character. School climate is what makes a school feel like a school. Research has shown that school climate has a significant impact on student learning.
The National School Climate Council and many researchers have established four factors of school climate. These, as well as the challenge of assessing and evaluating school climate, are detailed in the rest of this lesson.
Factor 1 & Factor 2
It should be obvious that schools need to be concerned with the safety of all those who work and learn in the building. Imagine trying to learn in a classroom where you were afraid someone or something was going to physically harm you. It would be quite difficult, even for an adult, let alone more vulnerable young people.
The safety factor encompasses all of the rules, regulations, and norms associated with physical, social, and emotional safety. A school that has clear rules regarding physical and emotional violence and is responsive to those issues will have a safe school climate. By ensuring that students feel safe, schools help students worry less about potential danger and focus on learning.
A teacher who doesn't encourage or provide constructive feedback to students is contributing negatively to a school's climate. Additionally, an administration that doesn't concern itself with teaching responsible decision-making and healthy conflict resolution is creating a poor school climate. These two examples both fall under the teaching and learning factor of school climate. Teachers and other professionals should strive to create a learning environment in which students are academically challenged and act responsibly and civilly.
Factor 3 & Factor 4
Imagine working or learning in a place where everyone is cold and distant to one another. In this place, no one gives or receives support and people are expected to thrive completely on their own. You may be thinking that this seems like an impossible situation; no one could succeed in that environment. And you are 100% right.
In order to have a good school climate, schools should foster healthy, supportive interpersonal relationships at every level. This means encouraging respect for differences among students and adults. It also means creating and maintaining social support systems for both teachers and students. No one can be successful on their own, so a school must have systems in place to ensure that no one is 'left out in the cold.'
No one wants to work or learn in a place that's dirty or where they feel like they don't belong. By ensuring that the actual building itself is taken care of, teachers and other professionals can help students learn and be more productive. Additionally, creating an institutional environment where everyone feels like they belong and are part of the same team is important for school climate. This includes parents and the wider community, not just those who learn and work in the school.
Assessing School Climate
Evaluating a school's climate can be a huge challenge because there are many factors involved, not just the four broad factors previously mentioned. The first and most important step in assessing school climate is to know and understand what criteria you're evaluating. This is where knowing the four factors comes in handy.
However, just knowing the criteria is not enough. Schools must decide what kind of assessment tool they're going to use. Checklists can help you determine if you are meeting all of the goals, but give no real indication of how the students and teachers are feeling about the school. Focus groups or committee discussions can give you a good idea about how the people in school feel, but might not show whether you're hitting all of the important marks.
Ultimately, assessing a school's climate comes down to the preferences and training of those in charge. As a teacher, your job is to make sure that you're doing your best to meet all of the criteria for a good school climate. If everyone in your building does their part, your school will be successful regardless of which measures are used to assess school climate.
Let's review. School climate refers to the overarching and pervasive norms, policies, relationships, and values that help define a school's character. The National School Climate Council and many researchers have established four factors of school climate, which include safety, teaching and learning, interpersonal relationships, and the school environment. The first and most important step in assessing school climate is to know and understand what criteria you're evaluating, which ultimately comes down to the preferences and training of those in charge. As a teacher, you need to do everything you can to help your school be successful on whatever assessment measure is used to determine your school's climate.
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