This year has been a challenging time, for our nation, in terms of weather conditions:

  • Lack of rain in the southwest leading to fires;
  • Too much rain in the south and southeast leading to floods;
  • Significant winds in the Midwest leading to tornados; and
  • Unpredictable snow in the northeast leading to issues of safety and delayed land and air travel.

Living here in the Northwest, we have been fortunate not to experience any of these specific weather-related issues. However, recently we have experienced a lack of rain and unseasonably high temperatures. Monitoring the weather to ensure safety and prepare for unexpected or expected challenges is now a daily experience.

It was interesting the other day when the predicted weather began with a warm weather watch then changed to a warm weather advisory and toward the end of the day was a hot weather warning.  I learned the following characteristics of each of these weather stages:

  • Watch means this condition will happen and usually covers a large area for a lengthy period of time;
  • Advisory suggests that the weather condition has a pretty good change of occurring, but typically an advisory is used for less severe type of conditions; and
  • Warning means the predicted weather is already occurring and to take protective measures.

In the past, I have presented workshops, conducted professional development sessions and authored articles and blogs on school climate in which I use weather as an analogy.  School climate, according to the National School Climate Center, refers to the quality and character of school life. School climate is based on patterns of students’, parents’ and school personnel’s experience of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures.

What would happen if we had effective ways of measuring school climate?  How could we react if the school’s quality and character is less than desired?  Could we use the weather conditions of watch, advisory and warning to improve the experiences of youth and adults in schools?

I am aware of several high-quality processes and tools to measure a school’s climate including the National School Climate Center’s Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI). This nationally recognized school climate survey provides an in-depth profile of a school community’s particular strengths and needs.  It is an empirically validated tool that has been used by thousands of educators, students, and parents nationwide.

With the CSCI, school teams can quickly and accurately assess student, parent, and school personnel perceptions, and get the detailed information needed to make informed decisions for lasting improvement.  There are four major areas the survey includes safety, relationships, teaching and learning strategies and the external environment.

What I appreciate about the CSCI is that it, effectively and appropriately, collects information on the school experiences of students, teachers, school staff, administrators, and parents and provides a comprehensive analysis to celebrate progress as well as address areas of concern.

Now, let’s return to my initial topic of weather conditions. I suggest that as schools collect and analyze data on the experiences of education stakeholders they will be able to determine if there are areas corresponding to watch, advisory and/or warning.

If this analogy holds for a school’s climate we will be able to make early adjustments as we find evidence of some areas consistent with the watch condition; correspondingly we can do the same if some areas identify with the advisory condition; and we can also address ways to respond if we find areas consistent with the warning condition.

Of course, we expect that addressing issues in the watch or advisory conditions will greatly reduce the possibilities of conditions consistent with the warning category.  Early discovery of areas of safety, relationships, teaching and learning and the external environment that fall short of expectations allows schools to address these issues before they reach the warning stage.

Over the last three decades, there has been an extraordinary and growing body of research that attests to the importance of school climate. Positive school climate supports learning and positive youth development.

Including school climate in a school’s accountability system ensures a direct connection between the context of schools and the content of what goes on in its classrooms, hallways, grounds and community.

I believe that using the weather conditions analogy will greatly assist schools to acknowledge the importance and state of their climate and enhance the areas that are strong and address the areas of need so that each student experiences a safe, engaging, equitable and relevant school climate.

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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