How important is a school’s climate to student success? Research suggests that it is a key element in influencing student achievement, second only to quality instruction. A school’s climate has the ability to either support or impede learning greatly. School climate refers to the “day to day operational procedures which determine the culture of a school: warm, friendly, cold, supportive, helpful, etc. ”(Federal Way Public Schools, n. d. , figure 30) To what extent does a school’s climate affect student learning, and how can a school’s climate be improved?
Let us take a loser look. School climate is a significant element in today’s schools. Positive climates can solve problems such as bullying, inter-student conflict, suicide, and character education; however, there are many things in our society today that interfere with school climates. This includes decreased family values, increased tolerance to violence on television and in video games, and an overall breakdown in communication between parents, students, and schools. Schools must continually work to overcome these barriers. The social emotional climate of schools is predictive of mother’s reports of their school age children’s alcohol use and psychiatric problems. Research has also revealed a relationship between school climate and student self-concept. ”(Center For Social and Emotional Education [CSEE], n. d. , p. 1) Schools with positive climates have fewer students with anxiety, depression, and loneliness. A positive, nurturing school climate also leads to effective risk prevention and health promotion. In a positive school climate the people within the organization feel a connectedness to one another.
That connectedness is a powerful predictor of adolescent health and academic success. “Safe, caring, participatory and responsive school climates tend to foster great attachment to school, as well as providing the optimal foundation for social, emotional, and academic learning. Numerous studies have shown that positive school climates lead to higher grades, engagement, attendance, expectations and aspirations, a sense of scholastic competence, fewer school suspensions, and on-time progression through grades. (Michigan State University, 2004, p. ) In order to significantly improve student behavior and academic performance, schools must improve their overall climate. There are four main elements that impact school climate.
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They are as follows: A physical environment that is welcoming and conductive to learning, a social environment that promotes communication and interaction, an affective environment that promotes a sense of belonging and self-esteem, and an academic environment that promotes learning and self-fulfillment. (Michigan State University, 2004, p. ) These four environments cannot operate independently of one another. Each is interrelated to the others. How can school climate be improved? Change requires “moving individuals and organizations along a continuum from ‘at risk’ to ‘safe’ to ‘thriving’. This process takes time to accomplish. ”(Michigan State University, 2004, p. 6) The new federal legislation of the No Child Left Behind Act is essentially a long-term effort to change school culture, requiring teachers and schools to be held accountable, and adopting the notion that all students can and must learn.
Change begins with the superintendant of the district and the central administration, along with backing from the school board. “Their decisions on building size, budget allocations, selection of staff, as well as communication of the school district’s mission, training priorities, and promotional activities, all play a part in encouraging change. ”(Michigan State University, p. 6) Other approaches to change at the school level include increasing the number of counselors and mentors in schools, and using smaller teacher-student ratios.
It is also important to note that many schools are moving away from competition in favor of cooperation to avoid having winners and losers. In addition, schools need to provide professional development on such issues as cultural and class differences, emotional needs of other children, parental involvement, and bullying and harassment. Research also suggests that schools should provide “multiple and varied opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. ”(Michigan State University, p. 7)
The physical appearance of the facility is another important component of school climate. While it is common sense that teachers and students feel better about themselves when working and learning in an inviting and pleasant environment, research also supports this fact. A well-designed learning environment sends the message that learning is important. “Not only does a school’s architecture signal what is important; a school’s architecture also motivates students and employees, provides a message of deeper purposes and values, and can tie a community together. (Holt & Smith, n. d. , p. 53) Interestingly enough, even though research suggests that the physical environment is an indicator of school climate, a report issued by the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that three out of every four existing public school buildings is in need of repair. Another important element in school climate lies in the decision making process. Schools that promote shared decision making have a greater sense of belonging among staff members and stakeholders, and therefore promote a more positive and cohesive school climate.
Shared decision making also promotes mutual support and ongoing communication between staff members as well as members of the community. This type of decision making increases school climate because it increases the level of trust among stakeholders. “Trust is developed when people come to expect and predict the way others will act. When a school commits the time and energy to involve stakeholders in developing shared organizational values and people live out the shared values on a day-to-day basis, conjecture and suspicions about actions are dispelled. (Else, 2000, p. 1) It is important for schools to continually assess the overall climates within their organization. There are various instruments designed for this purpose. Most of these instruments are surveys that are designed for students, teachers, and parents. Results of these surveys are then analyzed and disaggregated to assess the overall climate, and identify areas of improvement. Although classroom level measures may be appropriate for the assessment of schools at the elementary level, this is not the case for middle and high school.
The students at this level move throughout the day from classroom to classroom, are surrounded by many different groups of peers, and are confronted with varying teaching styles. For this reason middle and high schools require assessment measures that capture student’s experiences throughout the entire school day. Assessing school climate and using that data to identify areas of concern is, and should be, as important as test data in today’s schools. In this week’s reading, we read about a scenario that is present in many schools around the country. That is dysfunctional thinking.
In this scenario, veteran teachers and new teachers are facing off in deconstructive power struggles. Because of their varying levels of experience, and their different eras, they do not see eye to eye. In this scenario, the new teacher obviously is better equipped to chair the event. She has had experience doing this event in the past, and she has demonstrated her competency in the area. The veteran teacher doesn’t really want to chair the event; she just doesn’t want a new teacher to have that kind of control. As an administrator, I would initiate a conversation with this veteran teacher.
Seeing as she is very popular among the staff, this would have to be handled carefully. The conversation would begin with a sincere appreciation for everything she does, as teachers need to be recognized for their contributions; however, I would stand firm on my decision to assign the newer teacher, Mrs. Farmington, as the chair of the event. The information presented on the table on page 71 of our textbook would provide useful information when handling this situation. It would be important for the administrator to understand, and be respectful of, each individual’s background and values.
It is important for an administrator to acquire the commitment of their followers, and based on how this scenario is acted upon, it could enhance or interfere with that commitment. The dialogue that takes place between the administrator and the veteran teacher must be well thought out and respectful. In addition, the newer teacher, too, must be made aware of the importance of allowing for shared decision making throughout her event, and allow for the veteran teachers to be heard and made a valuable a part of the event as well. In conclusion, students learn best when they are in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe.
Teachers teach best when they are working in an environment in which they feel valued and connected. Parents feel secure sending their students to school when they know their children are being cared for and given quality instruction. Today so many parents have trouble trusting in their children’s schools, and too often circumstances arise where parents and schools are battling one another. This is not constructive to school climate, and is not in the best interest of children. It is important for all stakeholders to share the decision making process so that everyone has a vested interest in the overall well-being of the school climate.
Teachers, parents, and administrators should be partners, working together to ensure that students needs is being met, and that they are academically successful. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, and that is what is best for our children. Working together, rather that independently, is the best way to make this happen. In the words of the old African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child. Our schools, along with parents, are the “village” that our children need.
Center For Social and Emotional Education (n.d.). School Climate Research Summary. Retrieved November 14, 2008, from http://nscc.csee.net/effective/school_climate_research_summary.pdf
Else, D. (2000). School-Based Shared Decision Making. Retrieved November 14, 2008, from http://www.uni.edu/coe/iel/sdsum.html
Federal Way Public Schools (n.d.). Federal Way Public Schools Glossary of Terms. Retrieved November 14, 2008, from http://www.fwps.org/info/glossary
Holt, C. R., & Smith, R. M. (n.d.). The Relationship Between School Climate and Student Success. Retrieved November 14, 2008, from http://normes.uark.edu/erps/erps_journal/ERPS%20VOL%202%20N2/pdf/52-64.pdf
Michigan State University (2004). Best Practice Briefs: School Climate and Learning. Retrieved November 14, 2008, from http://outreach.msu.edu/bpbriefs/issues/brief31.pdf
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