Updated: Feb 25, 2021
When you think back to your childhood and your experience in school, what do you remember? What was elementary school like for you? Middle school? High school? What words come to mind? I’ve heard things like: “comfortable”, “happy”, “high school was a great experience”, “I loved being with my friends”, “I have so many memories from being part of a team.” I also hear things like, “lonely”, “I was always nervous and scared, “I constantly felt left out.”
The words that came to mind are most likely rooted in a feeling. You probably started to remember how school made you feel. You may have thought about how it felt to be sitting in a classroom full of kids your own age, how your teachers greeted you and interacted with you, how people there helped you (or didn’t help you) when you needed support. You may have thought back to the teams, or clubs you belonged to (or didn’t belong to) and the comradery you felt (or was missing) from your experience.
That feeling, or those feelings, are a product of your school’s climate. According to the National School Climate Center, school climate refers to the quality and character of school life. It has been described as the heart and soul of the school, that essence of a school that leads a child, a teacher, and an administrator to love the school and to look forward to being there each school day. It includes students', parents' and school personnel's norms, beliefs, relationships, teaching and learning practices, as well as organizational and structural features of the school.
The factors that shape school climate are often grouped into four categories. These elements of school climate are:
RELATIONSHIPS: The quality of relationships between members of a school (teachers, students, and administrators) has an influence on students' behavior and achievement. The relationship between a student and their teacher affects their engagement in the classroom, self-esteem, and grades. The community aspect of school climate refers to the quality of relationships within a school. It also includes the school's connectedness, respect for diversity, and partnerships with other members of the community. (Wang, MT., Degol, J. School Climate: a Review of the Construct, Measurement, and Impact on Student Outcomes. Educ Psychol Rev 28, 315–352 (2016).
SAFETY: Safety refers to both emotional and physical safety. A positive school climate is free of bullying, physical violence, verbal violence, and has mental health supports available and accessible to all students. A school with positive school climate also is a place where students understand the rules and routines and work together to maintain a mutually respectful climate.
TEACHING AND LEARNING: Teaching and learning includes engaging curriculum and individualized teaching practices, but also includes strong school leadership and professional development opportunities for teachers and staff. Schools with positive school climate also embed social and emotional learning into daily practices and routines.
INSTITUTIONAL ENVIRONMENT: A school environment is broadly characterized by its facilities, classrooms. It also refers to the availability of resources and materials.
The National School Climate Center goes further to describe these five elements by identifying 14 dimensions that contribute to the school community’s overall perception of school climate. For more information also visit: www.schoolclimate.org.
Be on the look out for future blog posts where I'll dig in to each of the elements!