What is School Climate and Why is a Positive School Climate Important?
"School climate refers to the quality and character of school life. It is based on people’s experiences of school and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures” (NSCC). A positive school climate undergirds academic achievement and creates a supportive context for personalize learning to flourish.
Research suggests that a positive school climate can lead to improved academic outcomes among diverse groups of students (Astor, Benbenisty, & Estrada, 2009; Haahr, Nielsen, Hansen, & Jakobsen, 2005; OECD, 2009), improved motivation to learn (Eccles et. al., 1993), improved staff morale (Vezzuto, 2011), and can serve as a protective factor that supports positive life outcomes for young
people (Ortega, Sanchez, Ortega Rivera, & Viejo, 2011).
What Steps Should a School Take to Improve its School Climate?
The PDE Office of Safe Schools recommends that schools interested in improving school climate utilize a five-stage improvement planning process to ensure they pursue effective and sustainable strategies to meet the specific needs of their school community. This process requires schools to identify an existing team or convene a new leadership team to oversee the school climate improvement process. This team should include school leaders and teachers, as well as other staff, parents and, at times, students.
The five-stage process involves:
- Readiness: Schools assess and reflect on the school’s capacity, commitment and competence in carrying out comprehensive school climate improvement. This involves reflecting the school’s leadership capacity, vision for school climate and relevant standards.
- Assessment and Analysis: Schools administer a school climate survey to students, staff, parents and other stakeholder groups. They also conduct audits of their existing program and data sources in an effort to understand what is working and what needs improvement.
- Action Planning: Schools begin by developing a short term-action plan to improve school readiness, engage the school community with climate data, and address immediate needs. Later, the team develops a long-term action plan which includes modifications to school programs, policies and practices to support positive school climate.
- Implementation: Actions plans are implemented for a period of time, during which data is collected to support later reflection.
- Reflection: The leadership team and school community reflect on the school’s progress and the leader team’s effectiveness. The school may return to earlier phases of work or modify the existing action plan to ensure continuous improvement.
What School Climate Improvement Tools does the Office of Safe Schools Provide?
The PA School Climate Surveys are free online assessments that can be used to assess students’, teachers’, parents’ and community partners’ perceptions of the school climate. Domains measured by the surveys include: Social Emotional Learning, Student Support, High Expectations and Academic Rigor/Challenge, and Safe and Respectful School Climate. Surveys are available for grades 3-5, 6-8, 9-12.
What is the PA School Climate Leadership Initiative?
The Pennsylvania Intermediate Units (PAIU), the Office of Safe Schools,
Pennsylvania Department Education (PDE) and the National School Climate Center
are pleased to be partnering on an effort to increase the capacity of PA educators to lead school climate improvement efforts. The PA School Climate Leadership Initiative (SCLI) is designed to complement and expand schools’ existing efforts to improve student achievement and equitable outcomes by linking those efforts to strategies proven to build positive school climate. At the heart of the SCLI model is an emphasis on building learning communities and networks focused on
attending to students’, faculty and parents’ perceptions and experiences of the
school through stakeholder engagement and shared leadership. If implemented with fidelity, this effort will bring about environmental changes and positive outcomes, such as: increased student attendance, decreased bullying and harassment, and positive relationships among students, faculty and staff, and improved staff morale. The overall result will be increased academic achievement for all students.
Schools that participate in the SCLI receive training and technical assistance from a designated School Climate Regional Coordinator (SCRC) employed by their IU. The SCRCs support schools in using the five-stage school climate improvement process.
For more information about school climate improvement or the SCLI, please contact Dr. Stacie Molnar- Main:
National School Climate Standards
The National School Climate Standards were developed by the National School Climate Council and include five standards and indicators of a positive school climate which are sustained by proactive, responsive and systemic strategies and
The PA Early Learning Standards are relevant to schools serving preschool through the second grade. The standards include social and emotional development standards, which can support a more positive school climate.
Websites and Recordings
This webinar introduces an equity-focused school climate model. It concludes with some initial next steps that regional coordinators can take with their schools and offers protocols to support these efforts.
This webinar provides a definition for social emotional learning (SEL), the rational for addressing SEL in schools and information about how to select programs and ensure school readiness for SEL implementation.
Pennsylvania Positive Behavior Support Network
The PA Positive Behavioral Supports Network is a cross-system group of stakeholders that promote and support the installation of evidence-based strategies, proactive systems and positive approaches to student discipline and behavior change based upon the three-tiered model of support.