School Climate Practice Briefs

NSCC School Climate Practice Briefs summarize effective practices that support implementation and sustainability efforts. The first set of Briefs summarizes research and best practices for effective school reform in eleven overlapping areas. The second Practice Brief summarizes a number of early childhood issues and school climate reform.

School Climate And The National School Climate Standards

By Patricia A. Ciccone, Superintendent, Westbrook, CT Public Schools and Jo Ann Freibeg, Education Consultant, CT State Department of Education

Increasingly, more and more areas of educational practice are being guided by sets of national standards for content, leadership, professional ethics, family-school partnerships, and school accreditation, among others. Similarly, there is growing appreciation that standards are needed to effectively measure improvement in school climate. The increased national attention on school climate flags both the need to improve schools using measurable outcomes and the need to prepare all students to address the myriad of challenges they face in the 21st century.

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School Climate Research

By Amrit Thapa, Research Director, National School Climate Center

As early as a century ago educational reformers had recognized that the distinctive culture of a school affects the life and learning of its students. However, the rise of systematic empirical study of school climate grew out of industrial/organizational research coupled with the observation that school-specific processes accounted for a great deal of variation in student achievement. Since then the research in school climate has been expanding systematically, and many countries are showing a keen interest in this field.

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School Climate Measurement And Analysis

By Darlene Faster, National School Climate Center and Daisy Lopez, National School Climate Center

Today, school climate assessment has become an increasingly important and valued aspect of district, state, and federal policy. Recognizing that effective school climate improvement efforts are grounded in valid and reliable data, the Federal Department of Education launched the Safe and Supportive Schools grant in 2010 to provide 11 states with federal assistance that supports the development of rigorous school climate measurement systems. States like Connecticut and Georgia have strong legislation and practice efforts in place that focus explicitly on school climate reform. These efforts have helped to make school climate, including effective and valid/reliable assessment, a clear priority within our education system nationwide.

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School Climate And Youth Development

By Richard Cardillo, National School Climate Center

Consistently and deliberately supporting students to be engaged as co-leaders and co-learners is an essential requirement for successful school climate improvement efforts. It is a trite truism to envelope our school climate reform efforts with the phrase “it’s all about the kids”. As we examine our existing policies and procedures, are we able to truly state that students played a significant role in shaping the integral parts of determining what we want our school to be? All too frequently, the norm has been to initiate and implement first, and to inform students and ask for input after the fact. If we are truly committed to supporting students in developing strong intellectual, social, emotional, and civic capacities, it behooves us to include them substantively in all school climate improvement efforts from their inception.

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School Climate And Shared Leadership

By William H. Hughes, Director of Leadership, Schools That Can Milwaukee and Director of the School and Instructional Leadership Program, Alverno College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Terry Pickeral, Senior Consultant, National School Climate Center

A positive school climate improves student achievement and a sense of belonging. This year, more than ever, school leaders need efficient, low-cost and effective ways to boost school achievement. We know that important factors in a positive school climate are also significant mediators of learning: empowerment, authentic, engagement, self-efficacy, and motivation. Being intentional in our practices and co-leading on a positive school climate is a strategy that pays off long term for youth, faculty and school districts—with stronger student achievement within a productive, safe learning environment—a good return on investment of human and financial resources.

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School Climate And Moral And Social Development

By Richard Weissbourd, Lecturer on Education, Suzanne M. Bouffard, Practice Program Project Manager and Stephanie M. Jones, Associate Professor in Human Development and Urban Education Advancement, Making Caring Common Initiative, Harvard Graduate School of Education

At the heart of positive school climate are strong relationships. When you walk into a school with positive climate, you see students and staff who are caring, respectful, and committed to their communities, both their immediate communities (e.g., school and neighborhood) and the broader world. You don’t just see posters proclaiming these values—in these schools, these values live and breathe. People are more likely to greet one another in the hallways, offer to help one another, take pride in one another’s successes. In these schools adults don’t just ignore students making derogatory remarks in the hallways. These practices become part of the fabric of the school, permeating day to day interactions and instructional practices.

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School Climate And Inclusion

By Clement Coulston, Special Olympics Project UNIFY® and Student, University of Delaware and Kaitlyn Smith Special Olympics Project UNIFY® and Student, University of Northern Colorado

School climate is the holistic context of the life, vigor and quality of the social connectedness, physical elements, and supportive practices that nurture inclusion and safeness. In order to invest in school climate, one must analyze how his or her individual actions and behaviors contribute to the collective feeling of the school. Students, educators, support staff, families and the community are all key affiliations in co-creating an engaging and inclusive school climate.

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School Climate And Equity

By Randy Ross, New England Equity Assistance Center, the Education Alliance at Brown University

Equity is intrinsic to all aspects of school climate work. It is not a separate issue. From this perspective, the National School Climate Council definition could be modified to describe an “equitable school climate” as referring to “The quality and character of school life that fosters children’s, youth’s, and families’ full access to: (1) Appropriately supported, high expectations for learning and achievement; (2) Emotionally and physically safe, healthy learning environments; (3) Caring relationships with peers and adults; (4) Participation that meaningfully enhances academic, social-emotional, civic, and moral development. An equitable school climate responds to the wide range of cultural norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, leadership practices, and organizational structures within the broader community.

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School Climate And Dropout Prevention

By Marty Duckenfield, Public Information Officer, National Dropout Prevention Center and Beth Reynolds, Executive Director, National Dropout Prevention Center

Developing and sustaining high-quality school climates is deeply tied to strategies emerging from dropout prevention research and work. This research conducted across several decades has revealed not only the at-risk factors most often associated with students who drop out, but also a broad range of strategies that, in combination, go a long way toward meeting the needs of students, particularly those at risk of dropping out. Interestingly enough, many of these strategies link tightly to the significant factors in positive school climates including connectedness, engagement, empowerment, and self-efficacy.

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School Climate And Bullying Prevention

By Jonathan Cohen, National School Climate Center and Adjunct Professor in Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University and Jo Ann Freiberg, Connecticut State Department of Education and Member, National School Climate Council

This brief summarizes research and best practices that do effectively prevent any kind of mean-spirited behaviors including but not limited to bullying and harassment which is identical to promoting safe, supportive, engaging and healthy school communities.

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School Climate And Adult Learning

By Jonathan Cohen, National School Climate Center and Adjunct Professor in Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University and Philip Brown, Senior Consultant, National School Climate Center

The school’s climate supports or undermines educators’ capacity to be adult learners, which in turn has an important impact on their capacity to promote student learning and achievement. In fact, school climate has a powerful effect on teacher retention rates (Cohen, McCabe, Michelli, & Pickeral, 2009). Research also underscores and supports the notion that a collaborative school climate and collegial adult climate focused on the well-being and growth of all children provides an essential foundation for effective teaching and supportive learning environments.

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School Climate And Engaging Students in The Early Grades

By Richard Cardillo, Jo Ann Freiberg and Terry Pickeral

This latest brief highlights critical strategies to engage and assess youth voice in lower-primary grades (PK-3). Co-authored by Terry Pickeral from Cascade Educational Consultants, Connecticut Department of Education’s Jo Ann Freiberg, and NSCC’s Education Director Richard Cardillo, the Early Grades Practice Brief responds to an essential need in the field to ensure a strong foundation for positive school climates at the earliest stage of a student’s learning and development.

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