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School%20 climate%20and%20learning

  1. 1. No. 31 December 2004PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHERSchool Culture and School Climate......................................... 1 SCHOOL climate AND School Culture ............................................................ 1 School Climate ............................................................ 2 LEARNING As school administrators struggle with reform to improveSchool Climate Affects School Performance ............................ 5 students’ academic performance, their concerns must encompassChanging School Climate and School Culture......................... 6 more than instructional change. This BRIEF describes school Who Must Lead the Change?.................................... 6 culture and school climate—two factors of a school’s environment Some Approaches to Change.................................... 6 that can either impede or support learning—and focusesConclusion ............................................................................. 7 primarily on school climate and its relationship to learning. ItAppendix .............................................................................. 8 also provides information on assessment instruments for measuring school climate.SCHOOL CULTURE AND SCHOOL CLIMATEThe terms school culture and school climate SCHOOL CULTUREdescribe the environment that affects the School culture reflects the shared ideas—assumptions,behavior of teachers and students. School values, and beliefs—that give an organization its identityculture is the shared beliefs and attitudes that and standard for expected behaviors.characterize the district-wide organization andestablish boundaries for its constituent units. These ideas are deeply imbedded in theSchool climate characterizes the organization at organization and, to a great extent, operatethe school building and classroom level. It refers unconsciously. They are so ingrained that they areto the “feel” of a school and can vary from school often taken for granted. Understandings shared byto school within the same district. While an teachers, staff, and students structure theirindividual school can develop a climate responses to demands made from outside (e.g., byindependently of the larger organization, changes parents and the community), and from insidein school culture at the district level can positively (e.g., by the central administration and itsor adversely affect school climate at the building communication of directions from the schoollevel. board and state and federal governments). School culture is based on past experience which provides a template for future action based on “how we do things in this organization.” 1
  2. 2. Components of School Culture As a school district’s culture develops over time, itCulture is reflected in an organization’s is maintained by several practices:atmosphere, myths, and moral code. The Common beliefs and values that keycharacteristics of a school district’s culture can be individuals communicate and enforcededuced from multiple layers: Heroes and heroines whose actions and Artifacts and symbols: the way its buildings accomplishments embody these values are decorated and maintained Rituals and ceremonies that reinforce these Values: the manner in which administrators, values principals and staff function and interact Stories that reflect what the organization Assumptions: the beliefs that are taken for stands for1 granted about human nature The following chart shows how these components of school culture can support or impede learning. School culture that … Supports Learning Impedes LearningArtifacts and The building and its arrangements reflect the There is little that reflects an emphasissymbols children, their needs, and their educational on children and their education. accomplishments.Values Administrators, teachers, students, and parents Decisions are made without participation participate in decision making. of teachers and parents.Assumptions All students can learn. Some students are incapable of learningand beliefs Parents want their children to succeed. or too lazy to learn. Parents don’t care. Parents are partners in education. Parents know nothing about education.SCHOOL CLIMATE Components of School ClimateSchool climate reflects the physical and psychological Although there is no consistent agreement in theaspects of the school that are more susceptible to change and literature on the components of school climate orthat provide the preconditions necessary for teaching and their importance, most writers emphasize caringlearning to take place. as a core element. However, some place safety foremost,2 defining school climate as “an orderlySchool climate, the focus of this BRIEF, is environment in which the school family feelsevident in the feelings and attitudes about a valued and able to pursue the school’s missionschool expressed by students, teachers, staff and free from concerns about disruptions and safety.”parents—the way students and staff “feel” aboutbeing at school each day.1 Several aspects of a school’s physical and social environment comprise its climate. OneSchool climate is a significant element in organization identified the following eight areas:discussions about improving academicperformance and school reform. It is also Appearance and physical plantmentioned in discussions of potential solutions to Faculty relationsproblems such as bullying, inter-student conflicts,suicide, character education, and moral education. Student interactions Leadership/decision making2
  3. 3. Disciplined environment A physical environment that is welcoming and conducive to learning Learning environment A social environment that promotes Attitude and culture communication and interaction School-community relations3 An affective environment that promotes aThe comprehensive view used in this BRIEF, sense of belonging and self-esteemand summarized below, defines school climate in An academic environment that promotesterms of four aspects of the school environment: learning and self-fulfillment1 Supports Learning Impedes LearningA Physical School building contains a limited School building contains a largeEnvironment number of students. number of students.that is Welcoming Students are, and feel, safe and Students are harassed by otherand Conducive to comfortable everywhere on school students in halls, restrooms, lunchLearning property. rooms, or playgrounds. Classrooms are orderly. Classrooms are disorganized. Classrooms and grounds are clean Classrooms and grounds are dirty, and well-maintained. poorly lit, and poorly maintained. Noise level is low. Noise level is high. Areas for instruction and activities Classrooms are in rooms not are appropriate for those uses. intended for that use. Space is Classrooms are visible and inviting. overcrowded. Staff members have sufficient Classrooms are hidden and textbooks and supplies. protected from scrutiny. Textbooks and supplies are insufficient. Deliveries are delayed. Supports Learning Impedes LearningA Social Interaction is encouraged. Teachers Interaction is limited. Students andEnvironment and students actively communicate. teachers do not speak to each other.that Promotes Teachers are collegial. Student Teachers are isolated from oneCommunication groupings are diverse. Parents and another. Students self-segregate.and Interaction teachers are partners in the Parents are not treated as equal educational process. partners. Decisions are made on-site, with the All decisions are made by central participation of teachers. administration or the principal Staff are open to students’ without teacher involvement. suggestions; students have Students have no role in determining opportunities to participate in classroom or building activities and decision-making. decisions. Staff and students are trained to Bullying and conflicts are ignored. prevent and resolve conflicts. 3
  4. 4. Supports Learning Impedes LearningAn Affective Interaction of teachers and staff Interaction of teachers and staff withEnvironment with all students is caring, students is generally distant andthat Promotes a responsive, supportive, and minimal. Students are subject toSense of respectful. favoritism. Some students areBelonging and Students trust teachers and staff. overlooked. The circumstances of someSelf-Esteem Morale is high among teachers students are ignored. and staff. Students do not see teachers and staff as Staff and students are friendly. acting in their interest. The school is open to diversity Morale is low among teachers and staff. and welcoming to all cultures. Staff and students are unfriendly. Teachers, staff, and students are The school “belongs” to the majority respected and valued. students. Teachers, staff and students feel Teachers and staff feel unappreciated. that they are contributing to the Students receive no positive success of the school. reinforcement for work or actions. There is a sense of community. Teachers, staff and students do not feel The school is respected and they have any impact on what happens valued by teachers, staff, in the school. students, and families. Teachers, staff, students, and families do Parents perceive the school as not feel they are part of the school warm, inviting and helpful. community. Parents do not feel welcome at the school. Parents feel “blamed” for their child’s difficulties. Supports Learning Impedes LearningAn Academic There is an emphasis on Academic performance is downplayedEnvironment academics, but all types of or not rewarded. Teaching methods dothat Promotes intelligence and competence are not allow for a variety of learning styles.Learning and respected and supported. Expectations are low. Some students areSelf-Fulfillment Teaching methods respect the expected to fail. different ways children learn. There is minimal or no periodic Expectations are high for all assessment. students. All are encouraged to There is little communication about succeed. results of assessments. Students do not Progress is monitored regularly. know how to improve their Results of assessments are performance. Parents discover that their promptly communicated to child is struggling academically at report students and parents. card time. Results of assessments are used Results are not used to improve to evaluate and redesign teaching teaching and learning. Teachers and procedures and content. students repeat the same cycle of failure. Achievements and performance Rewards and praise are minimal. are rewarded and praised. Teachers are unsure or under-prepared. Teachers are confident and knowledgeable.4
  5. 5. Interrelationships. These various aspects of warm, affective environment. Collectively, theschool climate do not operate independently of physical, social and affective environmentsone another. For example, the physical contribute to, and are impacted by, the academicenvironment can encourage or discourage social environment.interaction. Similarly, social interaction facilitates aHow does school climate affect schoolperformance?Numerous studies document that students in Search Institute Assetsschools with a better school climate have higherachievement and better socioemotional health. The Search Institute is a nonprofit researchProbably the most comprehensive work in this organization that researches and promotes thearea is being done by the Search Institute, a development of external and internal assets fornonprofit organization that encourages schools youth. Although the Institute’s exploration ofand communities to develop and empower young developmental assets does not discuss schoolpeople. climate per se, the external assets it has identified reflect the environment that results in theIn a review of studies on the impact of support in behavior and values identified in the internalschool, the Search Institute found that a caring assets. The following external assets, excerptedschool climate is associated with: from the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Higher grades, engagement, attendance, Assets™, are descriptive of school climate: expectations and aspirations, a sense of Support scholastic competence, fewer school suspensions, and on-time progression through Other adult relationships. Young person receives grades (19 studies) support from three or more non-parent adults. Higher self-esteem and self-concept Caring school climate. School provides a caring, (5 studies) encouraging environment. Less anxiety, depression and loneliness Empowerment (3 studies) Community values youth. Young person perceives that Less substance abuse (4 studies) 4 adults in the community value youth.Another study, by John Schweitzer of Michigan Youth as resources. Young people are given useful rolesState University, found that when students in in the community.Detroit schools felt a sense of community with Safety. Young person feels safe at…. another and a sense of belonging to theirschools, they achieved higher scores on MEAP Boundaries and Expectationstests.5 School boundaries. School provides clear rules andA national study of more than 12,000 seventh to consequences.twelfth graders found that connectedness to High expectations. Teachers encourage the young personfamily and school significantly protects youth to do well.4from seven of eight behaviors risky to theirhealth.6Measuring school climate. There are numerousinstruments designed to measure what variousauthors define as school climate. These are listedand rated in the Appendix. 5
  6. 6. CHANGING SCHOOL CLIMATE And School CultureImproving student behavior and academic SOME APPROACHES TO CHANGEperformance generally requires changing schoolclimate and school culture. Change may require Promoting a Safe and Orderly Environmentmoving individuals and organizations along a Maintain buildings in good physical conditioncontinuum from “at risk” to “safe” to “thriving.”This process takes time to accomplish.7 Reward students for appropriate behaviorWhile making positive changes in school climate Enforce consequences for inappropriatemotivates staff and students to improve, the behaviordistrict-level school culture must also change if Use contracts with students to reinforceschool reforms are to be sustained for long-term behavioral expectationsimprovement. Post behavioral policies on bulletin boards;Both school climate and school culture require periodically announce them over the publicsignificant attention when a principal or address systemsuperintendent is new or when major changes arebeing implemented in the school system. It is Initiate anti-bullying, conflict resolution andworth noting that educational reform under the peer mediation programsNo School Left Behind Act is essentially a long- Engage students, staff and parents in planningterm effort to change school culture. Note the school safety activitiescentral mantras of educational reform: Increase number and accessibility of Teachers and the school are accountable. counselors, social workers, and mentors All children can and must learn. Create anonymous tip lines or suggestion boxes for reporting potentially dangerous situations or providing ideas to improveWHO MUST LEAD THE CHANGE? school climateThe superintendent of the district and the central Provide more in-school options to “blow offadministration, backed by the school board, steam”initiate and promote changes in school culture Develop strategies to ensure safety duringand school climate. Their decisions on building lunch periods and between classes; providesize, budget allocations, selection of staff, as well more structured activities during lunch houras communication of the school district’s mission,training priorities, and promotional activities, all Provide accommodation or time-out roomsplay a part in encouraging change. throughout the dayWithin each building, the principal plays a primary Provide in-school suspension programs withrole, providing leadership, articulating goals and academic supports and consistent staffingbehavioral expectations of teachers, and support-ing staff in developing an effective school.1 When Facilitating Interaction and Relationshipsteachers are supported, students are supported. Build smaller middle and high schoolsThe role of teachers. Site-based management Reduce the impact of size in larger schools9, 10and the organization of principals, teachers, and by dividing large middle and high schools intostaff into a learning community8 are routes to smaller self-contained units; organizingparticipatory decision making. When teachers are students into cohorts that move throughactively involved in mapping change, the result is classes as a group; and reducing the numberimproved morale and willing participation. of teachers interacting with each student in6
  7. 7. middle school by assigning home room or a The Size of the School second subject to a subject area teacher The number of students within the school Use smaller teacher-student ratios (no more building, or within each separate unit of the than 80 students per teacher in a secondary building, impacts the social and affective school) environment. Smaller schools provide more Use team teaching opportunities for interaction between students and teachers. Students are less likely to be Provide for small group activities overlooked and are more likely to be involved in Provide multiple and varied opportunities to activities. It has been well-documented that participate in extracurricular activities students in smaller schools do as well as, if not better academically than, students in largerPromoting a Positive Affective Environment schools. While there is no consensus on what Use summer school rather than retention in constitutes a “large” school versus a “small” grade for failing students school, research results indicate that best results are obtained with no more than 300-400 students Promote cooperation rather than competition; in an elementary school, and 400-800 in a avoid winners and losers secondary school.10 Assure that every student has an active connection to at least one adult in the school Provide professional development on such issues as cultural and class differences, emotional needs of other children, parental involvement, and bullying and harassmentCONCLUSIONSchool culture and school climate are useful terms for the intangibles that can affect learning. As such, theydeserve serious attention in the effort to improve performance. Comprehensive models that have beendeveloped for school reform have invariably included change in school culture and school climate. 7
  8. 8. APPENDIXThe following tables explain and rate several instruments for measuring school climate. All instruments andratings were adapted from The Charter Education Partnership.ARatings explanation: low (1) to high (3). N/A: not available. Reliability Validity Administration and ScoringELEMENTARY SCHOOL1. Vessels School Climate QuestionnaireB N/A N/A 3Classroom climate scale plus 4 school climate subscales related tomoral emotion/prosocial conscience, moral thought/prosocialattitudes, moral knowledge/prosocial skill, moral/prosocial behavior.52 items.2. School as Caring Community Profile—IIC 3 3 3Covers perceptions of students and of adults. 42 items.3. Sense of School as Community ScaleD 3 3 3Measures extent to which students feel school as a whole is supportive,welcoming and safe. 14 items.4. Liking for School ScaleD 3 3 3Measures students’ enjoyment of, and feelings of attachment to school.5. Enjoyment of Class ScaleD 3 3 3Measures students’ positive feelings about being in class.ELEMENTARY, MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL6. Classroom Observation FormB N/A N/A 2a. Scores nature of instruction at 5-minute intervals.b. Scores student-to-student behaviors and teacher-student behaviors.c. Scores quality of general classroom interactions.7. Character Development SurveyE 1 1 3Measures caring, respect, responsibility, fairness, honesty, and schoolexpectations re: behavior. Student, staff and parent questions.MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HIGH SCHOOL8. Kettering Scale of School ClimateF (four subscales) 3 3 3a. General Climate FactorsRespect, trust, high morale, input opportunities, academic/socialgrowth, cohesiveness, school renewal, caring.b. Program DeterminantsActive learning opportunities, individualized performance expectations,varied learning environments, flexible curriculum and extracurricularactivities, support and structure appropriate to learner’s maturity,cooperatively determined rules, varied rewards systems.c. Process DeterminantsProblem solving ability, improvement of school goals, identifying andworking with conflicts, effective communications, involvement indecision making, autonomy with accountability, effective teaching-learning strategies, ability to plan for future.8
  9. 9. Reliability Validity Administration and Scoringd. Material DeterminantsAdequate resources, supportive/efficient logistical system, suitabilityof school plant.9. School Climate QuestionnaireB N/A N/A 3Four subscales relating to prosocial emotion, attitudes, skills andaction. 80 items.10. NASSP School Climate SurveyG N/A N/A N/ATen subscales on teacher-student relationships, security andmaintenance, administration, student academic orientation, studentbehavioral values, guidance, student/peer relationships, instructionalmanagement, student activities. Student, teacher and parentquestions.HIGH SCHOOL11. School Culture ScaleH 3 3 3Four factors: Normative expectations, student-teacher/schoolrelationships, student relationships, educational opportunities.Measures moral and learning atmosphere. 25 items.12. School Climate QuestionnaireB N/A N/A 3Eleven subscales. 155 items. For students and adults.13. Effective School Battery® to Assess School ClimateI N/A N/A N/ATeacher reports cover safety, morale, innovative approach toplanning, administrative leadership, resources, race relations,community involvement, and student participation in decisions.Student reports cover safety, respect, fairness, clarity of rules, andstudent influence. Also covers teacher and student characteristics.TEACHERS14. School-level Environment QuestionnaireJ 3 2 3Eight dimensions: Affiliation, student supportiveness, professionalinterest, achievement orientation, formalization, centralization,innovativeness, resource adequacy.See also items 2, 7, 10, 12, and 13 in this appendix.NOTES TO APPENDIX A. Adapted from the Character Education Partnership, Assessment Instrument Index. and other Web sites. B. Vessels, G. (1997). Student Climate Questionnaire. Gordon Vessels, 35 Highlands Ct., Oxford, GA 30054. C. Center for the 4th and 5th Rs. (2003). School as Caring Community Profile-II. Cortland, NY: SUNY Cortland. D. Child Development Project. (1993). Sense of School as Community Scale. Oakland, CA: Developmental Studies Center. E. Johns, J. (1997). Character Development Survey. Salt Lake City: Utah Community Partnership for Character Development, Utah State Office of Education. F. Fox, R. S. (no date). School climate improvement: A challenge to the school administrator. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa International, 408 N. Union Street, P.O. Box 789, Bloomington, IN 47402-0789. 800-766-1156. Out of print. G. National Association of Secondary School Principals. (no date). The NASSP School Climate Survey. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, College of Education. 9
  10. 10. H. Higgins-D’Alessandro, A., & Sad, D. (1997). The dimensions and measurement of school culture: Understanding school culture as the basis for school reform. International Journal of Educational Research, 27, 553-569. I. Gottfredson Associates. Effective School Battery® to Assess School Climate. J. Rentoul, A. J., & Fraser, B. J. (1983). Development of a school-level environment questionnaire. Journal of Educational Administration, 21, 21-39.References1. Gonder, P. O., & Hymes, D. (1994). Improving school climate 6. Resnick, M.D., et al. (1997). Protecting adolescents fromand culture (AASA Critical Issues Report No. 27). harm: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study onArlington,VA: American Association of School Adolescent Health. Journal of the American Medical Association,Administrators. This report provides extensive information 278, 823-832.on school climate and school culture and step-by-stepsuggestions for improvement. 7. Young, N., Gardner, S., Coley, S., Schorr, L., & Bruner, C. (1994). Making a difference: Moving to outcome-based2. Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth and the accountability for comprehensive service reforms (ResourceAlliance Organizing Project. (2001, June). The City- Brief 7). Falls Church, VA: National Center for ServiceNeighborhood Schools Initiative: Improving school climate is Integration.everybody’s business. 8. Senge, P.M. (1994). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of3. Western Alliance for the Study of School Climate. (No the learning organization. New York: Currency Introduction to assessment at the 9. Felner, R. D., Ginter, M., & Primavera, J. (1982). Primary prevention during school transitions: Social support and4. Scales, P. C., & Leffert, N. (1999). Developmental assets. environmental structure. American Journal of CommunityMinneapolis, MN: Search Institute. Psychology, 10, 277-290.5. New Detroit: The Coalition. (2003). A progress report: 10. Cotton, K. (1996). School size, school climate, andSchool improvement in the Detroit Public Schools. East Lansing: student performance (School Improvement Research Series,Michigan State University. See also Brookover, W. B., Close-Up No. 20). Portland OR: Northwest RegionalSchweitzer, J. H., Beady, C., Flood, P., & Wisenbaker, J. M. Educational Laboratory.(1978). Elementary school social climate and schoolachievement. American Educational Research Journal, 15,301-318.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSThis BRIEF was developed by Betty Tableman, with the assistance of Adrienne Herron, as a component ofa partnership with an Upper Peninsula collaborative. It was reviewed by Michigan State University facultyand engagement specialists Laura Bates, Institute for Children, Youth and Families and University-Community Partnerships (UCP); Bob Brown, UCP; Patricia Farrell, UCP; David Knaggs, School of SocialWork and UCP; John Melcher, Geography and UCP; John Schweitzer, Geography; and with appreciationfor the comments and contributions of Joan Abbey, Eastern Michigan University; Taryn Mack, CopperCountry Mental Health; and Jacqueline Wood, Michigan Department of Education.BEST PRACTICE BRIEFS are a product of University- Copyright © 2004 by University Outreach & Engagement,Community Partnerships @ Michigan State University, Board of Trustees of Michigan State University.connecting university resources to the community. BRIEFS Write University-Community Partnerships, Michigan Stateare reviewed by participating faculty, Partnerships staff, and an University, Kellogg Center, Garden Level, East Lansingadvisory group of potential users. Responsibility is assumed by 48824; or call 517-432-2500; or e-mail forBetty Tableman, Editor, at 517-432-7138, or e-mail: information on assets training, evaluation, or BRIEFS may be printed and distributed, assistance.and may be quoted with citation of the source.10