School Climate

School climate is a term used to describe the feelings and attitudes that a school's environment evokes in pupils, teachers and other staff. Most definitions relate school climate to the quality and character of school life. Important factors include goals, values, relationships, teaching, learning, leadership practices and organizational structures.

In 1908, Arthur C. Perry was the first educational leader to examine how school climate affects pupils and how they learn. Perry was the principal of a school in New York City and wrote the influential book The Management of a City School (1919) that looks at the problems faced by elementary schools. Perry once said: "Discipline in a school is a natural, to be expected and ever-present problem. The discipline of a school may, and should, under ordinary conditions, improve from year to year; but as the work of the school means continuous process of admitting to the school register hundreds of pupils in their infancy and discharging them in their youth, just so will the problem of discipline be a continuous one."

The way an individual perceives school climate varies greatly depending on his or her character, attitude, personal life and values, so there is no single definition. Most researchers agree that there are four key areas to assess school climate: safety, relationships, teaching and learning, and the external environment. Each of these areas can be further divided.

The environment in different schools varies significantly. Some schools feel inviting, supportive and friendly, while the atmosphere in others may be defined as unwelcoming, exclusionary and cold. According to the National School Climate Council based in the United States, school climate represents a multi-dimensional construct that is comprised of physical, social and academic dimensions.

The physical dimensions of school climate include the appearance of the school buildings; the order and organization of classrooms; availability of resources; safety and comfort; and other physical aspects of the school. The quality of relationships between and among pupils, teachers and the other staff within a school, on the other hand, are part of the social dimensions of school climate.

These dimensions also involve the degree to which students, teachers and staff take part in the decision-making process at the school; the degree of competition and social comparison between students; and the fair treatment of students by teachers and staff. The academic dimensions of school climate feature the quality of instruction; teacher expectations for student achievement; and the monitoring of student progress and promptly reporting results to students and parents.

Peer-reviewed educational research has proven that positive youth development, academic achievement and effective risk prevention efforts are closely related to positive school climate. Positive school climate also enhances teacher retention. Schools that feel safe contribute to high-quality pupil-teacher relationships and reduce the probability of violence.

Due to significant impact of school climate on all involved in the school life, schools often assess how pupils feel about their school. A number of assessment tools exist that can be modified, combined or used as a basis for own assessment instruments. No single tool can assess all aspects of school climate. Still these assessments allow the school authorities and teachers to at least take a peek into how students feel about certain dimensions of the school's climate. As a result school personnel can take some initial steps to enhance these parameters.

There are many ways to improve school climate, depending on where the major issues lie. There are violence prevention and conflict resolution programs that can help bolster school safety and enhance interpersonal relationships. Treating pupils with care, fairness and consistency; boosting student-teacher acceptance of diversity; and reducing the emphasis on student competition represent successful methods. It is also important to promote student decision-making, individual and civic responsibility and commitment to the larger school community in order to improve school climate.

Another way to make school climate more positive is to improve the pupils' feeling of connection with the school. Some scientists believe that this feeling of "school connectedness," can explain the link between school climate and pupil outcomes. As a whole, the quality of school climate has a direct effect on students' feeling of connectedness to the school, while the level of connectedness is directly related to the way students behave and feel at school.

School Climate: Selected full-text books and articles

Transforming School Cultures By Martin L. Maehr; Carol Midgley Westview Press, 1996
Improving the School Culture By Ediger, Marlow Education, Vol. 118, No. 1, Fall 1997
School Culture: Exploring the Hidden Curriculum By Wren, David J Adolescence, Vol. 34, No. 135, Fall 1999
The Respectful School: How Educators and Students Can Conquer Hate and Harassment By Stephen L. Wessler Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2003
West Haven: Classroom Culture and Society in a Rural Elementary School By Norris Brock Johnson University of North Carolina Press, 1985
The Importance of Physical Space in Creating Supportive Learning Environments By Marilla D. Svinicki; R. Eugene Rice; Nancy Van Note Chism; Deborah J. Bickford Jossey-Bass, 2002
Leadership for Differentiating Schools and Classrooms By Carol Ann Tomlinson; Susan Demirsky Allan Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2000
Ensuring Safe School Environments: Exploring Issues, Seeking Solutions By Mary Susan E. Fishbaugh; Terry R. Berkeley; Gwen Schroth Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
The Big Picture: Education Is Everyone's Business By Dennis Littky; Samantha Grabelle Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2004
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