School Climate/School Culture Though the terms “school climate” and “school culture” are often used interchangeably, but while they are related, they mean very different things.
School climate describes the environment that affects the behavior of teachers and students. It describes the organization at the building and classroom level. Is the building clean? Are the classrooms organized? Is there enough space for everyone to feel comfortable? Basically, how does the school “feel?” For example, “Do students feel safe when they come to school?”
Schools can develop an overall sense of well-being, safety, high morale, and ultimately, improvement of academic achievement by focusing and nurturing a positive school climate. When there is a shared sense of what is important based on the ethos of care and concern for others we find a greater commitment to a student’s learning. A positive climate can be felt as soon as one enters the school building. The subtle and overt messages on the walls, in the hallways, classrooms and around the campus immediately allow any newcomer to recognize if people are treated with dignity and respect.
A positive climate means students feel a sense of belonging within the school community rather than feeling marginalized, alienated, or unwelcome. The community impact of a positive school climate cannot be ignored. As students establish healthy connections with their peers and teachers, they will transfer the pride of school culture and climate back to their communities. Effective schools reap multiple benefits, the most priceless being the positive impact on student behavior regardless of external influences.
School culture refers to the beliefs and attitudes shared that permeate an individual school and a school district. These shared beliefs, assumptions, and values, which are deeply imbedded, give a school its identity. They are often taken for granted because they are so much a part of daily life. School culture is based on past experience and leads to future decision-making. Often you will hear,
“This is the way we do it here.”
In a brief put out by Michigan State University engagement specialists, the following four categories were listed as essential components of school climate.
- A physical environment that is welcoming and conducive to learning.
- A social environment that promotes communication and interaction.
- An affective environment that promotes a sense of belonging and self-esteem.
- An academic environment that promotes learning and self-fulfillment.
A welcoming physical environment contains a reasonable number of students who feel safe and comfortable everywhere on school property. Classrooms are orderly and well maintained along with the grounds surrounding the school. The noise level is kept low, areas for instruction are appropriate for that use, and staff members have sufficient resources and supplies.
In an exemplary social environment, interaction is encouraged. Teachers and students actively communicate with each other and with parents who actively participate in the educational process. Decisions are made on-site with the participation of teachers and sometimes students. Staff is open to student suggestions and students have opportunities to participate in decision-making. Staff and students are trained to prevent and resolve conflicts.
A positive affective environment is one in which interaction between teachers, staff, and students is caring, responsive, supportive and respectful. Students trust teachers and staff and morale is high for everyone. The school is open to diversity and welcoming to all cultures. Teachers and students feel they are contributing to the success of the school and there is a palpable sense of community. Parents perceive the school as warm, inviting and helpful.
In order for an academic environment to promote learning and self-fulfillment there must be a focus on academic subjects, but all types of intelligence and competence are respected and supported. Teaching methods respect the different ways children learn. Expectations are high for all students and all are encouraged to succeed. Progress is regularly monitored. Results of assessments are promptly communicated to students and parents. Evaluation and redesign of teaching procedures and content is ongoing. Teachers are confident and knowledgeable.
These four elements of school climate do not operate independently of each other. One impacts the other and together they inform the climate of the school.