There is an awful lot of conversation in the U.S. and in fact throughout the world on climate change: is the climate really changing? If it is what is the cause or the causes? And who should take responsibility for resolving the problem if there is one?

Well, this debate may continue for a while, but I want to turn our focus to a different kind of climate and that is school climate.

School climate refers to the quality and character of schools and is reflected in its patterns of individual’s experiences.  School climate incorporates norms, goals and values and demonstrated in the interpersonal relationships of everyone within the school community.

According to the National School Climate Center (NSCC) there are four key dimensions of school climate:

  • Safety (physical and social-emotional)
  • Relationships (trusting, respectful and engaging)
  • Teaching and learning (methods and engagement principles)
  • Environment (school connectedness and physical environment).

NSCC shares research documenting the impact school climate has on individual’s development, risk prevention and health, academic achievement and teacher retention.  But let’s be sure we understand these impacts of school climate, basically if a school has a poor school climate (lack of safety, negative relationships, irrelevant pedagogy and reduced sense of connectedness) there are negative outcomes.  Conversely the better the school climate the greater the opportunity for students and all school personnel to develop more positive attributes.

Now here is the difference between the national and international arguments on physical climate, we know that school climate matters and also it is the responsibility of every education stakeholder to contribute to and assist to sustain a high-quality school climate.  This removes the question of who is responsible and offers that everyone associated with the school is responsible.

Here is a guide for our schools to focus on school climate:

  • Establish effective methods to measure school climate;
  • Analyze the information and determine the implications for the school;
  • Engage all stakeholders in the creation of an action plan to continuously improve the school’s climate;
  • Hold each stakeholder accountable for their expected contributions;
  • Implement the action plan and ensure frequent data collection/analysis process to measure outcomes and impacts;
  • Commit to continuous improvement.

Over the past two decades I have visited schools throughout the U.S. and internationally and one of the aspects of schools I look for is evidence of the school’s climate.  Asking myself how does it feel to be in the school (even for a short time); how are students engaged in the classroom and school-wide; what posters and slogans exist on the walls of the school and classrooms; how do people treat each other; how do people work together; how parents and community members are engaged; how proud of students and adults of the school; and what policies encourage, support and reward the school’s climate.

My findings have varied as I visited schools, but it is clear to me that school climate is actually something you can feel as you enter the school and something that forms a foundation for the school’s progress and success or lack thereof.

A formal focus on school climate creates an environment that is engaging, equitable and respectful leading to the fullest development of each student and every teacher, staff member and school leader.

Terry Pickeral
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Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations, evaluation and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.
Terry Pickeral
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