School Climate: Definition & Assessment

Instructor: Derek Hughes
A school's climate is a very important factor is student success and learning. As a teacher, it is important that you understand what school climate is and how it's assessed so that you can be sure you are positively impacting your school's learning environment.

School Climate

Picture a school hallway that you've walked down. Think of some of the things you saw or heard. You might have seen a sign that indicated the school was a bully-free zone. There might have been a picture of the school's mascot or its motto. You heard students talking and working in the classrooms. A teacher was in the hallway discussing a classroom challenge she was facing with another teacher.

All of these things are aspects of the school climate. School climate refers to the overarching and pervasive values, policies, norms, relationships, and policies in a school that help define its character. The school climate, put simply, is what makes the school feel like a school. Research has shown that school climate has a very sizable 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- Safety

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 something or someone 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 for 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.

Factor 2- Teaching and Learning

A teacher who doesn't encourage students 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 bad 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 challenged, take risks, and act responsibly and civilly.

Factor 3- Interpersonal Relationships

Imagine working or learning in a place where everyone is cold and distant from one another. In this place, no one gives or receives support and people are expected to thrive completely on their own. You might 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 teaching respect for differences between students and adults. It also means creating and maintaining social support systems for both teachers and students. No one can be successful all on their own, so a school must have systems in place to ensure no one is 'left out in the cold.'

Factor 4- Institutional Environment

No one wants to work or learn in a place that is 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 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.

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