Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

Creating a Climate in Which Students Can Flourish: A Whole School Intercultural Approach

Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

Creating a Climate in Which Students Can Flourish: A Whole School Intercultural Approach

Article excerpt

The study reported in this article was carried out in a high school located in a lower-socio economic suburb of Perth, Western Australia. The student population, at the time of the study, was made up of 54 different nationalities, reflecting a wide range of languages and cultures from across the globe. Whilst these demographics added to the diversity of the school, there were also changes in government policy which impacted on the school. These included the federal immigration policies related to visas allowing Australian employers to temporarily employ skilled overseas workers and humanitarian visas (both of which increased the number of students enrolled at the school who were from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds) and the raising of the school leaving age (resulting in an influx of students who were marginalised through their disengagement with secondary schooling).

Given the increasing diversity in the student population, and the fact that the school was staffed by mostly white middle-class teachers, the school principal (first author) became aware of the need to establish the processes needed to develop a school climate in which the students would feel welcome at the school regardless of their background or difference. The whole school intercultural approach involved, as a first step, deliberately improving teachers' intercultural competence and understanding of living with poverty. The approach involved the transformational processes that would bring the members of the school together and encourage the necessary change. As part of the process, the school used self-assessment audits and feedback from students to engage in a reflective process to challenge norms. The process included a collective exercise to re-vision the culture of the school. Teachers then created lines of action to enact the new vision, working together towards improvement.

Background

School Climate

A school's culture has been referred to as a school's ethos or climate and it is generally agreed that it involves a group phenomenon based on the quality and character of school life and patterns of people's experiences (Cohen, McCabe, Michelli & Pickeral, 2009). For the purpose of this study, school climate refers to the quality and character of school life, including the norms, values and expectations that a school accepts and promotes (Brookover, 1985). These, in turn, create an environment that dictates whether the staff, students and parents feel safe (socially, emotionally or physically), welcomed and respected.

Positive school climates have been found to be related to increased student engagement (Brady, 2006) and improved academic achievement (Brookover, Schweitser, Schneider, Beady, Flood & Wisenbaker, 1978; Esposito, 1999; Hoy & Hannum, 1997; MacNeil, Prater & Busch, 2009). In addition, past research has indicated that the school climate perceived by adolescents is a strong predictor of emotional and behavioural outcomes (Esposito, 1999; Kuperminc, Leadbeater, & Blatt, 1997; Loukas & Robinson, 2004; Roeser, Eccles, & Sameroff, 2000; Wang, Selman, Dishion & Stormshak, 2010). Research evidence supports the notion that changes in the school climate, particularly in terms of improved teacher-student relationships and improved discipline and order, can reduce behaviour problems (Gottfredson, 1989; Wang, Selman, Dishion & Stormshak, 2010) and help to create a safe school (Gottfredson, 1989; Johnson & Templeton, 1999; Sherman, Gottfredson, MacKeenzie, Eck, Reuter & Bushway, 1997).

Whole-School Intercultural Approach

The culture of a school transmits specific socio-cultural values (usually those of the dominant group). By not recognising and valuing cultural differences, educational practices can maintain, stress, and legitimize social inequalities for students from non-dominant or vulnerable sectors of society (Aguado, Ballesteros & Malik, 2003, Bernstein, 1996; Bourdieu, 1984; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990). …

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